In The News: Consumer Reports Article Goes After Supplements

| 8/5/2010 11:32:00 AM

KCI 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:

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