This is Our Time

It is time to take bold steps and unify our own industry so that we can be that healing force in the world.

I have always believed this industry, as a whole, is united in a belief that the body has an innate ability to heal, given the right supports. Practitioners of natural health and medicine advocate for, and who work closely with, their patients to achieve maximum health status. Independent retailers, our front-line educators, work closely with their customers on how to source quality supplements. Trade associations advocate for the integrity of the supply chain to support production and distribution of products that can produce the health outcomes we all seek. All this work and energy, despite the fact our health care system is rooted in the treatment of disease and our healthcare reimbursement system is driven by financial incentives to increase the number of claims, not get people healthy. We know that our insurance system is unable to assign cost savings associated with prevention. Seeing my chiropractor every month is a cost that is never associated with the savings achieved by my continued mobility. Dietary supplements are not covered by FSA/HSA (unless prescribed), nor can you buy supplements with SNAP benefits. You can, however, buy soda and potato chips, and yet, we persevere; or at least we have thus far.

The arrival of COVID-19 ushered in a new conversation about the role of underlying health conditions and the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has for people of color. Much conversation has been shared in the public domain regarding the role vitamin D plays, and the devastating effects of vitamin D deficiency. In many cases, people took action. Organic & Natural Health launched its “Get On My Level” campaign, an outreach effort to educate minorities most at risk on the power of vitamin D.  Sales of virtually every wellness/immune health product in the industry skyrocketed. Elderberry disappeared off the shelves. In November 2020, England took action to distribute free vitamin D to 2.5 million vulnerable people. Scotland, Whales and Northern Ireland took similar action. The service in England closed in February 2021. The wind shifted. Our moment in the sun suddenly feels more like interrogation under bright lights.

In November of 2020, the American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates passed a resolution urging Congress to modify and modernize the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), and allow the FDA to establish a mandatory product registry to help identify and remove dangerous dietary supplement products from the marketplace. The resolution seeks increased authority for the FDA to implement and enforce policies such as mandatory recall, risk-based inspections of manufacturing facilities, and strengthening adverse event reporting systems. To be sure, this is oxygen for the naysayers, the Paul Offit’s, of the world. However, not wholly unexpected. Another data point for the shifting of winds against the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements.

Perhaps it is the enormous amount of press relating to supporting one’s immune system in the face of COVID-19 that flames the anti-supplement messaging. Maybe it is the advent of the vaccines, which in the face of enormous confusion and blame, has further entrenched consumer commitment to their chosen health-prevention path. Maybe it is the targeted campaigns against certain people and companies. Or, the fact that the now the vast majority of Americans use supplements. Likely it is the combination of it all. Something is changing.

Today, the industry seems to be operating from a place of fear. An odd statement considering industry is generally quite compliant when it comes to DSHEA. It is obvious supplements cannot prevent, treat, or mitigate disease. The use of structure/function claims is now well documented, and most have a clear understanding of the nuances required for successful marketing. Of course, we have a plethora of lawyers to assist in the process.

So it is clear. Using COVID-19 in a sentence with dietary supplements is a “no-no.”  Using the term vaccine in a sentence with dietary supplement is high risk, at a minimum. Counsel advises supplements cannot be marketed to support the effectiveness of pharmaceutical treatment. Where we risk losing our identify is if we surrender a claim of “immune support.” I want to imagine a world where everyone has a strong immune system, putting an entire industry at risk of extinction.

There is no other industry committed to ensuring access to quality healthcare alternatives to conventional medicine other than ours. As a self-proclaimed tribe, we have thrived and grown, attracted investment from the pharmaceutical world, created the momentum for systemic adaptation of regenerative agriculture, and (thus far) eschewed adoption of synthetic biology. And yet, we are on a precipice.

The origins of this industry and the hearts of the people who brought us to this day were rooted in health of body, spirit and mind for all people. So here is my affirmation to you, to my organization and our members, to the industry at large and to the consumers that count on us:

  • No dabbling in divisive, angry, judgmental labeling is allowed. It will only lead us to circle the wagons and shoot inside. Love thy neighbor, vaccinated or not, even if you cannot find it in your heart to like them.
  • Commit to supporting the entire supply chain, not just the part you represent. Sales are great. Growth is strong. Yet, we are still relatively small in a world owned by mega-companies, so take care to value the contributions from everyone in your operation, and those up and down the chain. The health coach, naturopath, independent retailer, raw ingredient supplier, and manufacturer are all in this together.
  • Agree to disagree. There is much information and too little critical thinking across society these days. If you believe everything you read, you will be in trouble. Do your due diligence before you pass judgement on a person, product, or a company. Deep listening is a practice we could all benefit from.
  • Recommit to purpose. Own the space and the work we do so well. Do not sacrifice mission for profit. Do not cower from adversity. Do unite for the sake of our future and that of our children. We are all they have got.

This is our time. Time to succeed and improve health status. Time to take bold steps and unify our own industry so that we can be that healing force in the world. I only do work that honors the generations that came before me and serves future generations. That means I am sticking to my pledge to change the healthcare paradigm to one rooted in health, not disease, no matter how hard it is. Will you join me?

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Karen Howard, CEO and Executive Director of Organic & Natural Health Association is a visionary and results-focused leader who has spent more than 30 years working with Congress, state legislatures and healthcare organizations to develop innovative healthcare policy and programs. She has held a variety of executive positions, including serving as professional staff for a Congressional committee, and has policy expertise in the diverse areas of integrative and complementary medicine, managed care, healthcare technology and mental health. An advocate at heart, she has worked to strategically advance the mission and vision of organizations through effective advocacy and strong collaboration. Prior to Organic & Natural Health, Howard served as executive director for both the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Schools. During her nearly 10-year tenure at AANP, she built a sustainable infrastructure, significantly improved financial performance, established a strong federal presence and supported multiple state association advocacy efforts for licensure. Also during this time, the naturopathic medicine profession established itself as a key component of comprehensive healthcare for the future.