Natural Products and Side Effects

Surely virtually everything we ingest or take medicinally has potential side effects. Just consider those who cannot drink milk (lactose intolerance) or allergies. And who doesn’t know someone allergic to nuts of some kind.

Still, truth be told, natural products and supplements simply have less side effects than pharmaceuticals. Anyone who debates this is either uninformed, or totally biased.

The most common side-effect of any product (or food for that matter) that we ingest is stomach or intestinal upset — which only serves to reason. Rarely are these side-effects extremely harmful, and most often using a smaller dosage or taking a product with food alleviates these symptoms.

We are all aware of food allergies, and basically natural products and supplements can be thought of as foods. Allergic symptoms typically take the form of skin rashes, vomiting, headaches, etc. As with any new substance we introduce in our bodies, it’s always prudent to be aware of potential adverse effects.

Having said all of this — the overwhelming evidence supports the assertion (and fact) that natural products have far far less potential side-effects than pharmaceuticals. One only has to listen to drug commercials to be reminded of this fact.

Pharmaceuticals and Side Effects

As we know, most all pharmaceuticals have some side effects. The following story sheds light as to the causes of these side effects.

While visiting with Dr. Joseph Baur, a long-time researcher at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, we discussed in 2009 a Resveratrol Product on the market called Vindure 900 produced by Vinomis Laboratories.

Dr. Baur had performed research on Vindure, and also was a co-discoverer of Resveratrol along with Dr. David Sinclair at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Baur said he would certainly prefer Vindure or other nutraceuticals for himself, and anyone who asked about Resveratrol, as compared with a synthetic version of the product.

When asked why, Dr. Baur told me that synthetic versions of natural products are produced by pharmaceuticals because they cannot obtain a patent on a “natural molecule”. He told me the pharma companies “twist” the molecule a bit so that it has the same properties as the natural molecule, but it can be patented.

He said that these changes to the natural molecules make them not “God molecules” as he called them. And it was indeed these molecule changes that introduce the side effects. As a practical example for we non-scientists, he asked me what happens when a DNA strand has minor changes, to which I replied there can be birth defects — “Exactly” he said.

It is NOT the assertion of the Nutra Foundation that Pharma companies deliberately introduce these side-effects, but with the huge cost of developing and testing any new drug, it is understandable that the Pharma companies desire to secure patents on their drugs.

In Nutra’s opinion, it’s simply a flaw in the system — namely that natural versions of products are frequently bypassed as part of any company’s natural desire to maximize profits and produce unique drugs.

Italian Resveratrol Study Published

A recent study has been reported about the effects of Resveratrol in the diets of Italians in the Chianti region of Italy has been published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal. The study concludes there were no differences in individuals (with varying levels of Resveratrol in their bodies based upon their normal dietary intake) related to reduced death rate, inflammation, heart disease or cancer. A variety of articles have been published about the study by sources including Reuters, NPR, Science Daily , LA Times and others.

[Nutra specifically recommends an article published by NHS as it describes the study parameters in an unbiased manner.]

Naturally, this study has caused some scientists and doctors to question the effectiveness of Resveratrol supplements as a dietary supplement. Nutra believes the study’s methodology and results to be fair and genuine. The Nutra Foundation’s conclusions about the Italian study are threefold: 1) the study is only one study on individuals with normal diets, 2) the study could have singled out a host of parameters in individuals’ diets and blood streams that had no effect on the disease outcomes studied, and 3) the study is not relevant with respect to taking higher doses of a Resveratrol supplement.

Nutra also hastens to say that there have been a plethora of studies that have shown positive effects in individuals taking Resveratrol supplements (in dosages from 250 – 500 mg) including strength and endurance, heart health, diabetes, memory and cancer prevention.

For the new study, Dr. Semba of Johns Hopkins used data from 783 Italians who were tracked from 1998 to 2009, when they were at least 65 years old, living in their communities at that time.

The participants were examined and asked to complete a questionnaire about their diets. Urine samples were also collected from people in the study to measure levels of broken-down resveratrol. The participants were not taking Resveratrol supplements.

The Reuters article mentions Teresa Fung, a nutrition researcher at Simmons College in Boston who was not involved in the new study, said she was “not surprised” by its findings. Fung told Reuters Health she wouldn’t expect the amount of resveratrol found in a normal diet to have a detectable effect on health.

Dr. David Sinclair (Harvard University) who has researched Resveratrol and numerous other polyphenols and anti-oxidants commented in the LA Times Article —  “The levels of Resveratrol in the diet are negligible compared to the levels shown to work in mice and humans.” Sinclair is one of the leading resveratrol researchers in the U.S. Many people have pointed out it would be virtually impossible to get high enough levels in the normal diet as are used in research studies.

Natural Product Scientific Studies

A plethora of scientific studies have, and continue to be conducted on a wide variety of natural products, supplements, foods and so on. Quite frankly, even for those individuals who make a concerted effort to read and use these studies to make decisions on what foods and supplements to consume — become quite confused.

This confusion is very understandable due not only to the difficulty in sometimes comprehending the scientific jargon and methods utilized. In addition, many studies are contradictory and a times report completely opposite results.

