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Healthcare: Banning Health Supplements

Health supplements (optimizers, dietary, etc.) are currently swimming in a wash of international controversy. At the core of the battle are the various health regulators' desire to gain control over the health supplement market vs. the individual's right and responsibility to make decisions about their own health. One of the battle grounds for the controversy are, not surprisingly, weblogs. It's interesting to explore the relationship between the two...

The Health Supplement Battle

A quick overview of the battle can be attained by visiting: a) The Health Sciences Institute (U.S.A.); b) The Alliance For Natural Health (U.K.); c) Holistic Health Topics (Australia); and an interesting new initiative d) myHealth: The New Zealand Natural Health Products Register.

The regulators' strategy is to ban the distribution of non-approved natural health products to the public. A simple method to do this is to reclassify health supplements as "medicine" and place them in the same category as pharmaceuticals. In a classic hand-shaking between government and corporatism, those products that are approved would then be distributed through approved vendors. The outcry from the natural/alternative health sector is strong, and for good reason.

On the side of regulation, it is prudent to place a high degree of scientific rigour on natural health supplements. USANA is a company that does precisely this by guaranteeing the potency of their products on every label and complying with pharmaceutical-grade Good Manufacturing Processes (GMP) - meaning that government health regulators conduct regular inspections of USANA's manufacturing facilities. Currently in the United States, vitamin manufacturers are only required to adhere to the same standards as food manufacturers - a practice which is not effective nor beneficial to the consumer. USANA was founded by a the scientist-pioneer Dr. Myron Wentz (Ph.D. Immunology and Microbiology) who after numerous years studying the implications of disease at the cellular level refocused his life's work on preventative nutrition.

Health supplement companies that do not use the highest possible standard in the scientific design and production of their products should be viewed with uncertainty, and from this perspective I have no issues with government health regulators enforcing a minimum, and high, standard. Many of us are already aware that the wide variety of vitamins and natural supplements available over-the-counter lack this kind of quality.

At the same time, for health regulators to simply impose a ban on health supplements and alternative approaches to medicine as some kind of "solution" is not only grossly autocratic and irresponsible, it is culturally and scientifically ignorant. To assume that pharmaceuticals are "safe" and that they have the benefits they say they have is a misnomer. To take the scientific and creative energy out of a growing multi-cultural approach to health and wellness is degenerative. To assume that people cannot make effective decisions about their own health and the products they choose to use is offensive. To assume that government regulators and corporations are the best and primary source for making decisions about natural supplement and alternative health practices is fundamentally wrong. To assume that the public isn't suspicious of the backroom dealings between government and corporations to control markets is vacuous.

Weblog Activism
Many weblogs (as well as websites and newsletters) are forming a loosely connected network of activism. Joseph Hasslberger, for example, has built a wealth of information and news related items up about health with the important idea of, "Networking For A Better Future - News and perspectives you may not find in the media." His weblog is one that I have in my RSS list of things to read.

This kind of grassroots journalism is important for a variety of reasons. Journalism is an act of gathering, editing and writing news for the media. The key issue is what to write and why. If in a weblog we write in order to report we essentially mirror traditional practices in media using new tools. What is far more important is to write in order to express something - a personal idea, a personal thought, a personal insight, etc., and make that a contribution to the Weblog of weblogs. My concern is that reporting rather than insight will predominate - for example, the extensive copying and pasting of material from other websites with a much smaller proportion of personal input.

There's nothing wrong with quoting when the quote fits into the flow of an idea we are trying to write about, but to weblog an entry that is of the"look what I found - I've copied it here - you can go read it again there" amounts to a duplication of information. If this practice of duplicating content becomes a prominent way of "reporting" then the Big Weblog will be full of redundancies and lacking in personal insight.

Writing a personal insight is of course a risky business - it puts us out there on the edge. In the fullness of time we might find out that what we have said was mis-guided, or we might find that it provided a seed for further growth. And anything in between can happen. What I hope is that The Big Weblog In The Sky will have a clear emphasis on people's life experiences - speaking in a voice that is their own about issues they are passionate about as a starting point then building in information and news, rather than using news feeds and other sources of information as the starting point and sometimes, if ever, getting into personal thoughts, ideas and insights.

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