Regular readers know that I hold equivocal views of the broad area of dietary supplements, particularly botanical supplements. On one hand, I have seen some great new compounds come from the systematic investigation of herbal and fungal concoctions to the point that 25% of prescription drugs are derived from natural products. On the other hand, some corners of the dietary supplement industry are little more than turn-of-the-last-century snake oil operations, with offenses so egregious that even their own trade associations try to distance themselves from those who adulterate, mislabel, and misrepresent their wares.
Just use the search box in the left sidebar and search this blog for “adulteration” to get a flavor for some examples (here, I’ve done it for you). Here’s one I haven’t gotten to that I just found thanks to the article mentioned below: the May 1 FDA consumer warning (but not recall) on Vita Breath supplement (for plumb fresh breath!) because it contains 10,000 times the lead content permitted in candy.
In today’s New York Times, Gardiner Harris gives us a preview of a report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) that will be presented to a Senate hearing in preparation for an overall plan on US food safety.
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. . .
. . . 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.
Go read and draw your own conclusions. I’ll look forward to seeing the whole report.
P.S. – I may be a little punchy today after a few days of grant reviews but I love that the Senator from Wisconsin is named “Herb.” In fact, Senator Kohl has been a big supporter of the Wisconsin ginseng industry. And Steve Mister, president of the trade group Council for Responsible Nutrition, is referred to as Mr. Mister. I can only think of this.