Unfortunately, some of this confusion is the result of inherent biases of scientists — or more aptly put, the biases of the organizations funding the research. In fact, many studies are indeed funded by the very companies who produce the products and supplements themselves (I know this from personal experience). At times, companies even fund studies to directly refute other studies for natural products of their competitors — or products which could replace products the company produces (pharmaceuticals vs. nutraceuticals).

In 2003, the Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed results of 370 clinical trials to determine any bias in drug company-sponsored research and concluded that industry-sponsored studies were significantly more likely to reach conclusions that were favorable to the sponsor than were non-industry studies.

I recall a study published in 2012 (which shall remain nameless at this time) which concluded that Resveratrol was not effective in improving the health of otherwise healthy patients — you read that right! That’s akin to saying that a pharmaceutical or drug is ineffective in patients who don’t have a particular disease. And guess who funded the Resveratrol study? I’m sure you can figure that out…

So What’s the Consumer to Do?

Nutra recommends the following for consumers who are indeed looking for scientific studies (which they should be) to verify the reported health benefits of natural products and supplements.

1. Consider the SOURCE of the study — particularly the organization which funded the study and their inherent biases

2. Generally TRUST sources such as Universities and Government-funded laboratories (though surely they have some biases also)

3. Read MULTIPLE studies, and believe the results which most of the studies have in common, and are consistent.

4. Be WARY of studies funded by producers of specific products, conducted on their own products.

Natural Products, Nutraceuticals and Supplements

Throughout the Nutra Foundation website, a variety of terms are used which are in most cases interchangeable.

Natural Products is a catch-all for any product (or food/mineral/etc.) which is produced inherently in nature and has defined medicinal properties and positive effects on overall heath. Some people might also include Organic products in this category, though this term tends to refer primarily to foods.

Nutraceuticals is a relatively new term coined by the natural products industry to connote the fact that in many cases these products can be viewed on a parallel level with pharmaceuticals.

For example, a highly renowned MD and neurosurgeon that I am acquainted with in Pittsburgh, PA treats a considerable percentage of his patients using Fish Oils (Omegas) to reduce pain and inflammation — in addition to, or instead of, using pharmaceutical products.

Supplements generally refer to those products sold in natural product and drug stores for a variety of uses. Vitamins are a sub-category of supplements.

Whatever the term used, they all have the same thing in common — these are products and elements derived from natural sources to treat and alleviate a plethora of ailments and illnesses.

Natural Products and Anti Pharma Bias

It is often the case that people in the natural products industries and even some naturopaths seem to have a strong bias against using pharmaceutical products. Each of them has their own story about the harmful effects of pharmaceuticals.

Unfortunately, this has caused “camps” to develop in a seeming war of nutraceuticals versus pharmaceuticals.

It is the belief of the Nutra Foundation that nutraceuticals (and natural supplements and products) are often simply overlooked as cures to a variety of ailments — or as prevention to ailments ever developing. While some blame medical schools and pharmaceutical companies for pushing drugs on people (and Nutra will not deny that this practice exists) — it can also be said that natural products companies push natural products as cure-alls in some cases.

Nutra falls somewhere in the middle of this debate, albeit with some emphasis on natural products. However, in the case of acute illness (i.e. heart attack, cancer, organ failure) anyone would be hard-pressed to not default to a pharmaceutical cure. This is not to say that nutraceuticals do not play an important role even in these extreme circumstances, and most people are aware of stories of others being cured by (or aided by) the use of natural products.

In Nutra’s opinion, the “war” has been created by companies on both sides of the aisle who produce propaganda and marketing materials to suit their needs and maximize their profits. Unfortunately, this has created mass-confusion on the part of the consumer, when the truth is that BOTH pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals have their place in the world of medicine.

Nutra Foundation and Vinomis Laboratories

As the founder of The Nutra Foundation, I (Mark Juliano) should disclose that I was indeed a co-founder and CEO of Vinomis Laboratories — a maker of Resveratrol and other natural products. However, while I remain a stock holder in Vinomis, I have played no active role in the company since 2009.

While I do sincerely believe in Resveratrol as a natural supplement due to my personal use of these products, Nutra remains unbiased as to Resveratrol in general and recommends several high-quality products containing Resveratrol.

More importantly, my journey into natural products began several years before founding Vinomis (in 2008) as a result of personal research, investigation, and use of natural products and a variety of pharmaceutical products (some with adverse effects) throughout my life. As a child I suffered from extreme allergies and respiratory illness, in addition to more severe illnesses in my adult life. I hasten to say that some of these pharmaceuticals were indeed god-sends and cured some of my illnesses.

This journey and investigation led me to start Vinomis — where I realized through a thorough reading of materials and discussions with doctors and university researchers — that BOTH natural products and pharmaceutical companies have inherent biases to promote the positive effects of their products.

I also realized that most Websites have biases due to the fact that they generate considerable advertising and sales dollars from pharmaceuticals and nutraceutical products. Unfortunately these biases lead to misleading information for the consumer, and hence the primary reason that The Nutra Foundation was created.