Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: An unexpectedly long post about supplements and stuff

150 Responses

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  • Russell Brown,

    I have a flatmate who disagrees. He asserts benefit from the placebo effect, even when he know's what he's taking can't work (e.g. near instant relief from anti-hay fever stuff). Immediate benefit, even though it cannot work that fast, and he knows it cannot work that fast.

    I'm sort of down with that. I'm much happier thinking of homeopathy as magic than as "science", and maybe sometimes wilfully suspending disbelief can be useful, if you get my drift.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I think Emma Hart has it exactly right. People need to take ownership of their own health. The assumption that this piece of regulation will improve the situation seems fallacious and both sides are pushing their agenda on a purely commercial basis.

    Agreed on the rest of your post, but not on this. If it does nothing else, it will prevent another K4 debacle, where desperate and sick men had their livers rotted by a "traditional" mdecine.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Baker,

    Supplements are currently regulated as foods - which should provide at least some protection that they won't cause harm (or some recourse when they do). Most opponents of the bill are not against some form of regulation - they are simply against the current proposal.

    The fact we're even having this debate is a testament to how open our democracy is compared to Australia. There the regulation was passed at the federal level with barely a comment - mainly because their democratic process is somewhat opaque. Australian states have the option to opt out of the legislation and my understanding is that some already have - so we have the somewhat absurd situation of New Zealand being bound to an Australian regulator which Australians themselves are free to ignore.

    I think the ideal scenario would be an independent New Zealand regulator being set up. Then this debate could be about the best way to regulate. It should be possible to set up a system which weeds out dangerous products without wiping out cottage New Zealand industry.

    The current proposal does not achieve that.

    wellington • Since Dec 2006 • 7 posts Report Reply

  • Matt Nippert,

    I'm sure there's a word for a zinging comeback to a ridiculous comment that you only remember later. It'll come to be soon...

    Sitting in while Rankin enthused about the "expertise" and "mathematics" of astrology demanded respect my jaw was a little slack to get out this response:

    You can appreciate decades of experience, commitment to the craft and a well-tied rope, but that doesn't mean you should endorse hangmen.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 21 posts Report Reply

  • Hansel Dunlop,

    I think the ideal scenario would be an independent New Zealand regulator being set up. Then this debate could be about the best way to regulate. It should be possible to set up a system which weeds out dangerous products without wiping out cottage New Zealand industry.

    To be fair the bill talks about a joint regulatory body and New Zealand has equal voting rights with Australia. So in that regards it's not a bad deal. This is unlike the joint food regulation body where we do not have equal rights. It does leave us somewhat scuppered if we, as a nation, completely disagree with something though.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 14 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    OK Emma, would it have been better if I said "An huge proportion of" rather than "the entire"? And since I'm not an expert on herbal medicine myself, telling the quacks from the creditable is a heck of a lot of work. A lot more work than just seeing their Diploma in Medicine from a known university on the wall of their surgery.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10653 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    I'm sure there's a word for a zinging comeback to a ridiculous comment that you only remember later.

    Esprit d'escalier...

    Examples here

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    Matt, what instructions are you given for participating on that show? Is it "be nice to sitting ducks"?

    Just wondering.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1645 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    This weird jingoism - it'll be run by Australians! Ewwww! -- is a keynote of the argument.

    Actually, I'm concerned about this - but only because it means the body won't be subject to scrutiny under the OIA (and Australia's FOIA is unsatisfactory).

    Unfortunately, politically, the bill is a dead duck, and will languish at the bottom of the Order Paper unless either National agrees to vote for it (yeah, right - they don't do MMP advocacy politics), or the minor parties join the modern world.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1716 posts Report Reply

  • Scott Common,

    I agree with the Libertarian argument that we should be allowed to take anything we want, but I think anyone selling mass produced health treatments is under an obligation to provide real clinical information on the effects.

    I agree with the sentiment of this statement and it will always depend on the individual having access to quality information about what is actually in the product they are taking. I noted some examples above Russell and I thought it would be a good exercise to see what hazard classifications those substances have within New Zealand – some surprising results as you will see.

