Consumer Reports Attacks Supplements | Health Newsletter

Date: 08/20/2016    Written by: Jon Barron

Once Again, They’re Coming After Your Supplements

Consumer Reports Attacks Supplements | Health Newsletter

On July 29th, Consumer Reports (CR) released a report identifying 15 supplements as "potentially" harmful with "insufficient health benefits to justify the risk."1 As they stated in the introduction to their report, "With the help of an expert panel of independent doctors and dietary-supplement researchers [more on this panel in a moment], Consumer Reports identified 15 supplement ingredients that are potentially harmful. The risks include organ damage, cancer, and cardiac arrest. The severity of these threats often depends on such factors as pre-existing medical conditions as well as the quantity of the ingredient taken and the length of time a person has been exposed to the substance.

"Many of the ingredients on this list also have the potential to interact with prescription and over-the-counter medications, such as cholesterol-lowering statins and blood-thinning drugs like aspirin and warfarin (Coumadin and generic).

"Moreover, our experts agree that none of these supplement ingredients provide sufficient health benefits to justify the risk. Even so, we found all 15 ingredients in products available online or in major stores such as GNC, Costco, CVS, Walmart, and Whole Foods."

The Panel

Before we look at the actual report, let's examine the reality behind it for a moment. The following information is included in the report's background briefing, "Methodology Behind "15 Ingredients to Always Avoid."2 First, let's look at the expert panel of independent doctors and dietary-supplement researchers. The one thing that stands out is that they all come from mainstream academia. There isn't one alternative health doctor or supplement formulator in the bunch.

  • Pieter Cohen, M.D., FACP, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an internist with the Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, Mass. Cohen is a noted expert on the safety and regulation of dietary supplements and the author of more than three dozen peer-reviewed and published studies on dietary supplements.
  • Philip J. Gregory, Pharm.D., M.S., FACN, director of the Center for Drug Information & Evidence-Based Practice and associate professor of pharmacy practice at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.; associate editor, Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine; and editor-in-chief, natural medicines, Therapeutic Research Center, Stockton, Calif.
  • Arthur P. Grollman, M.D., distinguished professor of pharmacological sciences and Glick Professor of Experimental Medicine at Stony Brook University in New York. Grollman is a recognized expert on the clinical pharmacology of herbal medicines and has testified on that subject before the White House Commission on Alternative and Complementary Health Policy; the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation (Sen. John McCain, chairman); and the Governor of New York's Task Force on Life and Law. He has also published more than 200 papers in the fields of molecular biology and cancer research.
  • Donald M. Marcus, M.D., professor of medicine and immunology emeritus at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Marcus has published numerous papers on the hazards of nonvitamin and nonmineral supplements, and has made presentations on this subject at medical schools and national professional meetings.
  • Paul A. Offit, M.D., professor of pediatrics in the division of infectious diseases, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and author of "Do You Believe in Magic? Vitamins, Supplements, and All Things Natural: A Look Behind the Curtain" (Harper, 2014).
  • Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., FACP, FACE, is the chief medical adviser for Consumer Reports. Lipman has represented the public as a member of the Board of Trustees of the U.S. Pharmacopeia and has served on several FDA advisory panels. He has authored articles on the dangers of dietary supplements. He is professor emeritus of clinical medicine at New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y.

I always find it fascinating when the mainstream feels they can evaluate some alternative treatment or supplement without having anyone who actually works in the field be part of their study. It always reminds of the medical doctor I met years ago at a seminar who told me that he had become an expert in alternative health--the entire field--in one weekend of reading about it. That's pretty amazing since after 45 years of working in the field, I only claim to have a good general understanding of it--with expertise in just a couple of specialized areas. All I can say, sarcastically speaking, is that he was certainly smarter than I am…as it appears is everyone else connected with mainstream medicine.

Tweet: An MD once told me he had become an expert in alternative health--the entire field--in one weekend of reading about it. @BaselineHealthAn MD once told me he had become an expert in alternative health--the entire field--in one weekend of reading about it.

Pre-existing Bias

That background briefing then went on to say that many people regard dietary supplements as a safe and "natural" component of a healthy lifestyle. But ingredients in "numerous" supplements pose significant health risks. The briefing then cites a 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office that showed that the Food and Drug Administration received 6,307 reports of health problems from supplements between 2008 and 2011, including more than 1,000 serious injuries or illnesses, hundreds of life-threatening conditions, and 92 deaths.

