Tag Archives: supplements

Vitamin studies spell confusion

The alphabet soup of vitamin studies making headlines in the last few weeks has left more than one head spinning, and most clinicians scrambling for answers. As the dust begins to settle, physicians seem to agree on one bit of simple wisdom – a healthy diet is, without question, MUCH MORE important than a fistful of vitamins or supplements. Continue reading

Some supplements associated with increased risk of death in older women

More than half of American adults take dietary supplements. Now a major new study finds that supplements either do no good or increase the risk of dying from cancer or heart disease. Continue reading

Some women still using dangerous weight-loss supplements

One of the most potentially dangerous category of supplements to take, at least in the U.S., is the category of weight loss supplements. Now there’s news that an over-the-counter diet pill and tea that were banned from the market nearly two years ago because of contamination with dangerous chemicals remain widely available. Continue reading

FDA advises against purchasing drinks sold as supplements for sexual enhancement

It seems that there are new warnings almost weekly from the FDA regarding potential dangers of certain over-the-counter natural medications (herbs, vitamins, or supplements). The reason is that these substances are virtually unregulated here in the United States and unscrupulous manufacturers constantly take advantage of this to make money at your expense. Continue reading

Consumer Reports Finds 12 Supplements with Unsafe Ingredients

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:

  • “aconite,
  • bitter orange,
  • chaparral,
  • colloidal silver,
  • coltsfoot,
  • comfrey,
  • country mallow,
  • germanium,
  • greater celandine,
  • kava,
  • lobelia, and
  • yohimbe.”

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.”

U.S. Dietary Supplements Often Contaminated: Consumer Reports

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.

GAO study reveals contaminants in herbal supplements

Today I’m in Orlando, Florida, where I’ll be speaking to the Florida Academy of Family Physicians on this exact issue. And, I find that most of my patients and most physicians are simply unaware of the danger. The New York Times is reporting, “Nearly all of the herbal dietary supplements tested in a Congressional investigation contained trace amounts of lead and other contaminants, and some supplement sellers made illegal claims that their products can cure cancer and other diseases, investigators found.”

Although the “levels of heavy metals – including mercury, cadmium and arsenic – did not exceed thresholds considered dangerous,” almost half of them “contained pesticide residues that appeared to exceed legal limits.”

Notably, “Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said in an interview that he was not concerned about the safety of the supplements tested by the GAO investigators.”

Still, Sharfstein added that “the FDA had increased enforcement actions against supplements spiked with prescription drugs.”

One ginkgo biloba product had labeling claiming it could treat Alzheimer’s disease (no effective treatment yet exists), while a product containing ginseng asserted that it can prevent both diabetes and cancer, the report said.

At least nine misleading health claims were noted in the report. These claims included assurances that the products could cure diseases, such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer, investigators said. In one instance, a salesperson claimed that a garlic supplement could replace blood pressure drugs, the Times reported.

Products that purport to treat or relieve disease must go through strict reviews because they are considered drugs by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

HealthFinder reported, “The report findings were to be presented to the Senate … before discussion begins on a major food safety bill that will likely place more controls on food manufacturers.

“How tough the bill will be on supplement makers has been the subject of much lobbying, but the Times noted that some Congressional staff members doubt manufacturers will find it too burdensome.

“‘The oversight of supplements has improved in recent years,’ said Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin), who will preside over Wednesday’s hearing. However, the FDA needs the authority and tools to ensure that dietary supplements are as safe and effective as is widely perceived by the Americans who take them, he told the Times.’

One witness scheduled to testify is a friend of mine. Dr. Tod Cooperman, president of ConsumerLab.com, said supplements with too little of the indicated ingredients and those contaminated with heavy metals are the major problems.

In testing more than 2,000 dietary supplements from some 300 manufacturers, his lab has found that one in four has quality problems, the Times said.

According to the newspaper’s account, the proposed food safety bill could require that supplement manufacturers register annually with the FDA and permit the agency to recall potentially dangerous supplements.

It’s estimated that half of adult Americans take vitamin supplements regularly, and about a quarter take herbal supplements at least occasionally. Annual sales are about $25 billion a year, the Times said.

So, what can you do to be sure that any natural medication (herb, vitamin, or supplement) you take is safe. I recommend you consider reviewing those you take at ConsumerLab. For less than the price of a bottle of vitamins, you can find brands of natural medications that have been independently testing for safety.

I highly recommend the site.

Stricter government oversight of dietary supplements may be moving closer – thank goodness

Whenever I give talks on natural medications (herbs, vitamins, and supplements), whether to healthcare professionals or laypersons, people seem shocked to learn that these substances are virtually unregulated in the United States. I’ve written about the many problems this causes healthcare professionals and consumers in my book, Alternative Medicine: The options, the claims, the evidence, how to choose wisely. So, I was very happy to read an AP article reporting “Stricter government oversight of dietary supplements is moving closer, thanks to an agreement among senators to include guidelines in” the Dietary Supplement Safety Act.

The report says that in a letter sent to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) outlined “four key areas of ‘common ground,'” two of which include “requiring all dietary supplement manufacturing, processing, and holding facilities to register with the Secretary of Health and Human Services,” and “giving the Food and Drug Administration authority to issue a mandatory recall order if a dietary supplement is adulterated or misbranded.”

I hope they are successful. If so, it will go a long way toward protecting consumers from the deceptive practices and advertising used by some manufacturers or natural medications.

Some herbal supplements associated with dangerous blood lead levels in women

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.

SOURCE: Journal of General Internal Medicine, November 2009

Physician calls for increased FDA regulation of dietary supplements

In my book, Alternative Medicine: The Christian Handbook, I lament the lack of regulation of dietary supplements in the U.S. Because of this lack, it’s very difficult for consumers to know, when it comes to herbs, vitamins, and supplements, if what they purchase actually contains what the label says. It’s almost impossible to know if the natural medication is contaminated or not. As a result, there are now other voices beginning to call out for at least some regulation of these substances. Continue reading

The Ten Commandments of Preventive Medicine – Part 8 – Alternative Medicine

In my latest book, 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People, I teach people how to utilize these ten essentials that are necessary to live a happy and highly healthy life. Under The Essential of Self-Care, teach what I call “The 10 Commandments of Preventive Medicine. Here’s the eighth installment of this ten-part series. Continue reading

Americans spend about $34 billion annually on alternative medicine. How can you make wise decisions in this area?

USA Today reports that, according to a study conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, “while Americans may complain about the high cost of healthcare, they’re still willing to shell out roughly $34 billion a year out-of-pocket on alternative therapies that aren’t covered by insurance.”

More Information: Continue reading

Trustworthy consumer websites for NATURAL MEDICATION info (herbs, vitamins, and supplements)

How can you make informed choices about natural medications (herbs, vitamins, and supplements)? For one thing, don’t get your information from ads or labels! There is almost no regulation in the U.S. on these products. So, where can you turn?

More Information: Continue reading

Study Links Herbal Medicines to Lead Poisoning. How can you find safe herbs?

Fox News is commenting on a study published in the August 27 issue of JAMA in which medical researchers say that one-fifth of Ayurvedic herbal medicines sold on the Internet contain dangerously high levels of lead, arsenic and mercury. How’s a consumer to protect themselves?

My Take? Continue reading