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Health freedom movement

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The health freedom movement is a libertarian coalition that opposes regulation of health practices[1] and advocates for increased access to "non-traditional" health care.[2]

The right-wing John Birch Society has been a prominent advocate for health freedom since at least the 1970s, and the specific term "health freedom movement" has been used in the United States since the 1990s.[3][4]

Vitamins and supplements have been exempted in the US from regulations requiring evidence of safety and efficacy, largely due to the activism of health freedom advocates. The belief that supplements and vitamins can demonstrably improve health or longevity and that there are no negative consequences from their use, is not widely accepted in the medical community.[5] Very rarely, large doses of some vitamins lead to vitamin poisoning (hypervitaminosis).[6]

Roots and support base


Health freedom is a libertarian position not aligned to the conventional left/right political axis. Libertarian Republican Congressman Ron Paul introduced the Health Freedom Protection Act in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2005.[7][8]

Prominent celebrity supporters of the movement include the musician Sir Paul McCartney, who says that people "have a right to buy legitimate health food supplements" and that "this right is now clearly under threat,"[9] and the pop star/actress Billie Piper, who joined a march in London in 2003 to protest planned EU legislation to ban high dosage vitamin supplements.[10]



United States


The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) defines supplements as foods and thus permits marketing unless the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proves that it poses significant or unreasonable risk of harm rather than requiring the manufacturer to prove the supplement’s safety or efficacy. The Food and Drug Administration can take action only if the producers make medical claims about their products or if consumers of the products become seriously ill.[11]

An October 2002 nationwide Harris poll showed that, at that time, consumers still had widespread confusion about the differences between supplements and pharmaceuticals. Here, 59% of respondents believed that supplements had to be approved by a government agency before they could be marketed; 68% believed that supplements had to list potential side effects on their labels; and 55% believed that supplement labels could not make claims of safety without scientific evidence. All of these beliefs are incorrect as a result of provisions of the DSHEA.[12]

A law in the U.S. State of Virginia allows teenagers 14 or older and their parents the right to refuse medical treatments for ailments such as cancer, and to seek alternative treatments so long as they have considered all other medical options, presented as "significant for health freedom in Virginia."[13]



In Europe, health freedom movement writers and campaigners believe that European Union (EU) laws such as the Food Supplements Directive and the Human Medicinal Products (Pharmaceuticals) Directive will reduce their access to food supplements and herbal "medicines".[14] European health food producers, retailers and consumers have been vocal in protesting against this legislation, with the health freedom movement inviting supporters to "Stop Brussels from killing natural medicine".[15] Euro-MPs were accosted by activists handing out a propaganda video accusing five European commissioners of corruptly colluding with big pharmaceutical firms in an attempt to destroy the alternative network of homeopathic and "natural medicines",[16] though it emerged that most homeopathic practice in the UK has been illegal for some years and proposed European regulatory changes do not materially affect this.[17][18][19]

In 2004, the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) and two British trade associations introduced a legal challenge to the Food Supplements Directive referred to the European Court of Justice by the High Court in London.[20] European judges found the restrictions to be legal but stated that there must be clear procedures to allow substances to be added to the permitted list based on scientific evidence. They also said that any refusal to add a product to the list must be open to challenge in the courts.[21] Some media observers[weasel words] believe that, as a result of this legislation, a black market will emerge, and that controls over ingredients and quality will vanish.[22]

Conspiracy theories


Health freedom-orientated writers and campaigners tend to see restrictive legislation on supplements as being designed to protect the interests of the pharmaceutical industry.[16] If herbal medicines and supplements are removed from sale, they argue, patients will have no alternative but to use conventional pharmaceutical medicines.[23][24]

Pharmacist and skeptical writer Scott Gavura notes that the reverse is more often true, and that "governments around the world have consistently given manufacturers the upper hand, prioritizing a company’s desire to sell a product over a consumer’s right to a marketplace with safe, effective products".[25] In particular, the US Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act permitted existing supplements to be marketed without any evidence that they are effective or safe, and for new supplement ingredients required only that a new ingredient "should be safe".[26] This has resulted in a number of serious incidents including adulteration with synthetic drugs.[27][28]

Codex Alimentarius Commission


The health-freedom movement vehemently opposes[29] the Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Food Supplements, adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission as a voluntary standard at its meeting in Rome in July 2005, which includes requirements for the packaging and labelling of vitamin and mineral supplements. The text specifies that "supplements should contain vitamins/provitamins and minerals whose nutritional value for human beings has been proven by scientific data and whose status as vitamins and minerals is recognised by FAO and WHO." In addition, it states that the "sources of vitamins and minerals may be either natural or synthetic" and that "their selection should be based on considerations such as safety and bioavailability."

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) have stated that the guidelines are a consumer protection measure "to stop consumers overdosing on vitamin and mineral food supplements." The Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) has said that the guidelines call "for labelling that contains information on maximum consumption levels of vitamin and mineral food supplements." The WHO has also said that the Guidelines "ensure that consumers receive beneficial health effects from vitamins and minerals."[30]

Organizations and campaigners


USA and the Americas


The National Health Federation (NHF) is an international non-profit organization founded in January 1955, which describes its mission as protecting individuals' rights to use dietary supplements and alternative therapies without government restriction. The NHF also opposes interventions such as water fluoridation and childhood vaccines. The Federation has official observer status at meetings of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the highest international body on food standards. Based in California, the Federation's board members include medical doctors, scientists, therapists and consumer advocates of natural health; and it is the only health-freedom organization with Codex credentials permitting it to participate actively at Codex Alimentarius meetings.



The Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) is an advocacy group founded in 2002 by Robert Verkerk and based in the United Kingdom. The ANH was initially founded to raise funds to finance a legal challenge of the EU Food Supplement Directive. The ANH lobbies against regulation of dietary supplements and in favor of alternative medical approaches such as homeopathy, and also advocates a healthy diet, exercise, and other lifestyle approaches to health. Verkerk rejects scientific research showing that megadoses of vitamins lack any health benefit.

Individual campaigners


The health freedom movement includes proponents such as Gary Null and convicted fraudster Kevin Trudeau.[citation needed]

See also



  1. ^ Grossman LA (2013). "The origins of American health libertarianism". Yale J Health Policy Law Ethics. 13 (1): 76–134. PMID 23815041.
  2. ^ Orlando, James (28 August 2013). "OLR Research Report: Health Freedom".
  3. ^ "Gallegly Is Key Foe of FDA's Vitamin Rules - Simi Valley: The GOP congressman has emerged as leader of effort to minimize new labeling requirements" Los Angeles Times, 2 January 1994
  4. ^ "Doctor's supporters go to bat for him - Followers of alternative medicine organize to defend physicians they see as under attack" The Orange County Register, 7 February 1999
  5. ^ Counseling for Vitamin Supplementation to Prevent Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease, from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Released June 2003; retrieved 28 September 2007.
  6. ^ 2004 Annual Report Archived 5 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine of the American Association of Poison Control Centers Toxic Exposure Surveillance System.
  7. ^ Health Freedom Protection Act Introduced in US Congress
  8. ^ Free Speech and Dietary Supplements Archived 17 November 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Health food fans plan to copy alliance march", Daily Telegraph Published 13 September 2002. Retrieved 28 September 2007.
  10. ^ "Billie makes a stand", This is Wiltshire Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine Published June 2003. Retrieved 28 September 2007.
  11. ^ Dan Hurley (2006). Natural causes: death, lies, and politics in America's vitamin and herbal supplement industry. New York: Broadway Books. ISBN 0-7679-2042-2.
  12. ^ "Dangerous Supplements: Still at Large", from Consumer Reports magazine. Published May 2004. Retrieved 7 February 2007.
  13. ^ "Kaine Signs Tax Cut for Poor, Medical Rights for Sick Teens". Washington Post. Published 27 March 2007. Retrieved 16 April 2007.
  14. ^ 'Nil by mouth', by Rose Shepherd. The Observer. Published 29 February 2004. Retrieved 16 April 2007.
  15. ^ 'Vitamin rules jar with the herbal industry.' Financial Times.[permanent dead link] Published 23 February 2004. Retrieved 18 April 2007.
  16. ^ a b 'Euro-MPs vote for clampdown on vitamin sales' The Daily Telegraph. Published 14 March 2002. Retrieved 18 October 2007.
  17. ^ Dr. Andy Lewis, 26 June 2012
  18. ^ Professor David Colquohon, quoted in The Lancet, 30 April 2011
  19. ^ "MHRA statement on regulation of homeopathy". Archived from the original on 5 May 2013. Retrieved 10 November 2012.
  20. ^ 'Court victory for vitamin firms' BBC News Published 30 January 2004. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  21. ^ 'EU court backs health supplements ban' The Guardian Published 12 July 2005. Retrieved 30 September 2007.
  22. ^ 'Should we swallow it?' The Independent. Archived 17 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine Published 26 June 2002. Retrieved 22 April 2007.
  23. ^ Medical schools, journals start to fight drug industry influence USA today
  24. ^ "Euro MPs back herbal crackdown". BBC News, quoted from statement of Dr Rob Verkerk, Executive Director of the Alliance for Natural Health. Published 22 November 2002. Retrieved 29 September 2007.
  25. ^ Gavura, Scott (22 September 2016). "Fixing the supplement market for consumers". Science Based Medicine.
  26. ^ Skerrett, Patrick (2 February 2012). "FDA needs stronger rules to ensure the safety of dietary supplements".
  27. ^ Rocha, Tiago; Amaral, Joana S.; Oliveira, Maria Beatriz P.P. (19 October 2015). "Adulteration of Dietary Supplements by the Illegal Addition of Synthetic Drugs: A Review". Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 15 (1). Wiley: 43–62. doi:10.1111/1541-4337.12173. hdl:10198/15401. ISSN 1541-4337. PMID 33371574.
  28. ^ Cohen, Peter A (8 February 2012). "Assessing Supplement Safety — The FDA's Controversial Proposal". New England Journal of Medicine. 366 (5): 389–391. doi:10.1056/NEJMp1113325. PMID 22276780.
  29. ^ Nil by mouth. The Observer newspaper, UK. Published 29 February 2004. Retrieved 1 January 2009
  30. ^ UN commission adopts safety guidelines for vitamin and food supplements United Nations News Centre. Published 11 July 2005. Retrieved 26 March 2009