If only it were true

Natural Health Food vendors are up in arms about a new law that will more tightly regulate their industry. They claim that "natural" products should be regulated differently than drugs, because they are safer and have demonstrated benefits.

Sadly, that's just not true.

For one thing it's a complete fallacy that something natural must be safe. Mercury, for example, exists in nature. As do many toxins: cyanide, arsenic, etc. Asbestos occurs in nature as well, and has many beneficial properties, but, oh yeah, it causes cancer and lung disease. Whoops!

The other problem with natural products is that, until the new law is passed, they have not had to prove that their product actually contained the active ingredient, nor that it has any effect at all. And this is what the real issue is: the new regulation will (gasp!) mean that, if you claim your product helps headaches, it must actually help headaches. If you claim your product contains ginseng, it must actually contain ginseng.

The problem is that the government and the public have differing notions about what constitutes a drug and the health food vendors slip their wares right into that huge gap. The public sees a bottle of pills at Shoppers Drug Mart and thinks "This will solve my arthritis problem!", when in reality it will do nothing except lighten your wallet. The manufacturer, meanwhile, doesn't have to sell you a real product; they can sell you silicone dioxide in a gelatin capsule, call it glucosamine, and you can't tell the difference. The placebo effect takes care of the rest. The government let this go because the pills were "harmless" "supplements" and if you want to buy junk it's your problem. Since most people are woefully ignorant of biology or science or statistics they can't make informed decisions about their health and happily buy the products which do nothing.

(Another part of the problem is drug stores selling these health foods; this only adds to the supplements' credibility. Some pharmacies claim that a trained pharmacist can steer you to the real drugs which DO work, but I only know one pharmacist who does this, and she's been told by her superiors to try to INCREASE sales of the natural products. The real motive is that gullible people will buy these things no matter what, so the drug stores want a piece of the pie.)