    We’ll start with sassafras oils because they’re pretty common…

    Oils, sassafras (CAS 8006-80-2) 6.1E, 6.6B, 6.7B, 6.9B
    Now those classifications look mysterious but here’s what they actually mean.
    Class 6 are toxic substances (ie toxic to humans) with the following subclasses.
    Subclass 6.1 - Substances which are acutely toxic
    Subclass 6.6 - Substances which are mutagenic
    Subclass 6.7 - Substances which are carcinogenic
    Subclass 6.9 - Substances which are target organ systemic toxicants

    The A – E rating indicates the seriousness of the hazard presented with A being the most serious and E being the least. Remember that this is a “diluted” version of the active ingredient “Safrole” which I thought I’d look at next…

    Safrole (CAS 94-59-7) 6.1D, 6.6B, 6.7B, 6.9B, 9.3C
    So it’s a bit nastier than the oil itself but on it’s own it also presents an Ecotoxic classification.
    Terrestrial vertebrate effects (Subclass 9.3).

    But do we see any of these warnings on the label for the substances? At the moment I would bet not. How about another pretty common “herbal remedy”?

    Germanium, powder 7440-56-4 4.1.1A
    Not quite as nasty but I think some people would be surprised to discover that their germanium powder is a flammable solid (readily combustible solids and solids which may cause fire through friction) (subclass 4.1.1).

    Many people automatically assume that something which is "natural" is not hazardous - but in fact thats where most of our useful hazardous substances come from. Aside from a health persepective many of these products have their own hazards (such as being highly flammable) which people are not usually aware of - and the current labelling of such products in many sectors is woefully inadequate.

    It's worthwhile to note that any time a substance which is deemed as hazardous is sold the customer has a legal right to request the material safety data sheet (MSDS) for the product - the retailler must supply this for them. How many of the herbal retailers out there would do this, or even be aware of what a MSDS actually is.

    Until all this information is available to people on the actual product people cannot be assured (without doing their own research) that they are getting the full picture in regards to potenital issues surrounding their substances - and as such are not making an informed decision.

    [Tools used to source this information]

    ERMA NZ Hazard Classifications
    http://www.ermanz.govt.nz/hs/abouths/classification.html

    ERMA NZ Search Register
    http://www.ermanz.govt.nz/search/registers.html

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 62 posts Report Reply

  • Matt Nippert,

    In other news, the website Rankin endorsed on air as a source of information about the therapeutic good bill has subpages on overcooked topics such as:

    Vaccinations cause autism!

    Flouride causes bone cancer!

    At least astrology can't give you cancer. Or claim to be a cure.

    Jolisa: Thanks for jogging my memory. I'm sure the phrase would have come to mind eventually.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 21 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    I don't know whether it exactly has any bearing but here goes...

    At varsity someone I knew went through the ingredients of three herb teas (I think it was) and checked them against the available literature.

    As I recall, there wasn't always a strong relation between the contents and what they said they'd do. Also I think some needed pregnant-person warnings.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1115 posts Report Reply

  • Michael Fitzgerald,

    Kia ora

    The internal contradictions of the Greens and their anti-science philosophy is a bridge needing to be built. They're so good on labels and content of food but to not play a consistant game is dissapointing. Remember Jeanette & her Rudolf Steiner roasted Possum nuts to keep them out of her trees.

    A little science into the mix surely won't detract from 'natural' or 'traditional' marketing tools.

    A family friend had his appendix out in North Korea under accupunture. He could see, feel, and hear them going at it and he is all OK now.

    hei kona

    Since May 2007 • 631 posts Report Reply

  • Michael Hogan,

    It seems to make sense that someone selling me something I'm going to put into my body should have to demonstrate that it is, within reasonable bounds, safe.

    Well yes, I agree Russell. The problem arises however, when the business model is used as the primary driver behind legislative action. And who will have the lobbying power to ensure this is passed? Those with the most to spend (and gain) when it does. The acceptable return on investment philosophy is older than many of the remedies being touted now as ancient.

