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Beware Dirty dozen supplements

For anybody taking herbal supplements you might want to check out this story if you havent already.
Consumer Reports names 12 dangerous supplements.

YONKERS, N.Y., In the May issue of Consumer Reports, they identify 12 dietary supplements that are too dangerous to be on the market according to government warnings, adverse-event reports, and top experts. These "dirty dozen" unsafe supplements, which CR easily purchased in stores and online in February, include:
-- Aristolochia: A herb conclusively linked to kidney failure and cancer.
-- Yohimbe: A sexual stimulant linked to heart and respiratory problems.
-- Bitter orange: Its ingredients have effects similar to the banned weight-loss supplement ephedra.
-- Chaparral, comfrey, germander, and kava: All known or likely causes of liver failure.
The potentially dangerous effects of most of these products have been known for more than a decade, and at least five of them are banned in Asia, Europe, or Canada.
Yet until very recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had not managed to remove a single dietary supplement from the market for safety reasons.
After seven years of trying, the agency announced a ban on the weight-loss aid ephedra in December 2003.
In March 2004 it warned 23 companies to stop marketing the body-building supplement androstenedione (andro).
Despite these actions against high-profile supplements, whose dangers were so well- known that even industry stopped defending them, the agency continues to be hamstrung by the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA).
While prescription and over-the-counter drug manufacturers are required to prove that their products are safe before being marketed, DSHEA makes the FDA prove that supplements on the market are unsafe and denies the agency all but the sketchiest information about the safety record of most of them.
Major differences in the safety regulations of prescription and over-the-counter drugs vs. dietary supplements are outlined in the attached fact sheet.
There are signs of hope.
The FDA has said that if the ban on ephedra holds up against likely legal challenges, it plans to go after other harmful supplements.
Two bills, introduced by Senator Richard Durbin and Representative Susan Davis, would strengthen the FDA's authority under DSHEA. Consumers Union, the independent, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, supports this legislation.
Though these bills are still in committee, the supplement industry has mobilized in opposition.
Many people wrongly believe that the federal government regulates supplements.
Until the law is substantially changed, consumers cannot rely on the federal government to ensure that dietary supplements are safe and effective.
Here are some steps consumers can take to minimize risk:
-- Stay away from the dirty dozen. All carry risks that in CR's view are unacceptable.
-- Do not take daily doses of vitamins and minerals that exceed the safe upper limits. While vitamins and minerals are the safest and best-studied of supplements, it's possible to overdose on some of them.
For more information visit:
-- Limit your intake of other supplements. CR's experts have identified a few products with possible benefits and sufficiently low risks to recommend for general use: saw palmetto for benign enlarged prostate in men, glucosamine and chondroitin for arthritis, and fish oil capsules for heart disease.
-- Tell your doctor about your supplements. Some supplements may reduce the effectiveness of prescription drugs.
-- Stay away from supplements for weight control. These products frequently contain stimulants that have never been adequately tested separately, let alone in combination.
-- Do your own research.
Even physicians are not necessarily knowledgeable about the scientific evidence regarding dietary supplements. Reliable information can be found on the web sites of the National Institutes of Health and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
-- Watch for adverse events. Let your doctor know if you are experiencing anything worrisome after starting a supplement.
-- Visit ConsumersUnion.org to learn more about dietary supplements.
"Dangerous Supplements Still At Large" is available free at:
put it in perspective: 07.Apr.2004 13:51

Beware the pharmaceutical industry

1 out of 7 people who are in the hospital are there because of adverse reactions to PRESCRIPTION drugs. Anything one ingests is potentially harmful, and regulating every substance and checking with the doctor clearly hasn't worked. Buyer beware, and get as much info as you can. But let's not throw everything into the hands of governments and regulatory agencies, who would prefer to let the pharmaceutical industry extract the active substances out of all herbs and sell them to you at a much higher cost, with no more efficacy, than you can do yourself.

what a mess 07.Apr.2004 17:47

what an incredible mess

More details on the whole dozen and their actions here:

But it's really screwy. I'm sure Kava has been sold in mass quantities as an anti-depressant, by "suppliment manufacturers"- usually the ones that get high profile in supermarkets- that are probably subsidiaries of pharmaceutical companies. I'm also sure this traditional ritual hallucinogen from the Pacific islands has been unknownly used by plenty of people who would have clamored their little red necks off to see me or you up the river for a couple of joints.

While the warning is going off, there are more herbs with associated dangers- St. John's Wort, Mugwort... don't let this trick you into thinking that this dozen is all of them, but I'm suprised to see Scullcap and especially Germander on that list. Germander is NOT a high profile herb and while I grow it because it's in old herbals, I have NEVER seen it in an herb store. I'm skeptical it's done much harm, just because of it's amazing obscurity. I'm surprised to see Scullcap getting any clinical recognition because it seemed no one would touch it scientificially for almost 100 years.

Comfrey... gods, that has to be the first warning I ever picked up about herbs, out of my first herbal, people have been warned ad infinitum about the pyrollizidine alkaloids in comfrey, so it's no news that people should be cautious of it, but there has always been a disproportionate amount of sensible information coming from the warning quarters; if comfrey were to be used as a food, it can be prepared safely, that's no different than rhubarb, although I seem to be foggy on the details because I've only recall seeing them once amid hundreds of these warnings.

I don't know how stable the alkaloids in Comfrey are, or what effect drying has on them. I've heard both that the same alkaloids in coltsfoot, which is often smoked for use as an herb, are destroyed by that application, that they can be destroyed by cooking. If that's also applicable to drying and dry storage, a warning would be odd because I don't think there's much concern about using fresh herb off a supermarket suppliment shelf.

And pennyroyal? Plenty of warnings about that. Pennyroyal in any form should not be used if pregnant, but then that's not that uncommon a product warning either. Of course as distilled essential oil it can be harmful, there may be only a couple essential oils in the whole list that can make contact with skin or mucuous membrane or be ingested safely concentrated.

I already know that most of the stuff about ephedra lumped onto the dozen in some of the articles is serious b.s., and lumping all of it together isn't good for credibility. Reminds me of a lot of recreational drug propoganda, and to make it worse, scullcap and mugwort are commonly referred to as marijuana substitutes (I thought they made poor substitutes).

Sure, I'll err on the side of caution, I suppose, but I think I'll dig much deeper and even try to consider the motivations at work here before I believe anything. This kind of scare tactic is often seen when the pharmaceutical companies are trying to establish an even bigger monopoly on the healing trade, or trying to get the herbs even further into their own proprietary greedhooks. Some proposed legislation could have been read to give the pharmaceutical industry rigid control over almost every plant in all of creation... for our own good, of course.

I Am So Glad 08.Apr.2004 00:59

That The Gov't

got rid of all those herbal supplements. I dont trust anything not manufactuered in a laboratory. Dont touch my cigarettes, my Mcdonalds, my high stress job, my high meat/protein consumption, my overly processed non nutritional Kraft diet. BUt keep those herbals away from me