Are Herbal Supplements Safe?

Are Herbal Supplements Helpful or Harmful?

 Herbal supplements are popular as “natural” remedies. Are they useful for health or are they a health risk? Today, about 1 in 6 Americans use herbs to treat everything from coughs, constipation, and poison ivy, and arthritis. They are widely available and affordable and don’t require a prescription. Advocates claim this makes people more in control of their own health care; opponents fear that self-dosing may lead to toxic interactions and prevent people from seeking traditional care and proven treatments offered by conventional practitioners.

Some herbs are derived from plants in the first place. For example, aspirin comes from willow bark and digitalis from foxglove flowers to treat certain heart problems.  The active ingredients may come from all the parts of the plant, so the amounts contained are affected by harvesting and processing and vary with the batch. This practice may further upset the balance of the ingredients and the doses are often affected. Herbs are made from unpurified plant material, and there is also a risk of contamination with pesticides, microbes, metals and other unnamed toxins.  

Another concern is that some herbs interact with prescription drugs and cause additional problems. For example, gingko biloba and garlic can interfere with blood clotting and should not be used with blood-thinners before surgery. St. John’s wort may interact with anesthetics and antidepressants.

 Herbs are medicines and like taking other medications has some advantages and risks. Whether they are helpful or harmful depends on the supplement, the dose, and the consumer. Education is essential in the pros and cons of any medication as well as herbal remedies. The best advice is “buyer beware”.  This advice applies to all dietary supplements due to a lack of much-needed regulations on safety and effectiveness.

Alternative Medicine?

Complementary and Alternative Medicine Practices

Consumer interest in alternative medical practices has been around for several decades – the last known data acknowledges that at least 34% of people recently surveyed in the U.S. used some type of alternative, complementary and integrative medicine in the past year. This resulted in about $30 billion generated to this industry. (2016 Data)

Most alternative medicine consumers have illnesses for which conventional medicine cannot offer a cure, such as arthritis, terminal stages of AIDS, and stress-related conditions. The mind is a powerful component of many of the treatments, which is proven in many trials as a placebo effect. There are lots of possible reasons that something like a folk medicine or a homeopathic preparation may work. In addition to belief of the mind-body effects of the “medication” as well as the normal ups and downs of symptoms, the remission of the disease, the denial of symptoms or misrepresentation of effectiveness by people who believe the remedy is effective. The body can be a powerful healer under the right conditions.

Many clients wish physicians would take the time to explain (in simple terms) the nature of the problem, to acknowledge nutritional influences on health, rather than just recommend drugs and surgery as the only approaches for treating illness; to answer questions about dietary supplements, be sensitive to mind-body interactions, and to respect questions about alternative therapies. My Granddaughter is in her second year of medical school – I will be anxious to hear how and if she receives any of these practices in her training.

To date, few alternative therapies have been subjected to scientific scrutiny, and many of the practices are based on presumptions that are unconvincing at best, yet some, e.g. acupuncture and chiropractic show promise in certain conditions.

Herbal medicine.   By definition, an herb is a plant or any of its parts that is used primarily for medicinal purposes. This includes aromatherapy. Dosage forms include capsules, tablets, extracts, or tinctures, powders, teas, creams, and ointments. In March 1999, FDA established regulations that require the labels of such supplements to include name, quantity, dosage per day, and ingredient amounts.

Fraudulent claims for diet-and health related remedies have always been a part of our culture. It is important to scrutinize the credentials and motives of anyone providing medical or health advice. “Let the buyer beware.” Unfortunately, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Reference: Gordon M. Wardlaw. Contemporary Nutrition, Issues, and Insights. Fifth Edition.

Diet Supplements???

It’s High Noon for Dietary Supplements

— The user fee legislation in Congress proposes useful regulations, but doesn’t go far enough

by Peter Lurie, MD, MPH June 10, 2022

A photo of a woman holding a bottle of vitamin gummies in front of a shelf of dietary supplements in a pharmacy.

By now, calling the dietary supplement marketplace “The Wild West” has taken on the mantle of hoary cliché. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

That moniker seems entirely appropriate for an industry that has grown from about $4 billion in 1994, when Congress clarified the FDA’s authority over the products, to over $40 billion today. At present, the industry sells some 50,000 products (the FDA estimates their number to the nearest 10,000), many without any evidence of effectiveness. Some have clear proof of danger in the form of unintended contaminantspharmaceutical ingredients that presumably were added intentionally, and ingredient quantities that often stray from labeled amounts. Yet, the 1994 legislation sharply curtailed FDA’s authorities over these products.

