Letters + Opinion » Mailbox

Herb Buyer Beware




Regarding your "Drugs in Disguise" article (Nov. 10), and letters defending "hands off" regulation of herbs and supplements: When administered under protections like those in Europe, herbs and supplements have a role in public health. But that's not happening in the U.S., so here's where we're at:

-- Relying on herbal/supplement manufacturers and sellers to police themselves hasn't worked for the petroleum, pharmaceutical, securities, real estate, banking and many other lines of business. Manufacturers and sellers of herbs and supplements may or may not be nice people, and they're in business for profit, and aren't immune to the pressures and temptations of business. Relying on self-policing to protect herb and supplement consumers is naïve.

-- Getting medical advice on symptoms and treatment from a retail herbal/supplement seller is relying on someone with vastly different medical training and ethical/ confidentiality requirements than what law and tradition require of an M.D. or licensed pharmacist. Herbal/supplement sellers I've encountered make no effort to first advise me they don't have medical training or ethical/confidentiality requirements before they give me what is medical advice.

-- Ms. Tipple claiming herbal/supplements hasn't caused any deaths is based on -- what?  Just her personal opinion and personal experience, which is far from the science and evidence behind the European regulations. The "no harm" argument also causes some people needing a conventional medical diagnosis and treatment to delay getting it, hoping herbs will do the job; that delay can make things worse or even deadly. Her "Herbs have never killed anybody" claim doesn't take delaying needed medical treatment into account.

If the herbs/supplements business doesn't like the FDA, but (like Ms. Caldwell) wants to stop the "shady, scamy products" and "ripoffs" she sees occurring, it  should finance an independent, well-funded and tough FDA equivalent organization, to match the protections provided in Europe.

Jeff Knapp, Arcata

Our community respects the Journal for well-researched, thoughtful journalism, but "Drugs in Disguise" was like the sensationalized "news" on certain cable channels. It easily could have featured grocery store produce, exposing scary truths behind oranges and Brussels sprouts: Did you know orange essential oil can sometimes cause photosensitivity, or that veggies high in vitamin K can make prescription drugs less effective?  Drug-food interactions are pervasive. Many foods "tweak your biology" but "fly under the disclosure radar" -- words the author chose to describe herbs and supplements.

Statements like "in using herbal supplements, we rely on tradition, not science" are sheer nonsense. Was there no time to Google? No copies of the Physicians Desk Reference (PDR) for Herbal Medicine to flip through? One could spend years reading peer-reviewed scientific research on plant pharmacology and barely skim the surface, perhaps starting with the searchable index at the University of Maryland Medical Center (www.umm.edu/altmed/), or the enormous link collection from the Herb Research Foundation (http://www.herbs.org/links/links.htm).

Ms. Lester highlighted deaths caused by kava kava and ephedra, but failed to mention they resulted from products where certain plant constituents were isolated and potentized. Products like these barely resemble the plant from which they were derived. Both kava kava and ephedra have been used for thousands of years without complication when taken in reasonable amounts in their raw form. Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, which are often synthetic isolates of single constituents, plants contain hundreds of synergistic constituents working together. Isolated constituents manipulated in contemporary manufacturing practices are drugs, not plants -- and drugs have side effects.

The herb and supplement industry is growing, and strict regulations exist for quality control in manufacturing. So do wild marketing claims from unscrupulous producers, especially for "weight loss supplements" (lose 40 pounds in four weeks!), undermining the industry's integrity and increasing the need for additional consumer protection. It's important to consult with knowledgeable herbalists and health care professionals when choosing certain products. In other cases, additional regulation is just plain silly. Dandelions a controlled substance? Or peppermint? Or kitchen spices?

Please be more thoughtful, Journal. Our community expects reliable, well-researched information.

Julie Caldwell, Humboldt Herbals, Eureka

Add a comment