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Consumer Reports Warns Of Herbal Supplement Dangers

Apr 2, 2004 | A few months ago, the dietary supplement Ephedra was pulled from store shelves. Should other supplements join them?

The Food and Drug Administration estimates more than 30,000 different dietary supplements on the market. What do we really know about their safety? Not enough, according to Consumer Reports.

Most supplements on store shelves come without safety testing or warning labels.

Beverly Hames is proof that what you do not know can hurt you. In the early 1990s, she took supplements containing aristolochic acid for back pain. She wishes she knew then about its potential side effects.

"I was told that these herbs are safe, they're natural and they've been used for hundreds of years," Hames said.

After taking aristolochic acid, Hames had to have a kidney transplant. She agrees with Consumer Reports in saying that it should not be sold.

"Aristolochic acid causes kidney failure and that's not all. It's a potent carcinogen. This herbal ingredient is known to cause cancer," said Ronni Sandroff of Consumer Reports

The supplements do not warn about potential risks and aristolochia may not even be listed on labels as an ingredient.

"On [one] bottle it's labeled as aristolochia fruit. On other bottles, we've seen it's called wild ginger," Sandroff said.

Consumer Reports warns it is not the only dangerous supplement for sale.

"You may think the Food and Drug Administration is watching over dietary supplements. In reality, the government has very little control. People taking supplements in many cases are essentially guinea pigs," said Jim Guest of Consumer Reports

Unlike prescription and over-the-counter drugs, supplements are not closely monitored.

Drug manufacturers have to prove a drug is safe and effective before it is sold and the label must list potential side effects.

No safety or effectiveness tests or warning labels are required for supplements. The industry says current regulations are adequate.

Many supplements will not hurt users, but Consumer Reports believes with so little government oversight, people should avoid most of them.

"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," Guest said.

Consumer Reports and Hames want more regulation.

"This absolutely did not need to happen to me or to anyone else who has ingested this herb," Hames said.

Consumer Reports says dietary supplements that contain aristolochic acid are the most dangerous, but they name 11 others to avoid. They include comfrey, androstenedione, chaparral, germander, kava, bitter orange, organ & glandular extracts, lobelia, pennyroyal oil, scullcap and yohimbe.

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