Despite those risks, according to the briefing, manufacturers of supplements are not required to prove to the FDA that their products are safe to take before they reach the market. That puts a heavy onus on consumers to arm themselves with accurate information. And I would agree with that. The question we're asking today is: does the Consumer Reports (CR) article constitute "accurate information...or bias?"

The Risks

The 15 ingredients listed in the CR article are contained in products found available for sale in the U.S. According to CR, the severity of the risks cited often depends on such factors as pre-existing medical conditions, the quantity of the ingredient consumed, and the length of time that a person has been exposed to the substance. But all of the ingredients meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • It has been associated with kidney or liver problems.
  • It has been associated with cardiac arrest or heart attack.
  • It has been linked to cases of organ failure.
  • It has carcinogenic properties.
  • It has been associated with a possible risk of death.
  • It has been found to contain pharmaceutical drugs at prescription doses.

The FDA has advised manufacturers to remove products containing it from the market.

Incidentally, how tenuous or marginal those associations may be is not an issue for CR. As long as someone, somewhere, at some time, has made that association, that qualifies the supplement for inclusion on their list. And that's a big deal as we will soon see.

To identify products that contained these 15 ingredients, CR searched the ingredients lists on the labels of products available on each retailer's website. For retailers that did not sell their products online, such as Whole Foods, they visited stores near their Yonkers office and examined product labels. In the case of stores such as Costco that carry a different selection of products online and in-store, they reviewed the ingredients lists of the products available online and also visited local stores to examine product labels.

The Report

Ingredient

Claimed Benefits

Risks 

Aconite
Also called: Aconiti tuber, aconitum, angustifolium, monkshood, radix aconti, wolfsbane

Reduces inflammation, joint pain, gout

Nausea, vomiting, weakness, paralysis, breathing and heart problems, possibly death

Caffeine Powder
Also called: 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine

Improves attention, enhances athletic performance, weight loss

Seizures, heart arrhythmia, cardiac arrest, possibly death; particularly dangerous when combined with other stimulants

Chaparral
Also called: Creosote bush, greasewood, larrea divaricata, larrea tridentata, larreastat

Weight loss; improves inflammation; treats colds, infections, skin rashes, cancer

Kidney problems, liver damage, possibly death

Coltsfoot
Also called: Coughwort, farfarae folium leaf, foalswort, tussilago farfara

Relieves cough, sore throat, laryngitis, bronchitis, asthma

Liver damage, possible carcinogen

Comfrey
Also called: Blackwort, bruisewort, slippery root, symphytum officinale

Relieves cough, heavy menstrual periods, stomach problems, chest pain; treats cancer

Liver damage, cancer, possibly death

Germander
Also called: Teucrium chamaedrys, viscidum

Weight loss; alleviates fever, arthritis, gout, stomach problems

Liver damage, hepatitis, possibly death

Greater Celandine
Also called: Celandine, chelidonium majus, chelidonii herba

Alleviates stomachache

Liver damage

Green Tea Extract Powder
Also called: Camellia sinensis

Weight loss

Dizziness, ringing in the ears, reduced absorption of iron; exacerbates anemia and glaucoma; elevates blood pressure and heart rate; liver damage; possibly death

Kava
Also called: Ava pepper, kava kava, piper methysticum

Reduces anxiety, improves insomnia

Liver damage,exacerbates Parkinson's and depression, impairs driving, possibly death

Lobelia
Also called: Asthma weed, lobelia inflata, vomit wort, wild tobacco

Improves respiratory problems, aids smoking cessation

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, rapid heartbeat, confusion, seizures, hypothermia, coma, possibly death

Methylsynephrine
Also called: Oxilofrine, p-hydroxyephedrine, oxyephedrine, 4-HMP

Weight loss, increases energy, improves athletic performance

Causes heart rate and rhythm abnormalities, cardiac arrest; particularly risky when taken with other stimulants

Pennyroyal Oil
Also called: Hedeoma pulegioides, mentha pulegium

Improves breathing problems, digestive disorders

Liver and kidney failure, nerve damage, convulsions, possibly death

Red Yeast Rice
Also called: Monascus purpureus

Lowers LDL ("bad") cholesterol, prevents heart disease

Kidney and muscle problems, liver problems, hair loss; can magnify effect of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, increasing the risk of side effects

Usnic Acid
Also called: Beard moss, tree moss, usnea

Weight loss, pain relief

Liver injury

Yohimbe
Also called: Johimbi, pausinystalia yohimbe, yohimbine, corynanthe johimbi

Treats low libido and erectile dysfunction, depression, obesity

Raises blood pressure; causes rapid heart rate, headaches, seizures, liver and kidney problems, heart problems, panic attacks, possibly death

What is the Truth?

