How Old Senate Bill Helped Turn Tom Brady Into the Patriot Pill Pusher

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As a subscriber to Tom Brady’s email list, I recently received a “VIP” message alerting me that “Our New TB12 Supplements Are Here!”

I knew it was only a matter of time before Brady’s alt-health brand got into the dietary supplement racket. As a former supplement copywriter, it’s a racket I know something about.

Thanks to the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), it’s an easy market to enter, and the profit margins are huge. And if there’s one thing Tom Brady needs, it’s more money.

The DSHEA was the brainchild of then Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, which just so happens to be known as the “Silicon Valley of the supplement industry.” The law was co-sponsored by the progressive Democratic Senator from Iowa, Tom Harkin, another long-time shill for the alt-health biz.

Before the new law, supplements were considered drugs, and were thus held to the same standards. But DSHEA changed all that, defining dietary supplements as a category of food.

Unlike drugs, which are considered unsafe until proven safe, dietary supplements are considered safe until proven unsafe.

Introducing a new drug takes many years of costly research and development, and extensive testing to prove that it actually works. Not so with dietary supplements, which openly admit on every label that they are “not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”

The FDA prohibits supplement advertising from making any such “disease claims.” However, it does allow advertisers to make so-called “structure/function claims,” and there are a few magic words that are approved for that purpose. “Support” being the most magic word of all.

So you can’t say your supplement “relieves painful joints,” because it makes the implied claim that it treats a disease (arthritis), but you can say it “helps support proper joint function.” The consumer still knows you’re talking about arthritis, and in the consumer mind, “support” means “cure.”

Thanks to the special rules for supplements, the dietary supplement industry has grown from a $4 billion industry with about 4,000 products to a more than $40 billion industry with more than 50,000 different products, since the DSHEA’s enactment.

It paid big dividends for Hatch and Harkin (both now retired). Hatch received $475,637 throughout his career from the supplement industry, and Harkin received over $300,000, reports Open Secrets.

Hatch’s family also reaped the rewards, the New York Times observed in 2011. “His son Scott Hatch, is a longtime industry lobbyist in Washington, as are at least five of the senator’s former aides. Mr. Hatch’s grandson and son-in-law increase revenue at their chiropractic clinic … by selling herbal and nutritional treatments, including $35 ‘thyroid dysfunction’ injections and a weight-loss product, ‘Slim and Sassy Metabolic Blend.’ And Mr. Hatch’s former law partner owns Pharmics, a small nutritional supplement company in Salt Lake City.”

Today the industry is so big there’s even a Congressional Dietary Supplement Caucus. Meanwhile, Patricia Knight, Hatch’s former chief of staff, is now a senior political advisor to the United Natural Products Alliance, “an international association in Salt Lake City representing dietary supplement companies.”

Knight recently wrote a post for “Natural Products Insider,” hailing the 25th anniversary of DSHEA’s passage and its signing by President Bill Clinton. She recalls how the supplement lobby wheeled in Mel Gibson and created a “grassroots” campaign to get the Act passed. “Legend has it Congress received more correspondence about maintaining access to dietary supplements than at any other time except for letters regarding the Vietnam War,” according to her group. (It’s a legend that sounds a lot like a fairytale.)

As the American Cancer Society notes, “supplement makers are required to report serious harmful effects to the FDA,” and “the number of reports has continued to climb each calendar year.” But taking into consideration the probability that most cases go unreported, the FDA’s numbers “are likely very low estimates of actual events.”

Which is why many supplement brands hype the alleged safety of their products by brandishing a seal of approval from a recognized food testing agency. TB12 carries the seal of the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), which purportedly “certifies that what is on the label is in the bottle and that the product does not contain unsafe levels of contaminants, prohibited substances or masking agents.”

However, Consumer Reports cautions: “Don’t confuse those labels with FDA approval for a prescription drug, which means it’s been tested for safety and efficacy. ‘No supplement seal guarantees the safety or effectiveness of the ingredients in the bottle,’ says Sharon Akabas, Ph.D., associate director of educational initiatives at Columbia University’s Institute of Human Nutrition.”

Such seals of approval are not without merit, Consumer Reports adds, because food testing agencies don’t routinely test supplements. “Manufacturers must pay to get their supplements tested and certified, which may be a reason that only a tiny fraction of the 90,000 or so dietary supplements on the market carry one of these seals.”

So at least the NSF seal helps differentiate TB12 from, say, Infowars Life, the supplement brand hawked by Alex Jones. Tom Brady’s TB12 Focus ($48) will give you “a clear mind and a healthy brain,” while Alex Jones’ Brain Force Plus ($39.95) will similarly “supercharge your state of mind.” But whereas Focus has the approval of a third-party tester, Brain Force Plus has only the approval of a fake doctor named Ed Group.

On the other hand, the TB12 supplements lack the pizzazz of Infowars Life supplements. There’s no “Super Male Vitality” or “Caveman” in Brady’s product line, which includes such standard fare as Probiotic “get more from your gut” pills, Omega 3 fatty acid pills, Vitamin D pills, and Multivitamins.

The TB12 Multivitamin is special, however, because it contains astaxanthin (pronounced asta-ZANthin), a “superfood” derived from algae. As explained in the scholarly journal Nutrients, it is “especially found in the marine environment as a red-orange pigment common to many aquatic animals such as salmonids, shrimp, and crayfish” and “was originally isolated from a lobster” by a couple of researchers in 1938.

Here’s what I wrote in a 2015 advertisement that sold a shitload of it:

“Astaxanthin is what gives salmon the ability to achieve marathon swimming feats, leaping up waterfalls against the current. Without astaxanthin, salmon are mere average performers. But with astaxanthin, they become superstars of the aquatic world, performing feats of physical strength and endurance that, in proportion, dwarf the greatest achievements of the world’s top human athletes.”

So there, Tom, I just plugged your product with some hard-selling copy that’s better than anything on your website. You can make the check payable to Washington Babylon.

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