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ABC World News reported, “Dietary supplements are a $27 billion a year business in this country, but Consumer Reports has an alert” on “supplements the magazine says can be dangerous to your health.”
Consumer Reports’ Nancy Metcalf said, “With the dozen supplements that we’ve identified, we think it’s all risk and no benefit.”
The CBS Evening News also reported, “Consumer Reports analyzed data from 1,100 supplements and identified 12 that are linked to serious health problems.
These include ingredients in weight loss products … which can cause heart problems and liver damage.”
Certain other supplements “used for cough … are associated with liver cancer and even death.”
CBS noted that the “FDA cannot regulate” the supplements, which are labeled as foods, “until after a product is already on the market.”
The Los Angeles Times points out that the list of those that are unsafe include:
- bitter orange,
- colloidal silver,
- country mallow,
- greater celandine,
- lobelia, and
The report also “argues that the FDA has not fully used its limited authority granted by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act to ban supplement ingredients that may be dangerous.”
In addition, the FDA was criticized “for not inspecting Chinese factories where many of the raw materials for supplements originate.”
The Washington Post adds that supplement manufacturers “routinely, and legally, sell their products without first having to demonstrate that they are safe and effective.”
Many popular dietary supplements contain ingredients that may cause cancer, heart problems, liver or kidney damage, but U.S. stores sell them anyway and Americans spend millions on them, according to a report from the trusted Consumer Reports.
Here are the details from Reuters Health:
The consumer magazine published a report highlighting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s lack of power to regulate such supplements, and said the agency rarely uses what little power it does have.
The report from the influential group urged Congress to speed up small moves toward giving the agency more clout, especially in regulating supplements.
Despite the “natural” labels carried by many of the supplements, many are contaminated.
Yet Americans flock to take them, according to the magazine, citing the Nutrition Business Journal as saying the market was worth $26.7 billion in 2009.
“Of the more than 54,000 dietary supplement products in the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, only about a third have some level of safety and effectiveness that is supported by scientific evidence,” the report reads.
In addition, the FDA has not inspected any supplement factories in China, even though the agency set up field offices there starting in 2008, Consumer Reports said.
The organization pointed to 12 supplement ingredients in particular that it said could be dangerous: aconite, bitter orange, chaparral, colloidal silver, coltsfoot, comfrey, country mallow, germanium, greater celandine, kava, lobelia, and yohimbe.
Potential dangers include liver and kidney damage, heart rhythm disorders and unhealthy blood pressure levels, it said.
The group is critical of the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act or DSHEA, which it describes as industry friendly and which prevents the FDA from regulating supplements in the same way as it regulates prescription medications.
The Federal Trade Commission regulates the marketing of herbal supplements, whose makers are not allowed to claim they treat medical conditions.
The FDA has banned only one supplement ingredient — ephedrine alkaloids — although it has persuaded many companies to pull their products off the market.
“Supplements are marketed with very seductive and sometimes overblown sales pitches for increasing your performance in the bedroom, slimming down, or boosting your athletic prowess,” said Nancy Metcalf, senior program editor for the magazine.
“And consumers are easily lulled into believing that supplements can do no harm because they’re ‘natural’,” Metcalf said in a statement.
“However, some natural ingredients can be hazardous, and on top of that the FDA has repeatedly found hazardous ingredients, including synthetic prescription drugs, in supplements.”
In May, the Government Accountability Office found that sellers of ginseng, Echinacea and other herbal and dietary supplements often tell consumers the pills can cure cancer or replace prescription medications.
Experts at the Institute of Medicine said earlier this year the FDA needs to use the same strict standards to regulate supplements as it uses for drugs, and the GAO said the FDA should ask Congress for more power to regulate supplements.
So, what are we as consumers to do to protect our selves and our families? I recommend ConsumerLab, a subscription-based website that buys the most common natural medicines (herbs, vitamins, and supplements) and the tests them to be sure:
- They contain in the bottle what the label says from lot to lot,
- They are labeled as they should be be,
- They contain no contaminates, and
- They would be expected to be properly absorbed.
I tell my patients, just print off the list of ConsumerLab approved products, and buy the least expensive one.
Reuters Health carried a very interesting report indicating that some herbal supplements may boost the levels of lead in the blood of women.
A study, published in November showed that among 12,807 men and women age 20 and older, by Dr. Catherine Buettner, at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, and colleagues found blood lead levels about 10 percent higher in women, but not men, who used specific herbal supplements.
When they examined herbal supplement use among women of reproductive age (age 16 to 45 years old), “the relationship with lead levels was even stronger, with lead levels 20 percent higher overall, and up to 40 percent higher among users of select herbal supplements compared to non-users,” they report in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
Lead accumulates in the body over time and may pass from a woman’s placenta and breast milk to developing fetuses and infants. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not specify safe lead limits, or even routinely test for this toxin in herbal supplements — but the state of California has established such levels.
Buettner’s team found that women using Ayurvedic or traditional Chinese medicine herbs had lead levels 24 percent higher than non-users, while those using St. John’s wort and “other” herbs had lead levels 23 percent and 21 percent higher, respectively, than non-users.
When combined with prior studies hinting at excess lead in specific supplements, the evidence strongly suggests use of specific herbal supplements may result in higher lead levels among women, Buettner said.
In the current study, Buettner was reassured to find “no evidence of lead toxicity,” she told Reuters Health in an email.
The researchers point out that the use of some herbal supplements among study participants was low, which limited the power to detect associations among specific herbal supplements.
They also emphasize that the current study does not prove that herbal supplements cause higher lead levels. They urge further studies to analyze how other lead exposures, calcium intake, or use of other dietary supplements alter lead levels.
Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. concurs in an editorial on the study, and also cautions, “let us not use too broad a brush to tar all herbal products.”
Specific analyses of specific herbal products or the blood of users, Fugh-Berman writes, should be used to establish products containing problematic amounts of lead.
Two over-the-counter dietary supplements that anti-doping officials say are popular among high school football players contain steroids, according to court papers filed by federal authorities.
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