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Dangerous dietary supplements { April 7 2004 }

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Troubleshooter Judi Gatson
Buyer Beware: Dangerous dietary supplements

(National) April 7, 2004 - Beverly Hames now has gotten plenty of information about the dangers of an herbal supplement she took for back pain in the early 90s, but at the time she knew nothing about the potential risks, "I was told that these herbs are safe, they're natural and they've been used for hundreds of years."

The supplements she took contained the ingredient aristolochic acid, which is still on the market. Aristolochic acid, however, has been linked to kidney failure, and Beverly ended up needing a kidney transplant.

Consumer Reports health editor Ronni Sandroff says aristolochic acid should be off the market, "Aristolochic acid causes kidney failure, and that's not all. It's a potent carcinogen; this herbal ingredient is known to cause cancer."

But, supplements with aristolochic acid don't even warn of these potential risks, and Ronni says it may not even be listed on the label, "On this bottle it's labeled as 'aristolochia fruit.' On other bottles we've seen it's called 'wild ginger.'"

Consumer Reports president Jim Guest says aristolochic acid is just one of several dangerous supplements for sale, "You may think the Food and Drug Administration is watching over dietary supplements, but in reality the government has very little control. People taking supplements in many cases are essentially guinea pigs."

Unlike prescription and over-the-counter drugs, supplements are not closely monitored. Drugs manufacturers must prove their drugs are safe before they're sold, but no such safety tests are required for supplements.

Drugs have to be proven effective, but no effectiveness testing is required for supplements. Drugs have to list potential side effects, but supplements need have no safety warnings are required.

While the supplement industry says current regulations are adequate, Consumer Reports says, even though most supplements are probably benign, with so little government oversight, people should avoid them for the most part, "Aside from vitamins and minerals, we've found very few where there's adequate evidence the supplement would do any good and poses little risk."

Beverly Hames believes companies should have to prove their supplements are safe before putting them on the market, "This did not need to happen to me. This absolutely did not need to happen to me or to anyone else who has ingested this herb."

by Judi Gatson

posted 3:36pm by Chris Rees

All Consumer Reports Material Copyright @ 2003 Consumers Union of U. S. Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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