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The Dietary Supplement -- Newsletter Provides Authoritative Coverage Of Supplement Issues
December 2000
by Peter Golden, Publisher

Health and wellness newsletters are a staple in the reading habits of millions of Americans. For those interested in prevention, maintenance and longevity, an authoritative newsletter is an invaluable resource, indeed a guiding light through the murky precincts of conflicting regimens and wildly hyperbolic claims.

Many, perhaps most, newsletters serve as nothing more than thinly cloaked promotions for the products and services peddled by their publishers. More than a few newsletters of the latter variety have achieved high visibility, with others rising and falling with the fortunes of the health pundits they promote. Which is why we were pleasantly surprised when a recent morning's mail brought a new entry in the newsletter sweepstakes, this one in the form of a publication called The Dietary Supplement (TDS).

Taking an impartial look at supplement pros and cons

Written and published by Paul R. Thomas, a nutrition educator and Registered Dietitian, TDS is a rare and wonderful thing: an even handed, impartial, clearly written presentation of the pros and cons of various supplements. Authoritative features are accompanied by current news in such vital areas as quality and regulation.

For $28, which we sent off immediately after looking over a copy, one receives four, 16-page newsletters annually, which at less than fifty cents a page on an annualized basis are more than worth the price for solid information and the peace of mind that comes with reasonable understanding.

Speaking in a voice of clarity and reason

What else distinguishes this latest offering in the newsletter sweepstakes from hundreds of others in the same "space" (to borrow a word from the Internet crowd)? In a word, the answer is "voice." As schooled writers and wise readers know, the author's voice is a reasonable proxy for his or her style and intelligence. Thomas's voice is one of calm reason and strong intellect, letting the facts speak for themselves. Supplements are judged on their merits, with most articles accompanied by a comforting quotient of research notes.

Open the most recent issue (July-September 2000, although the winter issue should be available by the time you read this) and you'll find an exhaustive, twelve-page overview of glucosamine and chondroitin (G&C), starting on the front page. Flip to the last page of the article and you'll find more of the research we mentioned a moment ago. But don't be put off by the exhaustive references: as noted earlier, Thomas's style is lucid and easily accessible. If, however, ten pages of close reading is too heavy a burden, you're in for a pleasant surprise.

Easy to read sidebars and charts

Like any good teacher, Thomas provides easy-to-read sidebars and information charts that considerably lighten the reading burden. TDS callouts come in an attractive shade of blue, a convention that quickly assists those who read for meaning in quick time. One need only read as far as page two in the G&C article before the first sidebar appears (a concise overview of how both substances interact in osteoarthritic joints). On a facing page, a helpful illustration of a human joint appears, followed only one page later by an overview of "Other Ingredients Claimed to Support Joint Health," including the controversial supplement SAMe, which TDS notes is both expensive and laden with a variety of side effects and cautions.

This plentiful assortment of readily accessible information, it should be remembered, is simply an accompaniment to the main body of the article, which at this point is running to six pages. But author/ publisher Thomas is only just getting into gear. Noting the high expense of these products, he provides a capsule summary of "Approved G&C," relying for much of his testing information on ConsumerLab.com, a private testing organization that is rapidly rewriting the book on supplement quality by putting an ever-widening group of popular supplements through potency and quality trials and then publishing the results to its website.

The crowning achievement of the article, which by now appears to be authoritative, is a double-page matrix of G&C product comparisons, including cost, label and/or insert information and pertinent comments. Two other articles in the issue are noteworthy for those with an interest in dietary guidelines for supplements and RDAs for antioxidants.

A wealth of information for the intelligent reader

Written for the "intelligent reader," TDS strives to be both impartial and thorough. As an alternative to plowing through scientific journals or reading research, we think it can't be beat. Athletes, trainers and coaches, people suffering from chronic illness, physicians and other health providers can all benefit from TDS. If you can't afford it or just want to see others in your community share the wealth of information in its articles and news briefs, recommend it to your librarian as a good candidate for the subscription shelves.

We could go on, but we think we've made our point: TDS is fresh, vastly informative and, not to gild the lily, a real page turner for those who take supplementation seriously. How many supplement-related publications do you know of, for instance, that have the courage and integrity to print anti-supplementation news briefs without prejudice or comment?

Want to get a quick, no cost look at TDS? Turn your Web browser to www.thedietarysupplement.com, where you'll find the premier issue in its entirety. We were so enthusiastic after doing so we e-mailed editor Paul Thomas and asked him to put on his visionary's cap and prognosticate a bit on the "future of dietary supplements."

Looking to the future

His response, in part, follows, accompanied (in parenthesis) by a few comments of our own:

  • Supplement sales will continue to climb, perhaps not at the double-digit growth of previous years, but climb nonetheless.

  • Given a Republican administration and continuing Republican control of key Congressional committee seats, DSHEA will not be cut back, and to the contrary, may very well be expanded. (Here, Thomas refers to a key piece of federal legislation, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, that while useful to some and beloved by none, nevertheless provides the best approximation available for an open, competitive market environment for dietary supplements.)

  • Health-type claims for supplements will continue to be a controversial issue. The FDA and FTC will continue to be pushed aside and claims will become more bold and prevalent as they become more protected under the free-speech rights of sellers. (We think the claims issue needs revisiting, especially with regard to supportive, wide-ranging research as a means of further legitimizing supplementation.)

  • One or more traditional medical/nutritional groups, like the American Dietetic Association or the AMA, will endorse supplement use for specific applications. One [of the organizations] will actually admit that taking a basic one-a-day multiple is probably a good idea for most Americans as a cheap form of dietary insurance.

  • The percentage of the American population that takes supplements on a regular or semi-regular basis will remain on the increase. Most users will continue to be confused about supplements, wondering if they're taking the right supplements in the right dosages. But they will want to make up -- at least in part -- for the fact that they're not eating or living as well as they know they should because of time constraints and the stresses of daily living.

  • The budgets of the NIH (National Institutes of Health) and especially NCCAM (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine) will continue to grow in the area of high-quality research on supplements. Even the Office of Dietary Supplements may come under the bailiwick of NCCAM rather than remaining a separate unit in the NIH Director's office.

In sum

While Thomas is notably reticent to speculate within the pages of his own publication, his reportage, as the English say, is "spot on" and from our perspective eminently worthy of commendation. His claim of editorial independence is entirely confirmed in our opinion. We think $28 is a modest sum to devote to such useful information. (Entirely devoid of advertising, the publication is supported exclusively by subscribers.) We look forward to seeing The Dietary Supplement quickly assume its rightful place as an opinion leader among the handful of newsletters that earn their keep and then some.

The New York Times has already reported on Thomas's work and we expect an ever-widening circle of national media will give note to this talented editor and his exceptional quarterly. The first number of our new subscription came in the mail the other day; it's right on top of our reading pile!end-of-story



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