In a report in MedPage Today, the medical newsletter of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, researchers attending the meeting of the American Association of the Study of Liver Diseases reported a striking increase in the number of severe liver injuries reported in supplements between the years 2004 and 2012. They reported the number of cases increased from 7 – 20% and blamed the vast proportion of those cases on dietary and herbal supplements. Particularly disturbing was the number of injuries in young people involved in bodybuilding.
Mary Rinella, MD of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago moderated a discussion group on the topic and mentioned what a large problem it is; “It’s made worse by the popular belief that such supplements are harmless, which leads patients to omit mentioning them when they are in a clinic or doctor’s office.” She went on to say that, “We don’t know what’s in the products or even what’s in the bottle.” Rinella said. “Dietary and herbal supplements are not considered drugs and so escape oversight by the FDA.”
Warren Kupin, MD, FACP of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine division of nephrology delivered a similar message on the epidemic of kidney disease in young adults being caused by the contents of common herbs and supplements sold on our shelves with pleasant healthful sounding names. He raised the red flag on products produced in India and Asia or products containing materials from those areas which contain high levels of heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, arsenic and others. The target market is young women of child bearing age and they expose their partners and children to these products. He took a commonly sold supplement, opened the bottle and said that the aroma escaping contained so many heavy metals that if this was produced in a US factory OSHA would require the workers to be wearing respirators in that type of toxic environment.
Consumers need to read labels and ask questions of their doctors before they add an herb or supplement to their daily regimen. Women of child bearing age need to be especially vigilant and discuss these supplements with their obstetricians and pediatricians before considering ingesting them. The National Institute of Health maintains a very objective website on alternative and complimentary medications at nccam.nih.gov/health/whatiscam that is a great resource and location of factual material.
I always suggest that when you visit your doctor you bring all your medications, vitamins, minerals, herbs and supplements in a plastic bag with you so that the doctor can read the labels with you. Accepting the advice you receive on the Internet or from the sales personnel at a vitamin and mineral store is not the most accurate way to learn the truth. The public is injuring and maiming themselves by consuming too much of the wrong things and there is little or no government oversight and regulation of these products. Protect yourself and ask your doctor for assistance!
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