Hospital Errors Kill Well Over 180,000 Americans Annually – Why are Super-Safe Supplements and Natural Health Under Attack?

By Dr. Mercola

When Consumer Reports speaks, people listen – and this time the consumer advocacy agency is advising you on where to get your care – or not – if you need to go to the hospital. It’s the first time Consumer Reports has investigated hospital safety,1 and the results show hospital ratings don’t always match public opinions. Some of the most well-known hospitals got the worst ratings.

Except for the Mayo Clinic’s various campuses, which have exceptionally good scores, others like Mass General and Mount Sinai in New York, didn’t rate as well as you might expect. One hospital, Sacred Heart of Chicago, scoring an abysmal 16 on a 100-point safety scale was ranked the most dangerous in the country. A clinic in Billings, Montana scored the highest. Hospitals were ranked according to six critera:2

Communications about safety issues
The degree to which you come right back in the hospital after you’ve been discharged
Situations in which too many imaging tests that expose you to radiation are being done
Common complications in unsafe hospital
Death rates for several conditions
An Epidemic of Health Care Harm…

“Infections, surgical mistakes, and other medical harm contributes to the deaths of 180,000 hospital patients a year, according to projections based on a 2010 report from the Department of Health and Human Services. Another 1.4 million are seriously hurt by their hospital care. And those figures apply only to Medicare patients.

What happens to other people is less clear because most hospital errors go unreported and hospitals report on only a fraction of things that can go wrong.

‘There is an epidemic of health-care harm,’ says Rosemary Gibson, a patient-safety advocate and author. More than 2.25 million Americans will probably die from medical harm in this decade, she says. ‘That’s like wiping out the entire populations of North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Vermont. It’s a man-made disaster.’

… ‘Hospitals haven’t given safety the attention it deserves,’ says Peter Pronovost, M.D., senior vice president for patient safety and quality at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. Nor has the government, he says. ‘Medical harm is probably one of the three leading causes of death in the U.S., but the government doesn’t adequately track it as it does deaths from automobiles, plane crashes, and cancer. It’s appalling.'”

The above was written in Consumer Reports:3 To review the full listing of their safety scores, you need to be a Consumer Reports subscriber. However, there are also other sources that can help you evaluate the safety of a hospital, such as:

Hospital Compare
Leapfrog Group’s Hospital Safety Score
On Calling the Kettle Black…

Statistics like these make safety allegations against alternative forms of health care, including the use of herbal remedies and supplements in lieu of drugs, all the more ludicrous. Natural health modalities have repeatedly come under attack as being inherently risky. Risky compared to what? Clearly, these people do not know what they’re talking about when they claim conventional health care is superior to natural, holistic modalities.

Superior in what way? Putting you out of your misery quicker?

One such misguided person is Dick Durbin, current state senator of my home state, Illinois, which, as we now know is also home to the most dangerous hospital in the United States. I find this to be particularly ironic since Senator Durbin is a staunch pro-pharma supporter who time and again has tried to destroy alternative health and eliminate supplements. Earlier this summer, he tried to sneak in a last-minute anti-supplement amendment into an FDA bill. Fortunately, over 100,000 Americans called their Congressmen within 24 hours to defeat the amendment.

The Alliance for Natural Health reported:4

“One of the things we found alarming in this amendment saga was the amount of misinformation in Sen. Durbin’s speech on the Senate floor… Sen. Durbin [said], ‘No one tests dietary supplements… Companies that make these products may test them if they wish, there’s no requirement under law that they test them, and there’s certainly no agency of government that tests dietary supplements… There’s just no testing involved.’

This is completely untrue – supplement companies, by law, must comply with the Dietary Supplement Current Good Manufacturing Practices5 (CGMPs) and must conduct testing throughout the production process as well as testing the finished product for quality control. As with the pharmaceutical industry, the burden is on supplement companies to test their own products, because in the end they are liable should FDA choose to take enforcement action against them.

One reason we are so concerned about legislation like Sen. Durbin’s is that it is clearly intended to put us on a slippery slope toward a supplement pre-approval system – similar to the system being used by the European Union, where only those vitamins and minerals on the approved list may be used in food supplements, and only in very limited amounts. For example, if a supplement contains more beta carotene than is present in half a large carrot, it is banned. A regulatory framework like the EU’s is exactly what Sen. Durbin wants.”

Supplements Industry has an Unmatched Safety Record

Durbin is still on the war path against supplements, despite the fact that recent investigations in the US and the UK have concluded that supplements and herbal remedies have a sterling safety record. The UK-based, international campaign group, the Alliance for Natural Health International (ANH-Intl) recently revealed data6 showing that compared to supplements, an individual is:

Around 900 times more likely to die from food poisoning
Nearly 300,000 times more likely to die from a preventable medical injury during a UK hospital stay, which is comparable to the individual risk of dying that active military face in Iraq or Afghanistan
Additionally, the data shows that adverse reactions to pharmaceutical drugs are:

62,000 times more likely to kill you than food supplements
7,750 times more likely to kill you than herbal remedies
The data, which was collected from official sources in the UK and EU, demonstrate that both food supplements and herbal remedies are in the ‘super-safe’ category of individual risk – meaning risk of death from their consumption is less than 1 in 10 million.

Similarly, the latest data from the U.S. National Poison Data System (2010 report),7 NO deaths were attributable to vitamin and mineral supplements that year. And, as noted by Orthomolecular Medicine News Service last year,8 Americans easily take more than 60 billion doses of nutritional supplements every year, and with zero related deaths this is an outstanding safety record:

“Well over half of the U.S. population takes daily nutritional supplements. Even if each of those people took only one single tablet daily, that makes 165,000,000 individual doses per day, for a total of over 60 billion doses annually. Since many persons take far more than just one single vitamin or mineral tablet, actual consumption is considerably higher, and the safety of nutritional supplements is all the more remarkable.

