Consumer Reports Identifies 12 Unsafe Dietary Supplements
A dozen herbal supplements -- some of which are banned in Asia, Europe and Canada but are "widely available" in the United States -- could cause cancer, kidney and liver damage or death, according to a report in the May issue of Consumer Reports, USA Today reports. The supplements include: androstenedione, a bodybuilding supplement that FDA in March ordered manufacturers to stop marketing and distributing; aristolochia, which has been linked to kidney failure and cancer; bitter orange, a product similar to ephedra; chaparral, comfrey, germander, kava and skullcap, which are all "known or likely causes" of liver failure; lobelia, which has a negative effect on the heart; organ and glandular extracts, which FDA already restricts because of the risk of mad cow disease; pennyroyal oil, which may cause liver, kidney and nerve damage; and yohimbe, which has been linked to heart and respiratory problems, USA Today reports. Consumer Reports also identified three supplements with "possible benefits and low risks": chondroitin and glucosamine for arthritis, fish oil capsules for heart health and saw palmetto for benign enlarged prostate. Consumer Reports senior editor Nancy Metcalf said that many consumers think herbal supplements are safe because "they've been used for years in traditional medicine," but "plenty" of problems exist. According to USA Today, the findings "highlight a lack of oversight" by U.S. regulators (Weise, USA Today, 4/8). A federal advisory board from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council last week released a report recommending changes in dietary supplement regulation and defining the limits of FDA's authority to take supplements off the market. Under the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, vitamins and supplements are currently regulated as food rather than drugs and can be marketed without prior clinical testing to prove their safety and effectiveness and without authorization from the federal government. Although current law requires FDA to demonstrate "significant or unreasonable risk" from dietary supplements before pulling them off the market, the panel said the stipulation should not be interpreted to mean the agency must "prove that an ingredient is unsafe" (California Healthline, 4/2). The report is available online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.