nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
See here for more discussion.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Europe Ahead Of US In Regulating Herbals. A Good First Step, Why Not Here?

There's an article in Science-Based Medicine (4 May) that discusses Europe's new regulatory requirement to demonstrate safety of herbal products.

It's about time.  Now if the US would just wake up to the harmful consequences of some of these often adulterated products.

For those who think herbal "medicines" can only be good for you, we have multiple instances of common ingredients--found in a range of these products--that damage the kidneys (aristolochia) and the liver (kava).  The worst case reported to date was ephedra (known as ma huang in Chinese medicine, used for asthma, colds, and weight loss).  From Wikipedia,
"Ephedra-containing dietary supplements have been linked to a high rate of serious side effects and a number of deaths, leading to concern from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and the medical community.  However, initial efforts to test and regulate ephedra were defeated by lobbying and political pressure from the dietary supplement industry.  Ultimately, in response to accumulating evidence of adverse effects and deaths related to ephedra, the FDA banned the sale of ephedra-containing supplements on April 12, 2004."
How many people were harmed while lobbyists for the herbal manufacturers stymied efforts to restrict its use?  Even the Natl Center for CAM was worried.

In this country no herbal regulations exist.  You can take a plant, grind it up, and say it cures almost anything.  No proof required.  Your only problem, after you make millions off the gullible, is if enough people keel over dead that somebody notices they were all taking your product.  Pretty cool deal, huh?  Then you can flee the US and live handsomely in a non-extradition country.

As you might imagine European herbal manufacturers are screaming that this is a "ban" on herbals.  It's actually very simple, and not very stringent:  they have to be licensed by showing some evidence of safety.  That's minimal compared to what pharmaceuticals have to prove.

Some of my friends say, "Well the herbals are much cheaper, and I can better afford them."  This logic defies common sense.  Of course they're cheaper:  the makers don't have to spend money purifying the product and can leave in all the adulterants and other compounds for which we have no data on safety, and they don't have to do any research to establish that it works.  So, of course it costs less to make, and costs less to sell.  Not rocket science. 

To those who worry about the cost of effective drugs, save all your money and don't spend it on poor quality, adulterated products.

More importantly, all the large scale studies of most of these things--that people shell out 5-10 dollars for--have been shown to be ineffective.  So, doing nothing will leave you even more financially well off.

If your goal is to save money rather than get well.

Now that REALLY makes sense. 

Doc D

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What I'm Reading - Updated 3 May