446474 tn?1446347682

Study Finds Herbal Supplements Contain Contaminants

FYI from today's New York Times

"Study Finds Herbal Supplements Contain Contaminants"
Published: May 25, 2010

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.

The levels of heavy metals — including mercury, cadmium and arsenic — did not exceed thresholds considered dangerous, the investigators found. However, 16 of the 40 supplements tested contained pesticide residues that appeared to exceed legal limits, the investigators found. In some cases, the government has not set allowable levels of these pesticides because of a paucity of scientific research.

Investigators found at least nine products that made apparently illegal health claims, including a product containing ginkgo biloba that was labeled as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and a product containing ginseng labeled as a treatment to prevent diabetes and cancer. They also described a salesperson at a supplement specialty store who claimed that a garlic supplement could be taken instead of blood pressure medication.

Any product that claims to treat, cure, prevent or mitigate a disease is considered a drug and must go through strict regulatory reviews.

The report, which was prepared by the Government Accountability Office, was provided to The New York Times and will be made public at a Senate hearing on Wednesday. Its release comes two weeks before the Senate is scheduled to begin debate on a landmark food safety bill that is expected to substantially increase the federal government’s authority over food manufacturers.

But it is uncertain how tough the bill will be on supplement manufacturers, and it has been the subject of fierce lobbying. Capitol Hill staff members familiar with the process said the bill was unlikely to include provisions opposed by supplement manufacturers.

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 G.A.O. investigators. But Dr. Sharfstein noted that the agency had recently announced a recall of Vita Breath, a dietary supplement that it said might contain hazardous levels of lead.

Steve Mister, president of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade association representing the dietary supplement industry, said it was not surprising that herbal supplements contained trace amounts of heavy metals, because these are routinely found in soil and plants. “I don’t think this should be of concern to consumers,” Mr. Mister said.

Senator Herb Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat who will preside over Wednesday’s hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, said that while improvements had been made in recent years in the oversight of supplements, “the F.D.A. 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.”

Among the witnesses at the hearing will be Dr. Tod Cooperman, president of ConsumerLab .com, a company that has tested over 2,000 dietary supplements made by more than 300 manufacturers and has found that one in four have quality problems. According to Dr. Cooperman’s written testimony, the most common problems are supplements that lack adequate quantities of the indicated ingredients and those contaminated with heavy metals.
Travis T. Tygart, chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, wrote a letter to the committee saying that some athletes have been rendered ineligible for international competitions because they took supplements that contained steroids not listed on the products’ labels. There are thousands of supplements available for sale that contain steroids or other harmful ingredients, he wrote.

“The F.D.A. is operating in a regulatory environment that is simply too burdensome to allow for effective post-market regulation of these products,” Mr. Tygart wrote.

Half of the nation’s adult population takes vitamin supplements regularly, and about a quarter take herbal supplements at least occasionally. Annual sales are about $25 billion a year, and the growing popularity has led to an increasing number of imported supplements spiked with illegal drugs.

In 1994, Congress passed legislation that allowed supplement makers to sell products without first getting approval from the F.D.A. for their ingredients or for basic health claims. But scientific organizations have warned repeatedly since then that the F.D.A. should do more to ensure that the supplements are safe and that their health claims are substantiated.

In recent years, a vast majority of supplement suppliers have located overseas — principally in China. Nearly all of the vitamin C and many other supplements consumed in the United States are made from ingredients made in Chinese plants. Those plants are almost never inspected by the F.D.A. because the agency is not required to do so, has little money to do so and does not view the plants as particularly risky.

Mr. Mister said supplement sellers tested ingredients before using them, but he agreed that testing could not ensure quality. He called on Congress to provide the F.D.A. with more money to inspect foreign and domestic supplement plants. “I think you’ll see more and more inspections,” Mr. Mister said.

He said that a few companies made illegal health claims for their supplements, but that the industry was trying to police those. “I occasionally see these late-night commercials with health claims that make my blood boil,” he said.

Dr. Sharfstein said the F.D.A. had increased enforcement actions against supplements spiked with prescription
drugs like Viagra. And he said the agency had taken action against supplement makers that made broad health claims. “We don’t want people to think they’re treating a disease with something that hasn’t been proven to do that,” he said.

The food safety bill expected to be introduced next month in the Senate is likely to mandate that supplement makers register annually with the F.D.A. and allow the agency to recall supplements suspected of being dangerous.

But a House provision that would require manufacturers to create plans to safely manufacture their products and a proposal made in February by Senators John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, to restrict supplements to ingredients approved by the F.D.A. will not be included, staff members said.

9 Responses
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1280753 tn?1367757932
for this very reason, my hep DR said i should think about discontinuing the use of Milk Thistle. he feels that anything that does not go through FDA approval can't be verified. he didn't tell me to stop taking it, he said that he couldn't recommend it.

i am going to be in a clinical trial next month, and he said supplements are forbidden.
Helpful - 0
148588 tn?1465778809
“the F.D.A. 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.”

Sorry Hector. There is not enough money in the entire US budget to do what Senator Kohl wants. Besides, do you really want the government to get into the business of deciding what it is that its citizens 'perceive'?
There will always be a backlog of unproven therapies and untested supplements. Let people take what they will and try what they want - as long as they don't expect me to pay to fix the damage they do to themselves later. A simple waiver form, signed when you buy your bottle of Colloidial Silver or get your shot of ALA, is cheaper than tying up expensive research labs for years.
You can't expect Big Brother to let you do whatever you want *and* expect him to keep you 100% safe.
Helpful - 0
Avatar universal
Blueberries recently have been found to contain residues of up to 46 pesticides. Virtually all of our non-organic food is heavily contaminated with pesticides, heavy metals and antibiotics. The California standards for lead in supplements are much less than the amounts found in the air that people breathe.

Why are supplements held to far greater standards than our food supply? Because the government is once again trying to eliminate and control the use of beneficial supplements through the arbitrary and politically motivated tactics.

The aim of this bill is to establish that scientifically proven benefits of naturally occurring substances would be banned from being discussed. Under the law only drugs, and not naturally occurring substances, can make claims of therapeutic effect. That includes everything on HR's list of supplements including ALA, PPC and NAC.
Helpful - 0
446474 tn?1446347682
Why are there only Black hats and White hats? What ever happen to shades of grey? One is the holder of all that is good and true and the other side is the devil incarnate???
I don't think the world works that way.
Helpful - 0
Avatar universal
Yes and then there are those that say supplements are the greatest and the big pharma drugs are terrible..........Oh well, i know what cured me.
Helpful - 0
Avatar universal
No doubt Bill.....rolling my eyes and shaking my head

Run Chicken Lickin, Henny Penny says the sky is falling
Helpful - 0
Avatar universal
The drug industry is constantly trying to convince you that drugs are good for your health while nutritional supplements and healthy foods are somehow bad for you. This same line of nonsense is also repeated by the FDA, which goes out of its way to censor the truth about the healing properties of natural foods like walnuts, cherries and berries.

Helpful - 0
238010 tn?1420406272
Thanks for posting this, Hector.

I am currently taking Dr.Zhang's herbal regimen and have been worried about contaminants from the beginning.  Most, if not all, the herbs come from China - yikes!
Helpful - 0
179856 tn?1333547362
it's still so sad to me that people are purely evil enough to do things like this to people who have a disease and could be dying all to make a buck. Just horrific, when it happens to them perhaps they'll understand (karma......its gonna get ya!)
Helpful - 0
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