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More Dietary Supplement Regulation Needed

August 3, 2010

A popular consumer magazine is calling for greater U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation of dietary supplements following a study of potentially harmful ingredients commonly found in over-the-counter products that could cause cardiovascular, liver, and kidney problems.

The study was carried out by Consumer Reports and published Tuesday on their website.

“We Americans do love our dietary supplements. More than half of the adult population have taken them to stay healthy, lose weight, gain an edge in sports or in the bedroom, and avoid using prescription drugs,” the report says. “What consumers might not realize, though, is that supplement manufacturers routinely, and legally, sell their products without first having to demonstrate that they are safe and effective. The Food and Drug Administration has not made full use of even the meager authority granted it by the industry-friendly 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA).”

The report focuses largely on twelve specific supplement ingredients that the Consumer Reports staff says should be avoided because of possible health risks. Those twelve ingredients are aconite, bitter orange, chaparral, colloidal silver, coltsfoot, comfrey, country mallow, germanium, greater celandine, kava, lobelia, and yohimbe.

“We found products with those ingredients readily available in stores and online,” the publication says in their report. “Because of inadequate quality control and inspection, supplements contaminated with heavy metals, pesticides, or prescription drugs have been sold to unsuspecting consumers. And FDA rules covering manufacturing quality don’t apply to the companies that supply herbs, vitamins, and other raw ingredients.”

According to Consumer Reports, only a third of the 54,000-plus dietary supplements listed in the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database have scientific evidence proving their safety and/or effectiveness. Many of the flagged supplements originate in China, where the FDA has yet to perform a single factory inspection, despite the establishment of field offices there two years ago.

“Supplements are marketed with very seductive and sometimes overblown sales pitches for increasing your performance in the bedroom, slimming down, or boosting your athletic prowess,” Nancy Metcalf, senior program editor for the Consumer Reports, told Reuters Health and Science Editor Maggie Fox in a statement on Tuesday.

“Consumers are easily lulled into believing that supplements can do no harm because they’re ‘natural’,” she added. “However, some natural ingredients can be hazardous, and on top of that the FDA has repeatedly found hazardous ingredients, including synthetic prescription drugs, in supplements.”

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