Natural Foods Merchandiser

Industry expert criticizes Consumer Reports’ “dirty dozen” supplement list

The Consumer Reports story says the 12 ingredients have been linked by clinical research or case reports to “serious adverse events” such as cancer, coma, heart problems, kidney damage, liver damage, even death. The dozen are: aconite, bitter orange, chaparral, colloidal, silver, coltsfoot, comfrey, country mallow, germanium, greater celandine, kava, lobelia and yohimbe.


The founder of a nonprofit herbal medicine organization has criticized a Consumer Reports story that identifies a “dirty dozen” list of supplement ingredients the report says are linked to a variety of serious health problems.

“There’s no nuance, detail or context,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the Austin, Texas-based American Botanical Council. “They’ve just put everything in a list.”

The Consumer Reports story says the 12 ingredients have been linked by clinical research or case reports to “serious adverse events” such as cancer, coma, heart problems, kidney damage, liver damage, even death. The dozen are: aconite, bitter orange, chaparral, colloidal, silver, coltsfoot, comfrey, country mallow, germanium, greater celandine, kava, lobelia and yohimbe.

Consumer Reports said it evaluated other factors, including evidence of effectiveness and the extent to which the ingredients are readily available. It said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned about eight of the ingredients.

“Supplement manufacturers routinely, and legally, sell their products without first having to demonstrate that they are safe and effective. The Food and Drug Administration has not made full use of even the meager authority granted it by the industry-friendly 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA),” the story said.

Blumenthal said that most data comes from the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.

He argued that “safety issues are relative. They are not always yes or no.” For example, he said aconite in its raw state is toxic. But when it is cooked and processed, as it is in traditional Chinese medicine, it loses its toxicity. “They don’t make the distinction between raw and processed.”

He also questioned the studies Consumer Reports cites for its evidence that certain ingredients are harmful. “With kava, there are no published reports or clinical trials to show that kava can produce liver toxicity. Kava should not be on the list at all.”

Blumenthal did give credit to Consumer Reports for listing herbs that “have a toxicity concern but not strong efficacy. So why use it?”

But he criticized the report for “broad brushing” the herbal and dietary supplement industry. “They’re taking an anti-industry position,” Blumenthal said. “But the industry is extremely pluralistic. There are many reputable members.”

To see the Natural Products Association's response to the article, check out NPA Calls Consumer Reports Article 'An Attack on Supplements'.

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