Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a health care professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.

 

Herbal Supplements: Safety Concerns

By Hari Dass Khalsa, DC

Taking herbal supplements can provide health benefits, but in some cases, these products may be unnecessary for good health, and may even create unexpected risks. Because there is an abundance of unreliable and biased information about herbal supplements, users need to beware.

Recently, a Harvard Medical School research team examined whether use of certain herbal dietary supplements was associated with increased blood lead levels. They investigated Ayurvedic herbs, echinacea, ginkgo, ginseng, St. John’s wort, kava, valerian, black cohosh, bee pollen, and nettle. They discovered that women using these herbs had lead levels more than 20% higher than non-users.

These findings agree with studies showing elevated blood lead levels in those who use herbs compared to nonusers. Unfortunately, examples abound in which herbal supplements have been associated with contaminants and harmful substances being found in users’ blood.

One study found that herbal supplements purchased from stores in the United States and Canada had detectable lead. Another study revealed that one-fifth of US and Indian-manufactured herbal supplements purchased via the Internet contain detectable lead, mercury or arsenic. The long-term consequences of lead, mercury, or arsenic poisoning are sometimes serious and include increased risks for cancers.

The problem is that herbal products are not subject to premarket review or approval for safety, efficacy, or Good Manufacturing Practices. Under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the manufacturer of a dietary supplement is responsible for ensuring the safety and quality of the final product, including all ingredients received from suppliers.

This includes a responsibility for testing received ingredients (including premixed ingredients) and the final product for compliance with predetermined specifications for identity and composition. Despite these testing guidelines, many supplement products may contain harmful substances.

It is recommended you select only herbal supplements produced by manufacturers that use independent labs to test the purity of their products and provide reports to the public.

Dr. Hari Dass Khalsa is a chiropractor specializing in the non-surgical treatment of spinal conditions. His Hawthorne office phone is 503.238.1032.