My wife used to sleep much better than I do, but for the last couple years she has been struggling with severe insomnia for the first time in her life. Her doctor is my former doctor that I fired for incompetence, but she rather likes him — they get along like a house on fire. He is a charismatic guy, I’ll give him that.
But I don’t need my doctors to be nice. I need them to be good at their damn jobs.
The charming doctor actually recommended a popular “natural” sleep supplement with a cheezy name, “U-Dream,” because “a lot of patients are telling me good things about it.” Anyone with a semi-functional bullshit detector would be wary of both a product like this and a recommendation based on patient testimonials.
My wife bought the product but — bless her cautious soul — she didn’t actually take any. She has a functional bullshit detector, not to mention a skeptical husband, but she also was also desperate for help and inclined to trust her doctor. So she felt torn and the product just sat there for a couple weeks; she made occasional references to finally trying it soon.
Mansplaining to the rescue: the trouble with the supplements industry
I decided I had to risk some mansplaining. I apologized for lecturing in advance, got a hall pass to be pedantic and paternalistic, and dove into an explanation of why the supplements industry is even less trustworthy than Big Pharma:
- First of all, a lot of the supplements industry is Big Pharma these days: pharmaceutical companies have bought up many profitable supplement brands.
- But there are still massive profits for many companies that remain independent from the traditional pharmaceutical corporations — so massive that corruption is inevitable. Many people still habitually think of these manufacturers as scrappy little underdogs, but they’ve been raking in serious dough for a long time now. How much? Many tens of billions at least.
- Extremely limited regulation, basically nonexistent quality control. These companies can put basically whatever they want in the bottle. Massive profits + no regulation = a horrifying and now well-documented pattern of contaminated, adulterated, and ineffective products.
“I am not the boss of you,” I said, “but I am asking you to please not take this U-Dream crap. Even if only because it’s such an offensively tacky name.”
Not actually natural after all
And it’s a good thing she didn’t take it, because one week later, U-Dream was banned and recalled in Canada because it contains a variant of a prescription sleep drug (Zopiclone), which can cause serious side effects, physical dependence, and serious withdrawal symptoms.
Unbelievable, right? Oh, no, just the opposite — all too believable.
Since no real harm was done to my family, my initial reaction to this news was to feel super smug. Boy did I ever call it! I saw the red flags, and in short order got just about the ultimate confirmation of my bias.
But of course real harm may have been done to many other people, and the only appropriate emotion here is anger at egregious, dangerous fraud.
And at the doctor too, for his unforgivable endorsement of an obviously sketchy product.
While preparing this post, I noticed that U-Dream is still for sale on many websites, even Canadian ones, like Nutrifarm.ca. Gosh, I guess they didn’t hear about the ban.
A sleep/insomnia story might seem like an odd fit for PainScience.com, but sleep deprivation is a major factor in chronic pain for countless people. And in this case it intersects with another important topic: the corruption of the supplements industry is relevant to most chronic pain patients. So I have added this cautionary tale to my articles on both those topics.