Did New York Times Article Mislead About Supplement Risks?

Did New York Times Article Mislead About Supplement Risks?
General Health
PHOTO: Michael Stravato for The New York Times.
PHOTO: Michael Stravato for The New York Times.

Two years ago, Anthony Gucciardi reported on the deadly risks of the popular drug Tylenol. It’s long-term dangers to liver health are well-known and well-documented. So, when the otherwise-reputable New York Times tied dietary supplements (rather than acetaminophen/Tylenol) to an inordinate amount of liver risks, the natural health world perked its collective ears.

The NYT reports in “Spike in Harm to Liver Is Tied to Dietary Aids,”

“New data suggests that his is not an isolated case. Dietary supplements account for nearly 20 percent of drug-related liver injuries that turn up in hospitals, up from 7 percent a decade ago, according to an analysis by a national network of liver specialists.”

The report seems to take aim at the supplement industry, pointing out that it lacks government regulations in the same manner that drugs do. This is particularly interesting considering the premise of their entire article is that supplements account for 20% of “drug-related liver injuries.” Supplements, by their very definition and regulation are not drugs. As the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) points out, this oversight is either “sloppy journalism” or a “deliberate political statement.”

What the NYT doesn’t discuss is what accounts for the other 80% of drug-related injuries. The answer: drugs like Tylenol. Another answer: drugs made by large pharmaceutical companies and marketed as safe. Oh and these more harmful drugs—unlike supplements, they are regulated by the federal government.

Read: Acetaminophen Found to Up Asthma Risk by 540%

Tylenol overdose is the leading cause of acute liver failure in this country; it accounts for some 26,000 hospitalizations and 500 deaths each year. And not only is this dangerous drug completely legal and available over the counter, it’s doled out by hospitals, schools, parents, and friends. Oh, and it’s also advertised in the New York Times.

It’s this, advertising dollars, that may have motivated the slanted report from the New York Times. As ANH reports:

In its 2012 annual report, the NYT stated the obvious fact that it depends for its survival on advertising revenue. In 2012, Big Pharma spent $90 million on print advertising. The dietary supplement industry spends far less: $20 million on print advertising in 2010. Due to the FDA and FTC’s overzealous regulation of health claims and gag orders on dietary supplement advertising, there’s little incentive for supplement companies to advertise their products and anyway they have far less money with which to do so.”

In other words, it’s in the financial interests of the New York Times to not highlight what drugs might be causing 80% of drug-related liver injuries. And as their decision shows, everything—including journalism—can be manipulated when the almighty dollar is concerned.