Apr 10 2004
The common perception that if medication is natural then it must be safe has recently come under fire from a researh by a Consumer Reports magazine. The consumer publication found a dozen herbal supplements, some banned in Asia, Europe and Canada but widely available in the United States, may cause cancer, kidney or liver damage and even death. Those highlighted include:
- Aristolochia, has received attention because of its alleged link to kidney damage and the onset of cancer. This herb was a part of a Chinese herbal compound, used in a weight reduction treatment regimen, in Belgium, in the early 1990s. By 1993, instances of kidney failure were documented in patients who had received treatment.
- Yohimbe - which is a tree bark containing a variety of pharmacologically active chemicals. It is marketed in a number of products for body building and "enhanced male performance." Serious adverse effects, including renal failure, seizures and death, have been reported to FDA with products containing yohimbe and are currently under investigation.
- Bitter orange, similar to ephedra, the banned weight-loss supplement believed responsible for 155 deaths nationwide.
The researchers also noted chaparral, comfrey, germander, kava and scullcap, all of which are known or likely causes of liver failure; lobella because of its impact on the heart; and pennyroyal oil because of possible liver, kidney and nerve damage.
Two of these supplements have already been banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Organ/glandular extracts are affected by FDA restrictions on the use of bovine materials in supplements because of the risk of mad cow disease. And in March, then-FDA commissioner Mark McClellan warned companies to stop selling the bodybuilding supplement androstenedione (andro).
Meanwhile, the FDA has sent warning letters to 16 dietary-supplement distributors found to be making false and misleading claims on the Internet for weight-loss products. Many claim to block starch, carbohydrates and fat calories, creating weight loss without any lifestyle changes.