According to a recent industry survey, 80% of consumers use dietary supplements, with many recently turning to supplements in response to COVID-19. And patients often keep their providers in the dark about their supplement use — or providers fail to ask about it.

But a reckoning might loom over the horizon.

Every 5 years, Congress must pass so-called “user fee legislation” — fees levied upon the various industries regulated by FDA that supplement the often-meager funds appropriated by legislators. Typically, congresspeople use this as an opportunity to pursue their other FDA priorities. This year, one long-overdue target is the dietary supplements industry.

Based on legislation developed by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.), the user fee bill includes what industry cognoscenti call “listing” — a public database of all the dietary supplements currently being marketed. Yes, you heard that right: FDA doesn’t currently have such a list despite being expected to police the marketplace. The bill also improves oversight of high-risk supplements and products with pharmacological activity fraudulently marketed as dietary supplements, such as tianeptine and phenibut.

Those are good ideas, but they don’t go nearly far enough. What else can be done?

The database is critical — even the more responsible members of the industry support it, which ought to tell you something — but it should offer more extensive information. The listings should provide consumers with access to recent FDA enforcement actions where food safety and labeling laws have been violated. It should also be linked to product labels so that consumers can look up those they are considering buying and doctors can thoroughly research those they are considering recommending to patients. There is also a need to address an existing provision whereby companies can simply self-certify new ingredients as safe, without even telling FDA, much less providing any evidence. The FDA also needs to be alerted to any new ingredients, and they should be added to the database before the products can be altered and sold.

The bill should also allocate more funding. FDA’s beleaguered Office of Dietary Supplement Programs should be provided with at least $5 million more per year than appropriated in the bill, as this would bring a level of funding I believe to be sufficient to improving the agency’s oversight of this sprawling industry.

Another hoary cliché has it that the COVID-19 pandemic has shone an unforgiving light upon existing deficiencies in our healthcare system. Right again. One of those issues is the rampant disinformation. Already we’ve seen the defrocked minister Jim Bakker peddling colloidal silver and leading anti-vaxxer Joseph Mercola, DO, pushing, well, just about anything he can. Accurate and transparent information across the healthcare system, including the supplements industry, is critical.

It’s time to bring some law and order to this unruly marketplace. For there’s no telling what these folks will do For a Few Dollars More.

Peter Lurie, MD, MPH, is the president and executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. He is a former associate commissioner of the FDA.

The Concerning Rise of GMO Food Animals: Goats, pigs, fish??

“Most grocery stores and butcher shops don’t want to sell genetically modified fish and food animals.” We have seen the rising interest of consumers of “Impossible Burgers” and “Beyond Burgers” now available in supermarkets; however, their success is not widely advertised.

The development of genetically engineered food animals or their products soon to be available like goats, pigs, cattle, and salmon (some already approved by the FDA will likely increase because GMO’s represent greater profits for big meat producers… “

CLICK HERE.

Is Folate (Folic Acid) Safe?

Folate is a water-soluble vitamin (not stored in the body) and primary food sources include: Fortified, refined grain products (cereals, bread, and pasta), dark green vegetables like collards and romaine, dried beans.

Folate plays key roles during pregnancy in the synthesis of proteins needed for the normal development of fetal tissues including the spinal cord and brain. It also promotes the normal formation of red blood cells. Folate is the form found in foods whereas folic acid is used in vitamin supplements and fortified foods.

The consequences of a deficiency include megaloblastic anemia (abnormally large red blood cells with reduced oxygen capability,) increased rise of neural tube defects, preterm delivery, and elevated levels of homocysteine (associated with heart and brain health). It may mask signs of vitamin B12 deficiency (pernicious anemia).

Until the late 1990’s, neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly affected approximately 3900 pregnancies in the U. S. each year.Today, public health policies mandate the fortification of certain food with folic acid, the synthetic form of folate, preventing birth defects in thousands of babies.

Research had previously shown that high doses of folate (folic acid) was associated with certain types of cancer.

“The success of the fortification of folic acid program can be seen in the decline in the estimated number of neural tube affected pregnancies that has occurred since the fortification of grains and grain products. In 1994, there were 1.6 cases per 1000 births; in 2001, about 0.9 cases per 1000. Americans were consuming more folate, in the form of folic acid, through food and supplements, causing concern among scientists about possible increased cancer rates, especially for colorectal cancer.” However, is folate safe? Current research says “yes”. Read on:

CLICK HERE.

All About Probiotics

SHOULD YOU TAKE A PROBIOTIC?

Lately there’s a lot of buzz about taking probiotics that is becoming a household word on food labels; everyone wants to get in on the claims made to benefit them and the microbiome with a simple pill.

