health foods

The health food industry in United States is large. It relies fundamentally upon patients's will to believe that the consumption of vitamins and nutritional supplements will improve their health in some way. Various scientific and most often, pseudo-scientific theories are advanced to support these ideas; in the end the therapeutic effect most operative is the placebo effect. It also relies in part for its continued success on the basic gullibility and ignorance of the "informed consumer," and the perhaps uniquely American tradition of questioning authority and belief in conspiracy theories.

A major issue with so-called health foods, beyond the fact that their claimed positive effects on health are almost never supported by independent objective evaluation, is the question of sources and purity of the preparation. The ingredients of many "natural" nutritional supplements are not listed in sufficient detail to know what drugs may be contained in them. These unlisted ingredients may have significant side effects or adverse cross reactions with other medications.

A recent very chilling issue has been raised about the use of animal products in certain supplements - namely the use of cow brains and glands in hormonal supplements. This use of animal products may come back to haunt consumers in the future when mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) appears in this country.

Another issue that patients rarely if ever consider is the accountability of the health food industry (as compared to the pharmaceutical industry). Standard pharmaceuticals are not only regulated strictly, but if a patient has an adverse reaction, there is a company there to pursue in court. Health food stores sell many products which come from small companies. Their production techniques are unknown, and in the event of trouble, they lack assets to pursue and hold accountable.

For these and other reasons, the use of health food supplements in children is not routinely advisable. Vitamin metabolism is not so mysterious that an FDA approved, quality controlled product at the pharmacy or supermarket is not sufficient, as well as being cheaper. There are certainly some products of value that are only available or at least easier to find in health food stores - rice-based milk as a substitute for milk allergic children, for example. But stay away from nutritional supplements as a rule and avoid supposed cures for diseases.

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