The problem stretches well beyond one tainted probiotic. Dietary supplements—vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, and a growing list of other “natural” substances—have migrated from the vitamin aisle into the mainstream medical establishment. Hospitals are not only including supplements in their formularies (their lists of approved medication), they’re also opening their own specialty supplement shops on-site and online. Some doctors are doing the same. According to a Gallup survey of 200 physicians, 94 percent now recommend vitamins or minerals to some of their patients; 45 percent have recommended herbal supplements as well. And 7 percent are not only recommending supplements but actually selling them in their offices. ... Consumers are buying those products in droves. According to the Nutrition Business Journal, supplement sales have increased by 81 percent in the past decade. The uptick is easy to understand: Supplements are easier to get than prescription drugs, and they carry the aura of being more natural and thus safer. Their labels often promise to address health issues for which there are few easy solutions. ... It’s tough to say what portion of those products pose a risk to consumers. A 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that from 2008 through 2011, the FDA received 6,307 reports of health problems from dietary supplements, including 92 deaths, hundreds of life-threatening conditions, and more than 1,000 serious injuries or illnesses. The GAO suggests that due to underreporting, the real number of incidents may be far greater.
Until very recently, aging was just a thing that happens, a decay or breakdown, chaotic and impossibly complex, that seems to accelerate only after we’ve reached the age of reproduction. ... from its birth in the early 1990s, the field of geroscience has faced significant impediments. Coming on the heels of centuries of humbug (e.g., Ponce de Leon, crushed dog testicles, Ted Williams’s frozen head), it has had to overcome a near-universal presumption of quackery. It is also an awkward match with contemporary drug research, which is organized around addressing specific maladies. Since aging is a risk factor rather than a disease — in the language of the FDA, it’s never been considered an “indication” — pharmaceutical companies are disincentivized from developing broadly aging-targeted drugs, and foundations tend to reserve their grant money for cancer, Alzheimer’s, and the like. ... For Guarente, watching the boom and bust of resveratrol was as motivating as it was unnerving. He redoubled his own efforts to be the first to bring an anti-aging pill to market, even as he and Sinclair squabbled with Kennedy and Kaeberlein in the press. At times, the interpersonal strife can seem like nothing so much as the professional equivalent of a red Maserati convertible, a time-slowing denial of the ultimate stakes that bind the men: their shared obsession with combating aging, as every one of them gets older.
In December 2014, Presnell became the first person in North Carolina to be convicted of felony ginseng larceny on private property. He joined other thieves across Appalachia — the mountainous strip of territory extending from southern New York through the Carolinas down into Mississippi — who’ve been arrested, fined, even imprisoned for various ginseng-related crimes, including poaching, illegal possession, and unlawful trade across state lines. ... Cornett went into business for the same reason poachers are keen to rob him. The global market for ginseng root, popularly used as an herbal supplement, is estimated at more than $2 billion. Long a staple of traditional Chinese medicine, ginseng products are also ubiquitous in Korea and increasingly popular in Singapore, Malaysia, and other countries with large ethnic Chinese populations. These days, most ginseng is mass-produced on large, pesticide-sprayed farms under the artificial shade of wood and fabric canopies. Wild ginseng, which tends to grow in temperate forests, is considered more potent and fetches a higher price. Plants like Cornett’s, cultivated in the woods, are closer to wild than to conventionally farmed ginseng. ... Dwindling supply and robust demand have inflated wild American ginseng’s value. In 2014, according to public and academic data, the 81,500 pounds that were legally exported commanded an average wholesale price of $800 per dried pound. That was almost 15 times more than the going rate for farmed roots. Nearly all exports go to China, where a burgeoning middle class is willing to pay marked-up retail prices — sometimes even thousands of dollars per pound. ... Scientists believe ginseng is native to both East Asia and North America because some 70 million years ago, the two land masses were part of a single megacontinent known as Laurasia
The wellness phenomenon isn’t new, and its strength has never been specificity. In 1950, J.I. Rodale, one of the earliest advocates of organic farming, launched Prevention magazine, giving readers a continuous outlet for information that was a few degrees short of science. He was sure that rimless glasses and saltwater caused cancer and that electricity kept it at bay. ... in our internet era, where presentation matters more than pedigree, we have about a million self-taught gurus who profit from preaching at events like the Longevity Now Conference that certain foods could let you live as long as you wanted ... The wellness industry has exploded into superfoods, detoxes, and celebrity healers selling magic crystals, and the press and the public have gobbled it all up ... are any wellness products worth your money, and is any of the advice being shilled by its gurus going to make you healthier? Evidence says… no. Here’s why.