CNN blogged on an article by Consumer Reports (CR) that explains the potential dangers of so-called “natural” supplements. The CR article listed twelve supplements as dangerous or potentially dangerous and sited case studies that included adverse effects ranging from liver failure to respiratory problems. One supplement even causes the skin to permanently turn bluish. Visit www.consumerreports.com for more information from that magazine.
The supplements to avoid include: “aconite, bitter orange, chaparral, colloidal silver, coltsfoot, country mallow, germanium, greater celandine, kava, lobelia, yohimbe”. While CR provided a chart of these ingredients with the possible adverse effects, CNN stated that the “FDA…hasn’t been able to determine what scientific basis Consumer Reports is using for their warning”.
Another reported issue with supplements that the CR article includes, and the CNN blog emphasizes, is the possibility of supplements marked as “natural” including prescription drugs. CR mentions that sexual enhancement supplements could contain the same drugs used in Viagra and that bodybuilding aids possibly contain steroids. CNN quotes “Dr. Pieter Cohen, an internist at Cambridge Health Alliance and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School” who explains that “[s]ome supplements contain ‘multiple [prescription] drugs in the same pill’ and some supplements contain adulterated versions of existing drugs. For example, a manufacturer could take the formula for an approved erectile dysfunction drug and add or subtract a few hydrogen or oxygen atoms – thus making the drug undetectable, but also basically creating a new drug which has not been tested or approved by anyone. ‘It’s beyond irresponsible,’ said Cohen.”
Aside from the initial shock that products assumed to be naturally beneficial to one’s health could be so dangerous, one may also wonder why such products exist? CNN explained that since 1994, the FDA has been limited in its ability to regulate dietary supplement manufacturers because of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). This Act allows a supplement manufacturer to determine whether or not a supplement is safe. Prior to the Act, supplements were under the same regulations as other foods under the FDA.
Unfortunately, the FDA cannot do anything to change the current policies, as this can only be accomplished by Congress. CNN’s blog suggested that there are “powerful forces” who desire the laid-back framework to remain in place. Presumably these powerful forces have a lot of money, and lobby our legislature effectively. Hopefully as knowledge of the potential dangers spread, consumers will push for a change in the system. Until then, visit US Pharmacopia’s website: www.usp.org/USPVerified/dietarySupplements/. It is unfortunate, and perhaps unsafe, that manufacturers can gain an almost assumed degree of safety from the public when the word "natural" is placed in front of its product. The moral of the media attention to this issue is that one cannot assume a product is safe just because it is advertised or marketed as "natural", or even "organic".