Monday, February 2, 2015

Is Your Pharmacy Selling Snake Oil?

The title above is the original title by an article by Amy Rushlow a contributing writer on Yahoo! Health. She leads with - "Controversial supplements with unproven health claims are often stocked just outside the pharmacy windows. But that doesn’t mean your pharmacist recommends them."

How true. It really is a buyer beware world. The smart consumer does the research and spends their money wisely. The cheapest supplements are just that. Often, clinical trials are conducted in-house. The word "certified" is nice, but certified by whom, the company's CEO? Ultimately, the proof will be in the pudding.....the supplements will have effects if they are effective. You stop getting sick so much. You feel better. Maybe your blood pressure drops. Your AIC levels go down a bit. Maybe your cholesterol levels drop somewhat. This type of individual, results oriented proof is what going to separate the snake oil and the supplements that are actually effective. And it's pretty much going to be true that the supplements are not going to the best for quality, purity and efficacy unless they are made using a pharmaceutical grade manufacturing process.

Is Your Pharmacy Selling Snake Oil?

At a large pharmacy chain, one shelf features products that have been tested in clinical trials, shown to be effective, and approved for sale by the FDA. The other shelf, right below the first, promotes products that are, as obesity specialist Yoni Freedhoff, MD, puts it, “At best, yet-to-be-proven hope — and at worst, useless hogwash.”

Could you tell which is which?

OK, it’s pretty obvious when we phrase it that way.  But when you’re browsing the rows upon rows of boxes in the health aisles of your local pharmacy, the differences between evidence-based drugs and poorly researched supplements aren’t always so clear.

As Freedhoff argues in a recent post on his website, selling trendy, unproven, herbal or so-called “natural” remedies only a few feet away from the pharmacy counter gives them an air of credibility that may not be deserved. “People see pharmacies as both business and service, where their service is to provide healthy products to their customers,” Freedhoff tells Yahoo Health. Pharmacists are regularly reported to be among the most trusted health professionals, he adds. As a result, many people assume that the “natural” products available for purchase in the pharmacy section meet the approval of the pharmacist.

Most often, that assumption would be incorrect. “The pharmacists I know are mortified by the [non-evidence-based] products their pharmacies sell,” Freedhoff says, referring specifically to supplements and devices such as raspberry ketones pills and ionic technology bracelets, which have little to no research to support the benefits they advertise.

“Most of the stuff out there is a total waste of money at best, and can be outright dangerous at worst,” says weight-loss expert Charlie Seltzer, MD. “Supplements are confusing as it is, and most people, even really smart ones, do not have the knowledge to look at a package and know whether the claims are based on real science or just marketing hype,” Seltzer tells Yahoo Health.

Many hot natural products, such as the green coffee bean extract pills that are suddenly in every grocery checkout line, simply don’t have much research conducted on them. So we often don’t know the side effects these products could cause or how they react with other drugs.

That’s in stark contrast to the rigorous research that prescription and over-the-counter medications must undergo. In the U.S., pharmaceutical companies must show proof that medications are safe and effective before they can legally hit the market. But supplements don’t. Instead, the government relies on consumers to report serious adverse effects that may be due to supplement use, and only then reviews the product’s safety. (For more on the distinction between drugs and supplements, the FDA website offers a helpful FAQ page.)

To make smart decisions about the dizzying array of options on pharmacy shelves, experts offer these tips:

Don’t assume that something is safe just because it claims to be natural. “Plenty of ‘natural’ mushrooms grow in my front yard that I wouldn’t want to eat,” Freedhoff quips. 

Know that not all doctors and pharmacists are supplement experts. “Much of what we learned in medical school about supplements was incorrect anyway regarding efficacy and safety,” Seltzer says.

Before you take a controversial new herbal product, Seltzer recommends, talk with a health professional who specializes in the condition that you are trying to treat. He or she will have the expertise to let you know if the compound in question could possibly help your problem, and can offer alternate or additional solutions.

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