Friday, June 4, 2010

Ignoring the Obvious in Supplements?

The FDA is trying to crack down on supplements... which is becoming a political hot potato. In recent years, the vast majority of supplement manufacturers and suppliers have relocated overseas, mainly in China. For example, nearly all the Vitamin C, along with many other popular supplements sold in the US, comes from China. The FDA is not required to inspect those plants on foreign soil, and has little funding to do so anyway.

A report from a company that has tested over 2,000 dietary supplements made by more than 300 manufacturers and has found that one in four have quality problems. The 'quality' problems are trace elements of contaminates like lead, pesticides and heavy metals — including mercury, cadmium and arsenic — which did not exceed thresholds (except for the pesticide residues) considered dangerous, the investigators found.

So, what does that really mean?

The FDA wants to  use that data as part of their ongoing efforts to make it necessary to have a physician write all prescriptions for any vitamin and herbal supplements.

Herbal supplements are made from dried and processed herbs, and how they are grown and in what soil controls the quality, in the US or a foreign country. Sure, quality can also be affected by conditions in processing but probably most originates in the field. There are pesticides and herbicides still being manufactured in the US which have been outlawed as toxic for any application in the US, but the manufacturing companies are still allowed to sell them to foreign countries. When other countries apply those products to crops, naturally they show up in the soil and thus the plants, which absorb them from the soil.

It seems to me the FDA should concern themselves more about eliminating the source of contamination (stop the production of toxins), and support the quality herbal manufacturers in the US. Instead, it seems they want to outlaw all supplements unless a doctor prescribes them, which will punish US herb growers and consumers alike.

We have choices when we purchase vitamins and herbal dietary supplements, but choosing which brand is not necessarily an easy decision. Do we buy the cheapest brand with the best safety advertising buzz words? Most of us probably do. Do we bother to look up each company to see where their raw material is grown? Probably not. Do we ask if their ingredients are certified organic, thus free of pesticides and heavy metal contamination? Probably not.

I just looked up the manufacturers of the D3, C, and magnesium I take. Only one lists a materials source (India); one shows the parent company is in China, and all say the have a packaging facility is in the US. That doesn't tell me where all their raw materials originate.

When I still lived in North Carolina, I had the opportunity to visit the farms of Gaia Herbs. They have recently instituted a traceability program for their herbal supplements, and from what I saw of their farms I would trust the integrity of their products. Many of their herbs are grown under very strict organic standards and advertised as such. (I do not work for them, nor do I receive any compensation from them. Their inclusion here is merely an example of what is possible.)

Another choice we have is to eat foods high in nutritional value, assuring our necessary vitamins come from real foods and not a questionable pill. If we can get all our nutritional needs met and our body re-balanced and our stress levels reduced, we may find we won't need the healing powers of herbal medicines as much. 'Course, herbs still make great tea!

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