I could barely believe my eyes yesterday when I opened the latest from Consumer Reports—a source I usually trust—to read an article about dietary supplements. Although the article did have some good information, it seemed to me to be poorly researched and mostly to have missed the mark. (Report: Dietary Supplements Pose Health Risks)
Anyone who pays attention knows there are some very bad players in this industry (And if you don't know that, I worry about what you might be putting in your body). The whole issue of quality is part of what complicates our job so much here at The Herb Companion. I’d love to wholeheartedly endorse any plant medicine that comes down the pike, but that would be foolish and wrong. Some companies use the wrong ingredients, some don’t use enough, some don’t use the correct variety of an herb that can be healing if you use A, and strictly ornamental if you use variety B. (Echinacea is one very common example.) And don’t even get me started on the medicines and supplements that come to us from China. Remember melamine in infant formula, anyone?
Some companies use the wrong variety of echinacea in their dietary supplements,
but that doesn't mean that all echinacea is ineffective for immune-boosting.
Photo by Peter Rosbjerg/Courtesy of Flickr.
So those of us who care about plant medicines also care about the regulatory environment. If I had my way, we’d follow Germany’s lead and set up our own version of their Commission E to test and regulate herbal medicine. I certainly wouldn’t follow the lead of the FDA, which these days routinely rushes approval of pharmaceutical drugs that later prove to be costly and even deadly failures. Vioxx, anyone? Oopsie!
I wish medical doctors could be relied on to give us accurate information about pharmaceutical drugs and also about plant medicines, so we could work in partnership with well-educated health-care practitioners to choose what's best in each situation according to what's best for our individual bodies and life situations. Sadly, that is not the case. A handful of medical doctors take the time and trouble to sort these issues out, but far more are as dismissive as this Consumer Reports article—and as poorly informed.
I’m not anti-regulation by any means. I’m just against testing and regulation that’s paid for by very large corporations with a very large stake in their drugs being pre-approved while inexpensive, nature-based remedies are marginalized or even banned. We just have to find a better way than this.
Here’s what the Natural Products Association had to say about the article:
Story’s data are questionable
The Natural Products Association (NPA) has issued the following statement concerning the September 2010 issue of Consumer Reports magazine:
• The latest edition of Consumer Reports is an attack on dietary supplements -- including a call for additional regulation of the industry -- that presents a far from balanced and accurate representation of the industry or the laws that regulate it.
• For example, a number of the mentioned products are actually illegal drugs – not supplements, and only available from those violating the laws. (See: FDA: Dietary Supplement Alerts and Safety Information)
• The NPA questions the data Consumer Reports are using to suggest the dietary supplement industry suffers from inadequate quality controls. In actuality, evidence from the government suggests the contrary. Earlier this year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) tested a number of products finding only trace amounts of contaminants, leading the FDA to testify before Congress that “we do not believe these levels represent a significant risk to health.” It is curious that Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports and also a witness at that hearing, did not mention this testimony in the article.
• The U.S. supplement industry has an enviable safety record, especially when compared with other FDA-regulated sectors, and the industry has supported and continues to support measures to make supplements even safer.
+ NPA supported enactment of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA).
+ NPA supported enactment of the legislation creating the Adverse Event Reporting system.
+ NPA supported implementation by the Food and Drug Administration of Good Manufacturing Practices, even launching our own GMP certification program in 1999.
• NPA supports the full implementation of DSHEA - including providing additional resources for these agencies. To that end, NPA endorses S. 3414, the Dietary Supplement Full Implementation and Enforcement Act of 2010, introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT).