I was at the hairdressers the other night and started reading an article in the September, 2010 issue of Consumer Reports about the lack of oversight in the supplement industry and how readily available even the most dangerous products are in the U.S.
According to the article, even though the supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar business in the U.S., there is little or no oversight for these products. The 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) a scanty amount of authority, it has chosen not to use it, which leaves this market wide open for abuse.
Inadequate quality control and inspection has resulted in supplements contaminated with heavy metals, pesticides, and even prescription drugs. This situation is further complicated by the fact that FDA rules regarding manufacturing quality don’t apply to companies that supply the producers of these supplements with the herbs and other raw ingredients used in many of their products.
“Of the more than 54,000 dietary supplement products in the Natural Medicine Comprehensive Database (NMCD), only about a third have some level of safety and effectiveness that is supported by scientific evidence,” writes Consumer. “And 12 percent have been linked to safety concerns or problems with product quality.”
Working with experts at the NMCD, an independent research group, Consumer identified twelve ingredients that were linked to the most serious adverse events reports.
Avoid supplements that contain any of these ingredients:
Aconite – used for inflammation, join pain and wounds. This toxic ingredient has been known to cause vomiting, low blood pressure, respiratory paralysis, heart rhythm disorders and death. It is the most common cause of severe herbal poisoning in Hong Kong.
Bitter Orange – used for weight loss and allergies. Has caused fainting, heart rhythm disorders, heart attack and death. Contains synephrine, which is similar to ephedrine, which was banned by the FDA in 2004.
Chaparral – used to treat colds, cancer, infections, detoxification. Causes liver damage and kidney problems. The FDA has advised people not to take this supplement.
Colloidal Silver – used to treat fungal infections, Lyme disease, rosacea, psoriasis, HIV/AIDS, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Causes permanent discoloration of the skin, neurological problems and kidney damage. Considered to be “likely unsafe.”
Coltsfoot – used to treat coughs, core throats, laryngitis, bronchitis and asthma. Can cause liver damage, cancer.
Comfrey – used for coughs, chest pain, cancer and heavy menstrual periods. Can cause liver damage and cancer. The FDA advised manufacturers to remove comfrey products from the market in July 2001.
Country Mallow – used for nasal congestion, allergies, asthma, bronchitis. Can cause heart attack, heart arrhythmia, stroke and death.
Germanium – used to treat pain, infections, glaucoma, liver problems osteoporosis, HIV/AIDS, heart disease and cancer. Can cause kidney damage and death. The FDA warned in 1993 that it was linked to serious adverse events.
Greater Celandine – used for upset stomach, irritable bowel syndrome, liver disorders and cancer. Can cause liver damage. Consumer Reports lists it as “possibly unsafe.”
Kava – used to treat anxiety. Can cause liver damage. Kava has been banned in Germany, CAnada and Switzerland. The FDA issued a warning to consumers about it in March 2002.
Lobelia – used for coughing, smoking cessation, bronchitis and asthma. An overdose of lobelia can cause rapid heartbeat, very low blood pressure, coma, and possibly death. The FDA warned in 1993 that it was linked with serious adverse events.
Yohimbe – used as an aphrodesiac, to treat chest pain, diabetic complications, depression and erectile dysfunction. Standard doses have been found to cause high blood pressure and rapid heart rate. High doses can cause severe low blood pressure, heart problems and death. Contains a prescription drug, yohimbine. The FDA warned in 1993 that it was investigating reports of serious adverse events.
As shocking as this list is, consider the fact that when Consumer Reports was investigating these supplements in June, 2010, they were able to purchase ALL of them either online or in local stores!
Consumer, beware! When it comes to supplements, no one is watching out for you!