    The food you buy at the supermarket cannot be demonstrated to be safe within reasonable bounds until it has been (supposedly) consumed for a number of years without adverse side effects. Is this not a good enough standard to apply to supplements and herbal remedies? GE food (covering 80% of the cotton, soy, and corn from the US) cannot pass that test, yet we merrily go about buying food "products" full of these ingredients (and shipped from all over the globe). Many plant based remedies would fall under the same type of processing nightmare, but many do not. It is most definitely buyer be "aware".

    The conditions and "dis-eases" which we see emerging that were not around (or monitored) 50 or even 20 years ago, are often a direct result of the environmental toxins we ingest through air, water and food. We should be concerned (or at least reasonably informed about everything we put in our bodies.

    The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan is the best book in ages about this subject. It is very hard to look at anything we put in our bodies the same again.

    Waiheke Island • Since Nov 2006 • 31 posts Report Reply

  • Jeremy Andrew,

    Scott, all those hazard classes are for the undiluted substance in quantity.
    As another example, close to my (and other folks here) heart: Alcohol:
    R11 R20 R21 R22 R36 R37 R38 R40
    R11 Highly flammable.
    R20 Harmful by inhalation.
    R21 Harmful in contact with skin.
    R22 Harmful if swallowed.
    R36 Irritating to eyes.
    R37 Irritating to respiratory system.
    R38 Irritating to skin.
    R40 Limited evidence of a carcinogenic effect.



    Harmful if swallowed! ROFL!

    Hamiltron - City of the F… • Since Nov 2006 • 900 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    OK Emma, would it have been better if I said "An huge proportion of" rather than "the entire"?

    Absolutely. Is that unreasonable?

    Me, I really wanna get my hands on some germanium powder now and indulge in some Brainiacs-style science.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Hansel Dunlop,

    OK Emma, would it have been better if I said "An huge proportion of" rather than "the entire"? And since I'm not an expert on herbal medicine myself, telling the quacks from the creditable is a heck of a lot of work. A lot more work than just seeing their Diploma in Medicine from a known university on the wall of their surgery. -BenWilson

    Seeing as how you confess to having little knowledge of the subject a simple statement that frauds and quacks do exist in the field of natural health would be fine. If you are impressed by Diplomas then you can look for those from recognised schools of naturopathy. People like Natural Ange (who I grew up listening to on bFM) are members of industry bodies.

    I'm not trying to defend a particular school of thought on this issue but I do find it dangerous how much faith people put in the medical profession. And I don't like the fact that most (but not all) Doctors will not recommend a generic (i.e herbal product) for minor conditions where they are appropriate. Usually preferring to sell you something from one of their pharmaceutical providers. I just think a lot of them have lost sight of true patient care and instead seem to act as drug pushing automatons. But hey! Maybe that's what people want. Maybe they don't really feel like they've been treated by a doctor unless they give them something. I just wish they dished out more placebos and fewer drugs with dangerous ingredients.

    As a disclaimer: I've never visited a naturopath and I sure as hell don't believe in homeopathy. My mother is a homeopath and I've spent a lot of time in the company of people who consider themselves natural healers. And all of them have been lovely people who care about the people they treat and would never recommend, for example, people not take their protease inhibitors for HIV. These people work in those areas where the medical profession can't do anything or the side effects of the drugs they prescribe are more than the patient can put up with.

    From my experience of watching a homeopaths work over the years it is pretty obvious that the placebo at the end of the consultation is not why people come. I think the biggest benefit they seem to get out of it is telling someone all their problems (emotional and physical) and then having someone at the end of it tell them that they aren't weird, that they are a good person etc.

    I've had huge arguments with my own mother about this stuff but I don't anymore. She eventually said something that has shut me up for good. The conversation went like this:

    Me: But don't you think it's wrong to charge people if there is no actual hard proof that what you give them does anything. Where do you get off giving people placeboes!!
    Mum: Well, I believe it does do something. I could be wrong, I don't deny that. But what does it matter if it is just a placebo? What's wrong with helping people heal themselves?