First of all what is the microbiome ? Everyone has one that is individual to them. It refers to our personal colony of micro -organisms, mostly bacteria, in our body that outnumbers our human cells. It is crucial to our digestion and integrity of the intestinal lining; it determines how and when and where things are absorbed into the bloodstream, participates in our metabolism and plays a role in our immune defenses. In the gastrointestinal tract the bacteria in the microbiome digest things we couldn’t digest otherwise like high fiber foods.

Mark Bittman and David L. Katz, MD – How to Eat: All Your Food and Diet Questions Answered. 2020 

Eat probiotic foods along with prebiotic foods since rebiotics are the food that bacteria eat and what sustains good bacteria long-term. They include foods like oatmeal, bananas, berries, asparagus and beans.

Carrie Daniel-MacDougall, Ph.D, M.P.H., a nutritional epidemiologist at MD Anderson who studies diet and the microbiome says:

“Unless your doctor is prescribing probiotics for a specific person purpose, stick to getting them from foods like yogurt that may have other nutrients like calcium.”

In some cases, probiotics from food or supplements may help individuals with irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease. There is also potential for harm if used improperly or in combination with other medications. Your doctor or a certified nutritionist can help you find the one that’s right for you. Sometimes the probiotic could even disrupt or displaced some of the good bacteria you already have. McDougall says.

FYI: What does certified organic actually mean?

Organic Foods– From the USDA

Organically grown and produced foods can be labeled four ways:

“100% Organic” if they contain entirely organic produced ingredients.

“Organic” if they contain at least 93% organic ingredients.

“Made with organic ingredients” if they contain at least 70% organic ingredients.

“Some Organic ingredients” if the products contain less than 70% organic ingredients.

What does any label that says “organic” mean? What are the criteria for organic certification?

USDA rules for qualifying as organic. 

Plants:

Must be grown in soils not treated with synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides for at least three years

Cannot be fertilized with sewer sludge

Cannot be treated with radiation

Cannot be grown from genetically modified seeds or contain genetic modified ingredients

Animals:

 Cannot be raised in “factory-like” confinement conditions

Cannot be given antibiotics or hormones to prevent disease or promote growth.

Must be given feed products that are 100% organic.

Or you can make your own sign - not recommended.
Or you can make your own sign – not recommended

Your Brain on Processed Food

https://eladsi.medium.com/ultra-processed-food-is-messing-with-your-brain-2da37c98a09e

A real-life experiment -that speaks for itself. There is a great need for studies that attempt to measure the actual effects of the Standard American Diet (SAD) on the body. This study is not a clinical trial, and the results are somewhat subjective. It was only one subject but maybe more effective to everyone than obtaining food records from study participants relying on memory. The best way would be to measure metabolic parameters like LDL or HDL cholesterol, liver enzymes, hormones, blood pressure, e.g. This study did rely on brain scans and some lab work.

Many studies are often funded by the industry and the results are only for Big Food promotion of their own products. “Without understanding who paid for the research, it’s hard for anyone to know what dietary advice to follow.” Source: Marion Nestle, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat, 2018.

Neverthless, I find the above study interesting and worth a read. (my opinion, SJF)

Do you remember what you ate last Tuesday?

CLICK HERE.

IVERMECTIN: FACT OR FAD?

With so much information available on the Internet, it’s difficult to know what to do when we hear or read something about a medical “breakthrough” that may benefit us personally or perhaps help a friend or relative. How can you separate the sound information from the highly questionable?

Many people believe what they want to hear.

The products offer solutions to important problems that have few or no solutions in orthodox health care.

We all hope that these solutions will be the “one” that provides positive “cures” of the medical condition in question. In other words, we’re constantly searching for the “magic bullet”. Covid-19, fraught with controversy is no exception.

Ivermectin is a drug used to treat parasitic infections in animals and also is used to treat scabies and lice infestations in humans. Needless to say, it is questionable to use it as a treatment for Covid-19 infections.

CLICK HERE.

Food Additives and Obesity

“Artificial preservatives used in many processed foods could increase the risk of inflammatory bowel diseases and metabolic disorders, according to research published on 25 February in Nature1. In a study done in mice, chemicals known as emulsifiers were found to alter the make-up of bacteria in the colon — the first time that these additives have been shown to affect health directly.”

The search continues for what factors in the Standard American diet (SAD) can be implicated beyond the amount alone that people consume, that are causative of the current obesity/diabesity epidemic.

Researchers continue to look at the lengthy ingredient lists on ultra-processed foods. As Western-type diet are utilized more and more globally, their obesity rates continue to rise. Is there a connection?

CLICK HERE.

UNHEALTHY PROCESSED FOOD AND SNACKS CAN LEAD TO OBESITY