So I need to address a few arguments made against vitamins, herbs and natural supplements before they are made. The first is the argument that there is no data to support their use. The whole point of this blog is to point out that is not entirely true and where there is a lack of data is a void to be filled, not a reason to throw up our hands and give up on a useful, cheap, safe alternative treatment option.
The other argument physicians make against using vitamins, herbs and natural supplements is that they are not regulated by the FDA like drugs are. Therefore, you cannot be assured that you are getting the substance and dose that is advertised on the bottle. This is true. Without formal regulation there is little to deter an unscrupulous business person from making natural supplements with alternative cheaper ingredients. Again, this is not a reason to give up on a good thing. This is a minor problem to be solved
For starters everyone should research any brand of vitamin or herbal supplement before using them. And even better would be to see a naturopathic physician that is trained in the use of these remedies and knows not only how to use them properly and safely but also knows the companies that make them and knows which can be trusted and which cannot.
I humbly offer a more systemic answer to this problem. The FDA is inefficient and already overburdened trying to handle the pharmaceutical industry so having them take over regulation of the natural supplement industry is not possible nor advisable. What I suggest is the hospitals, HMO medical groups, and insurance companies take it upon themselves. If they were to band together and form an independent regulatory body that polices the quality and quantity claims on natural supplements it would be highly effective. I speak often about incentives and this is one way to have incentives perfectly in line.
The insurance companies and HMOs will want to use a proven natural remedy rather than expensive pharmaceuticals as it will save them money. And they want those supplements to be as advertised so they work for their patients, because if they do not work and their patients get sicker they lose money. They will also will want to have as many companies as possible meet their standards and get their approval so that there is significant competition driving down price.
And the natural supplement companies will be driven to meet these strict standards of the new independent regulatory body because it will open the door to selling large amounts of supplements to hospitals, insurance companies and HMOs. If the certification is accepted by the federal government it might even make possible reimbursement for natural supplements by Medicare and Medicaid.
We as a society would get vitamins, herbal supplements and natural remedies that we can trust being what they say they are. Insurance companies, hospitals and HMOs can save money by using much cheaper natural supplements in place of pharmaceuticals where possible. And the potential savings to the healthcare system could easily be in the billions.