Frontline PBS Documentary Supplements And Safety


Supplements and Safety – Documentary Review

On January 19, 2016, PBS released a new documentary called Supplements and Safety, which provided a detailed look into some of the issues the country faces when it comes to supplements. The program was spearheaded by Frontline, the investigative series, and also involved collaborators The New York Times and The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Frontline PBS Supplements And Safety Film

While many people blindly accept that the ingredients in their supplements are what they say they are, the truth is surprisingly less clear. Unlike all the medicines and drugs that go through the FDA, supplements and vitamins have very few regulations. Many times this means that companies don’t have to prove the supplements they’re selling are effective, or even safe. This has led to many surprising problems, including putting the health of hundreds of people in danger.

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

In one of the more poignant scenes in Supplements and Safety, pharmacists talk about how they were seeing more and more families come to the hospital with huge lists of the supplements they were taking. The pharmacy clinical manager of the hospital, Sarah Erush, was confused and worried about this new trend in her patients.

The documentary explains that when patients bring their medications into the hospital, the pharmacy has to test it verify the medication, for both the patients safety and the hospitals protection. Unfortunately, supplements aren’t required to be tested.

The show goes on to show that Erush decided to approach the manufacturers of popular supplements and ask for certificates verifying the contents of the supplements. The catch? The certificates had to be provided by an independent tester.

It came as a huge surprise to viewers that the majority of the manufacturers approached completely ignored the request. And the certificates provided by those who responded showed that the ingredients were completely different than what was stated on the supplement bottles.

The Dangers of Vitamins and Supplements

Supplements and Safety didn’t stop with the information found at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. It also talked about what the results can be when the supplements and vitamins taken do more harm than good.

The exampled given on the documentary was the company USPlabs, once known for producing a multitude of supplements and vitamins. Now its name is infamous for a workout supplement it sold that had disastrous repercussions. More than 70 cases of liver damage have been tied to a workout supplement that USPlabs sold.

In addition to the huge lawsuits being filed against USPlabs, it is also facing criminal and civil enforcements brought from the Justice Department.

Fish Oil

The documentary reveals that one of the most commonly used supplements in America is fish oil, which is said to be good for the heart. In Supplements and Safety, it’s said that one in every ten adults in America is taking fish oil. But is it really effective?

The film is quick to point out that no studies have found a connection between fish oil and cardiovascular health. Many believers in fish oil point out that omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to help heart functions and boost health, to which many doctors agree. However, the problem comes from the fact that very few of the supplements that claim they contain omega-3 actually have it in the capsules.

On top of not containing the most important part of a fish oil supplement, the documentary points out that fish oil supplements don’t have long shelf lives and often go bad without users realizing it. This means that users are often taking rancid pills that aren’t doing them any good.

Supplement Amounts

Putting all the other issues facing supplements, from not containing the right ingredients to not being monitored, there’s another issue that Supplement and Safety points out. If the supplements are safe and if they actually contain what they say they do, is taking such high amounts of vitamins and nutrients really good for the body?

To answer the question, Frontline put together a very interesting graph looking at the most popular vitamin supplements and the amounts that the body really needs. Read below to find out more.

Vitamin B-12

Importance: Vitamin B-12 helps red blood cells form.

Naturally Found: In fish and meat, as well as cereals that have been fortified with B-12.

Daily Value Recommended: 6mcg

Common Supplement Dose: 500 mcg (8,333% DVR), or 83 bowls of cereal

Vitamin C

Importance: Also called ascorbic acid, vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps clear the system of toxins.

Naturally Found: In fruits and vegetables, like citrus and peppers.

Daily Value Recommended: 60 mg

Common Supplement Dose: 500 mg (833% DVR) or 7 oranges

Vitamin D

Importance: Vitamin D helps with bone growth and health. Also stabilizes moods.

Naturally Found: In milk and fruit juices, especially those fortified with synthetic vitamin D.

Daily Value Recommended: 400 IU

Common Supplement Dose: 1000 IU (250% DVR) or 9 cups of milk.

Vitamin E

Importance: Vitamin E dissolves fats and is an antioxidant.

Naturally Found: In seeds and nuts, as well as some vegetable oils.

Daily Value Recommended: 30 IU

Common Supplement Dose: 400 IU (1,333% DVR) or 6 jars of peanut butter.


Importance: Calcium helps strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis.

Naturally Found: In dairy products as well as many dark green vegetables, but especially leafy greens and broccoli.

Daily Value Recommended: 1000 mg

Common Supplement Dose: 50 mg (50% DVR) or 1.6 slices of cheddar cheese.


While most viewers found Supplements and Safety to be a very informative and eye-opening documentary, there has been quite a backlash in the alternative health community. Several supplement manufacturers have released press releases disputing the claims the film made. Others have simply said that they agree with the documentary, but it doesn’t apply to them, because they are reputable.

People will continue to argue and debate about supplements and their benefits. However, this documentary has made people more aware of what they put in their bodies. Now that more light has been shined on the issue, there’s hope that supplement and vitamin companies will begin to be more careful about what they put in their products and how they advertise them.

As always, the best way to determine what supplements and vitamins to take is to speak with a medical professional. A doctor or nurse practitioner are the best resources for finding what an individual needs and how those needs can be met.

Supplement Police
Supplement Police
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  1. It’s a well-proven fact that people over 55 need more Vitamin D as the body stops processing it. My MD recommended I take 1000 units daily. It supports immune function.

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