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Natural Causes: Death, Lies and Politics in America's Vitamin and Herbal Supplement Industry Hardcover – December 26, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In his lively debut, health and medical journalist Hurley takes aim at the $21 billion supplement industry and its potentially injurious "natural" products. He critiques its strong-arming of the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act through Congress—a law that rendered the FDA virtually powerless to regulate these remedies—and observes the FDA's "coziness" with the industry it regulates. From snake oil and shark cartilage to ephedra, Hurley consistently animates patches of dry legal and medical material with harrowing case studies. Sue Gilliatt, for example, burned off her nose when she used the Native American herbal remedy bloodroot to treat her skin cancer in 2001. When Dorothy Wilson's doctor prescribed L-tryptophan for her insomnia in 1988, the over-the-counter amino acid triggered a mysterious disease that left her painfully incapacitated by nerve damage. Although Hurley presents scanty evidence regarding vitamin C's inability to prevent colds, his claim about the criminal backgrounds of several supplement manufacturers is alarming. Hurley wraps up with a refreshingly tough-love conclusion: the bamboozled have to accept some of the blame themselves for wanting a quick-fix promise of good health without having to do the work of a salubrious lifestyle. (Dec.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Hurley maintains that the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 is one of the worst laws on the books. Shielding vitamins and herbal concoctions from FDA testing, it requires only that no curative claims be made for such "dietary supplements." In the prologue, Hurley shows that curative claims are made, anyway, and the users of an herbal salve were able to sue when the stuff ate their flesh. Subsequent chapters cite cases that also show that per-dosage amounts of dietary-supplement ingredients are often improperly listed; that greater than standard recommended daily amounts of most vitamins wreak havoc in the body; and that natural doesn't mean safe or effective. He notes the high proportion of convicted felons in the supplement industry, sketching the careers of several of the most egregious, including best-selling self-help health author Kevin Trudeau. He points to research that nullifies common knowledge about the effectiveness of virtually all dietary supplements; food, not pills, is the optimal and probably the only means of properly ingesting vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and so forth. He puts all such substantive information in the context of plenty of absorbing and moving stories of death, deceit, and political chicanery. Truly a good book that is good for you. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway; 1 edition (December 26, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767920422
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767920421
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,158,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Robert M. Languedoc on January 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book provides a historical perspective of the supplement industry from the snake oil of the 1800's to the thousands of supplements and herbs presently on the market. The author chronicles the rise of regulation in response to dubious claims and adverse reactions over the course of a hundred years leading to the present day oversight by the Food and Drug Administration. Each chapter concentrates on a particular supplement that was later found to be detrimental to public health. The events unfold in the form of personal stories of consumer suffering and deception, marketing strategies of companies and research studies indicating that the substance is ineffectual and often harmful. The book is well researched and organized having over thirty pages dedicated in the back of the book to notes comprised of the details of the sited research as well as the author's comments as to the source and means by which he arrived at the content.

The author describes how the Nutrition Health Alliance (NHA), a group of major supplement manufacturers and industry organizations with the help of Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative Bill Richardson, wrote and passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, (DSHEA), a backlash to FDA regulation. Among the provisions of the law is the allowance for supplement manufacturers to make qualitative "structure/function" statements in regards to product performance. That is, a product could be said to improve the function of the heart or build strong bones as long as it wasn't said to cure heart disease or osteoporosis. The author states that this "was a distinction without a difference" since most consumers can not differentiate curative from qualitative statements.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By L. Yeager on April 30, 2010
Format: Paperback
First of all, I'm ambivalent regarding the use of natural supplements. I have relatives/friends who use them and swear by them, and friends/relatives who have had adverse reactions. So I was eager to read this book, but after doing so I am just as confused as ever.

The author seems to make good points but then there are obvious errors such as this one on page 43 of the hardback edition which concerns an analysis of Adelle Davis' book 'Let's Get Well':

"When he analyzed the 170 references in Chapter 5...he found 112 did not relate whatsoever to the assertions Davis used to back them up...another 50 were taken out of context...only 30 accurately confirmed Davis's writing".

112 + 50 + 30= 192 citations, not 170. A small example, but you have to wonder about an author's criticism that another author's work is inaccurate when their OWN work has inaccuracies.

His good points? The supplement industry is unregulated and in the business for profit, and there have been injuries and deaths from these products.

A real distraction in the book is that he seems so biased and one-sided in his approach to this subject. Injuries and deaths have been caused by FDA-approved medications, too. With the exception of Vitamin D, and fish oil he doesn't seem to think any vitamins/supplements work. Yet, my son's therapist recommended melatonin to help him go to sleep at night, his pediatrician said fine, and it's worked like a charm for him. The author accepts assertions that supplements don't work or are harmful from anyone who says so, just as the other side accepts the opposite. I by no means believe that the FDA is impartial in their studies just as other studies are also biased depending on who funds them and their agenda.
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23 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A reader on April 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book should be a must read for anyone interested in alternative health. Before reading this book I thought that the herbal and vitamin industry was full of health minded individuals that wanted to help people avoid using prescription drugs. This book shows that the herbal and vitamin industry is as much about profit as any other business including the pharmaceutical industry. The author clearly points out that herb, vitamins, and supplements are almost totaly unregulated, that the ingredients labels on them are a joke, and anyone interested in using them should be sure to educate themselves about what they are using, how it was manufactured, and who is selling the product.
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18 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Paul Tognetti TOP 500 REVIEWER on July 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Are you aware that currently no government agency is responsible for testing dietary supplements to assure their purity and potency? Did you know that today over 60% of Americans buy and take one or more herbal or dietary supplements? Would it anger you to learn that you have probably been spending your hard earned money on products that simply don't work? And would you be concerned if you discovered that the American media has expended precious little energy to uncover the truth about these products? "Natural Causes" explodes many of the myths surrounding the multi-billion dollar vitamin and supplements industry. Author Dan Hurley makes a compelling case for tightening the screws on these companies and demanding more regulation and much more accountabilty.

Around the turn of the 20th century the self-treatment movement was experiencing somewhat of a revival in this nation. As Dan Hurley correctly points out the tug-of-war between traditional medicine and natural alternatives seems to be somewhat cyclical. We can all recall images of the "snake oil" salesmen peddling all sorts of elixers and other concoctions from the back of their wagons. These hucksters made all sorts of fabulous claims for their homemade tonics. In response to all of this Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. The act required that medicines containing opiates and certain other drugs must say so on their labels. Later amendments to the act also required that the quantity of each drug be truly stated on the label, and that the drugs meet official standards of identity and purity. Finally, the government had a handle on the industry.

Fast forward now about 90 years. Once again, interest in "natural" medicine and treatments was on the rise.
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