    So yeah - I can't argue with that - nothing wrong with helping people heal themselves as far as I'm concerned. It's just a matter of helping people appropriately and also making sure that they get other treatment for things that are beyond that. i.e brain tumors and gaping chest wounds.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 14 posts Report Reply

  • Scott Common,

    Actually the hazard classifications are for the pure substance but the quantity does not change the hazard classification under the HSNO act (the dilution of the mixture could change it however).

    It's also worth while to note that the MSDS you have refered to is also for pure Ethyl Alchol (200 proof!!!!) which is understandably dangerous.

    And as it's worth while to note that there are requirements for sites that store large quantites of alchol as well - mostly because of the flammability issues.

    The point I was getting at was that many of these substances have hazards associated with them which are often not advertised - or in many cases the products are advertised as natural (which consumers instantal equate to being safe it seems).

    I'm just trying to look at this from another angle and from an Act which I actually have experience with.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 62 posts Report Reply

  • stephen walker,

    I do find it dangerous how much faith people put in the medical profession.

    This is an important point: this faith may have a bit more evidence to back it up than a lot of other types of faith, but in the end it is still just that--a kind of faith.

    "proof it is safe"

    There are all sorts of things people ingest all the time without "proof" they are safe or actually give the benefits claimed. There are only degrees of probability, and even then, the issue of safety over the long term is often completely ignored or downplayed.

    So, is asparatame safe?
    Monosodium glutamate?
    High-fructose corn syrup?
    Sodium nitirite?
    Irradiated food?

    A lot of scientific studies have reported no evidence of significant risk. A lot of these have been disputed. Long-term and short-term risks require completely different methods of assessment, and the truth is that over the long term, the scientific method becomes somewhat less reliable. You just cannot isolate the individual factors in order to observe the effects.

    And there's the rub: unlike science, in the real world, individual factors are not isolated. Everything is part of a massively complex system, of which only a tiny part is understood by "science".

    Science is useful, but it is arrogant to believe that is has more than a small part of the answers.

    nagano • Since Nov 2006 • 645 posts Report Reply

  • Juha Saarinen,

    Ben, I'm hiring you as marketing manager. You've got ideas. Good ones.

    Since Nov 2006 • 529 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    Science is useful, but it is arrogant to believe that is has more than a small part of the answers.

    Yes, the world is a complex place and to a degree a lot of science relies on simplfied models but that just means that what passes as "alternative" has got even less chance of finding out the facts.

    If science can't provide answers to some health issues then nothing can. It's just as well science at least keeps looking and finding more answers.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    that link should be looking and finding more answers

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • James Green,

    Rankin: She shared with us the remarkable factoid that there was only one recorded death from natural remedies

    This is a dodgy argument, and overlooks a far more massive category of harm. There's a continuum in which substances exert effects. A remedy of concentrated apple pips would kill you very quickly, and cause and effect would be obvious. However, sometimes, the ill effects take longer. Take that whole packet of panadol, and you'll die in a couple of days. But sometimes it's not that easy to see the causation. Cigarettes would be a classic example, but it doesn't always need to be prolonged exposure.

    Russell notes that beta-carotene might be bad for smokers. Actually, it might be bad for everyone, along with taking Vitamin A and E supplements. Vitamin C seems like it's OK at this stage, but I'm not planning to start taking multivitamins anytime soon!

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 703 posts Report Reply

  • stephen walker,

    If science can't provide answers to some health issues then nothing can.

    <strikethrough>bollocks.</strikethrough>I mean, fundamentalist claptrap.

    "If I can't have it, no one can!" haha, very droll.

    Based on your logical falacy, if "science" can't show how or why something works, then it simply doesn't work.

    Yeah, right.
    Science is omniscient, I'd always suspected as much after being brought up on a cerebral diet of Dr. Who, Star Treck and Lost in Space.
    LOL

    nagano • Since Nov 2006 • 645 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Graham,

    Actually, If answers can be reliably found, It's science.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 118 posts Report Reply

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