Over 60 billion doses of vitamin and mineral supplements per year in the USA, and not a single fatality. Not one. If vitamin and mineral supplements are allegedly so ‘dangerous,’ as the FDA and news media so often claim, then where are the bodies?”

Senators Durbin, Blumenthal “Deeply Concerned” about Poor Manufacturing Standards

While supplements may be one of the safest industries, there’s certainly room for improvement, especially when it comes to quality standards. The good news is that even when quality is lacking, the risk you take relates more to the fact that the product will not provide you with the same benefits as a high-quality product might, as opposed to posing a life-threatening risk to your health – like drugs do. Still, the fact that you’re more likely to die from drowning in your bathtub than from a supplement or herbal remedy, supplements are still being attacked as “dangerous.”

If Senator Durbin truly cared about the safety of individuals, then he should be spending more time addressing the abysmal safety record of our hospitals, and the rampant prescriptions of dangerous drugs. Especially since the most dangerous hospital in the US is right in his backyard. But no. He’s got smaller fish to fry.

Senators Durbin and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) recently sent off letters to the Natural Products Association (NPA), the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) and the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), stating:

“We are deeply concerned about the poor manufacturing standards that expose consumers to potentially serious health risks. To ensure consumer safety, we are eager to hear of the industry’s plans for improving the successful adoption of current manufacturing practices.”

The hubbub stems from a June 30 article in the Chicago Tribune, which claims:9

“Federal inspections of companies that make dietary supplements – from multivitamins and calcium chews to capsules of echinacea and bodybuilding powders – reveal serious and widespread manufacturing problems in a $28 billion industry that sells products consumed by half of all Americans. In the last four years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found violations of manufacturing rules in half of the nearly 450 dietary supplement firms it has inspected, according to agency officials.”

The article goes on to describe how supplements are produced in “unsanitary factories.” One New Jersey-based protein powder manufacturer is alleged to have been mixing powders and supplements in “a facility infested with rodents, rodent feces and urine.”

Serious supplement adverse events are so rare that media and supplement critics repeatedly roll out Total Body Formula’s problems from back in 2008 (as Dateline NBC did in its March 18, 2012, broadcast) to beat the anti-supplement drum. The Tribune’s reporter has a history of launching attacks against “alternative” medicine. The reporter’s inclusion of deaths linked to cough syrup made by a Panamanian pharmaceutical company in 2006 adds further proof of bias.

Beware the Double Standards

I’d like to remind everyone that the FDA allows all manner of contaminations in the processed foods you consume every day, and it thinks nothing of it.

For example, up to six percent of chips are allowed to have rot from pre- or post-harvest infection. Acceptable levels of mold go as low as 15 percent in canned tomatoes to as high as 45 percent for ketchup. Up to 30 fly eggs per every 100 grams of tomato sauce is okay, as is two maggots per every 100 grams of tomato juice. The FDA also will not mandate action unless 10 or more whole or equivalent Drosophila flies and 35 of its eggs are found per 8 ounces of raisins.

Ground turkey is allowed up to 49.9% positive testing for salmonella under USDA guidelines, with ground chicken allowed up to 44.6%. When it comes to food, a certain amount of bugs and other contaminants is considered safe by the FDA. I absolutely agree that the supplement industry needs to work hard to ensure high-quality products of high purity.

However, there’s no need to try to shut down the entire industry as unsafe, as all available data attests to the contrary! Can you get ill from a supplement or herb? Yes. But your chances of suffering a serious side effect or death from a drug is astronomically higher. Again, your risk of dying from an adverse drug effect is 62,000 times higher than that of a supplement. Your chances of dying from food poisoning is also FAR greater than having a lethal reaction to a supplement.

In the end it comes down to keeping things in perspective. If Congress wants to protect us from health care harm, they need to get their priorities in order. In response to Senator Durbin’s letter, the Natural Products Association replied, in part:10

“As the leading representative of the dietary supplement industry with over 1,900 members, including suppliers and retailers of vitamins and other dietary supplements, NPA has been the leader in educating the dietary supplement industry about current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs). GMP compliance is a serious issue and NPA has taken major steps to ensure our members are in compliance. NPA agrees consumers should have access to products that are safe and wholesome and we do not make excuses for any instances of non-compliance.

However, NPA believes the FDA’s reckless comments in the Chicago Tribune article distort the full picture of our membership’s overall safety record. In fact, supplements have an excellent safety record, but we appreciate this opportunity to provide more information to you…”

Although I do not promote the use of many supplements in general, believing it is far better to get your nutrition from food, there are exceptions to this rule, and if you choose to use them in lieu of drug therapy, you’re certainly reducing your risk of serious side effects. It is prudent, however, to make sure you’re using a high-quality product. Not only will this protect you from any potential harmful effects from contaminants, but such products will also offer the greatest possible benefits so that you’re not wasting your money on an ineffective product.

Big businesses have been buying up emerging supplement manufacturers similar to what we’ve witnessed in the organic industry. Nearly 70 percent of American adults are now taking supplements, and you can bet the drug industry and a few politicians will work hard to make this another model of control and profits for a few elite businesses. I’d recommend keeping close tabs on CT Sen. Richard Blumenthal and IL Sen. Dick Durbin. If you live in Illinois, please ask him about his inaccurate statements on the senate floor.