Behavioral economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky described cognitive errors and pitfalls that affect our ability to gauge the probability of even simple events. And these errors in thinking are especially prominent in how we think about topics related to our health, according to an article in Forbes by ACSH scientific advisor Dr. Geoffrey Kabat. He specifically points to the way the majority of the public has been taught to worry about elusive risks lurking in our environment, including chlorinated compounds in drinking water, DDT, PCBs, cell phones and chemicals such as BPA and phthalates. Yet these are all theoretical hazards.
Kabat then goes on to compare this to the real hazard of dietary supplements which is viewed in a very different light from that which is directed at low-level environmental hazards. The major difference between the two though is that dietary supplements have actually been linked to adverse events, for example the cases of severe hepatitis and liver failure linked to OxyElitePro. And as Dr. Pieter A. Cohen of the Harvard Medical School pointed out recently, dietary supplements are not required to be tested for safety and efficacy before they are marketed.
Dr. Kabat attributes this difference in perspective to two difference in views of supplements vs low-level hazards. First, dietary supplements do not cause serious and immediate harm. Second, low-level environmental hazards tend to involve chemicals or radiation, which are invisible, undetectable, and beyond our control. For this reason they understandably inspire anxiety. In contrast, supplements are widely promoted to convey a message of youth, vigor, and health, emphasizing that they are natural. The advertising uses familiar and positive imagery to distract consumers from the central issues involving risk ¦ With inadequate standards for safety, purity of ingredients, labeling, and monitoring of adverse events, it is impossible to know what one is getting. For this reason, using dietary supplements is often referred to as playing Russian roulette.
Kabat further points out that consumers are not even aware that dietary supplements are not FDA-regulated. He therefore emphasizes the need for better education so consumers can make informed decisions.
Read the full piece here!
ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom also wrote about supplements last week on Science 2.0. You can read Liver Let Die:Gambling With Supplements here.