Disturbing news about herbal and dietary supplements: Part I

Disturbing news about herbal and dietary supplements: Part I

There was a time in the United States - not so long ago - that pharmaceutical medicine could be manufactured and sold by nearly anyone. There were no laws requiring that medicines must be proven effective and safe, nor were there laws requiring an accurate list of ingredients.

Consumers are immeasurably safer today because of the Food and Drug Administration and other federal regulators. But when it comes to non-food items we ingest for our health, the FDA's regulatory authority is largely limited to prescription drugs only. Over-the-counter supplements are not subjected to pre-market approval by the FDA. These products are essentially assumed to be safe and effective unless problems occur. And problems occur more often than you may realize.

Over the years, a number of supplements promising increased sex drive, weight loss, larger muscles and other miracle cures have been found to contain banned substances not listed on their ingredient labels. The FDA has been able to remove these dangerous products from store shelves with limited success, but only after consumers suffered serious injuries or even death.

Until recently, dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals and herbs) were thought to be less risky because such ingredients are usually inexpensive and easy to come by. Thus, product manufacturers have less incentive to mislabel their products or to include banned substances.

Unfortunately, a recent investigation into store-brand supplements sold by the nation's largest retailers revealed some disturbing information. Many of these substances contain no detectable amounts of the herbs they advertise and contain cheap, unlisted filler ingredients that could be harmful to individuals with food allergies.


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