The above table is fascinating. The most notable thing about it is that it contains no references--either for the list of risks or the assertion that any benefits are merely "claimed." Remember, in their preface to the table, they stated, "Moreover, our experts agree that none of these supplement ingredients provide sufficient health benefits to justify the risk," thereby dismissing any claims to possible health benefits. But is that dismissal warranted--supported by fact? Let's look at some of the ingredients in detail to see how well they stand up the report's assertions.

Chaparral

I've talked about chaparral in detail in my report on blood cleansing, so I'm just going to save myself some work and grab from that report.

Native Americans have used chaparral for centuries as an anticancer remedy. In fact, it is the cornerstone of most anticancer herbal formulas. Exactly how it works is open to debate, but some of its main actions are:

  • Chaparral is one of the most powerful anti-oxidants in nature. The primary biochemical responsible for this is NDGA (nordihydroguaiaretic acid). NDGA is so effective that it is often used as a food preservative. 
  • It is anti-pathogenic. In other words, it kills viruses, bacteria, and parasites. 
  • Chaparral has even shown much promise with herpes. 
  • Chaparral cleanses the lymph system. 
  • It cleanses the blood. 
  • It cleanses the liver. 
  • It cleanses the urinary tract. 
  • It's a natural chelator that clears heavy metals from the blood. 
  • Studies show that chaparral may also inhibit uncontrolled cell proliferation as well as damage to DNA. 
  • And a number of university studies have indicated that chaparral can destroy and dissolve many types of tumors. 

We'll talk more about the science behind many of these benefits in a moment, but first we need to address the safety issue.

The obvious question is how could such a beneficial herb be on every government's blacklist? According to the FDA, citing a 1997 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, "Chaparral: sold as teas and pills to fight cancer and "purify blood," has been linked to serious liver damage. FDA has recorded two deaths and 10 cases of hepatitis or other liver abnormalities in users."3

The reality, though, is that the evidence for chaparral liver toxicity is anecdotal. It's not the result of any double blind studies or clinical trials. For example, one of the two cases the FDA likes to cite can be found in a 1995 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.4 The details of the case concern a 60-year-old woman who developed jaundice and liver failure while taking one to two capsules of chaparral each day with a pinch of garlic in a tea made from nettle and chickweed. The authors of the JAMA article concluded it must have been the chaparral that caused the liver problems. What is fascinating is that the patient in question was also consuming atenolol, aspirin, using a nitro patch, and occasional acetaminophen, as well as diltiazem hydrochloride--all drugs with profound hepatotoxic potential. Amazingly, none of these other substances were even considered as a possible cause of the liver problems by the authors...or the FDA. What a surprise!

Nevertheless (and despite the fact that Dr. Norman Farnsworth's extensive studies on chaparral in the 1970s and 1980s found no hepatotoxic effects for chaparral whatsoever), in December 1992, FDA Commissioner David Kessler announced, "The public should not purchase or consume chaparral."

After these allegations of liver toxicity by the FDA, manufacturers voluntarily restricted sales of chaparral for several years until the reports were investigated. Following a lengthy review, a panel of medical experts concluded "no clinical data was found... to indicate chaparral is inherently a hepatic toxin." In late 1994, this report was submitted to the FDA and chaparral was subsequently given a clean bill of health by the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA). After comparing the quantity of chaparral consumed each year (it is estimated that over 200 tons, 500 million capsules, were sold in the U.S. in the 1970's and 80's alone) to the number of product complaints, industry regulators concluded that chaparral did not pose a significant threat to consumer safety. Dr. Clark Watt and a group of scientists and doctors concluded that hepatotoxicity was most likely due to an allergic reaction rather than "inherent liver toxicity."5 And in 2001, a retrospective clinical study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found no evidence of liver toxicity from the use of low dose chaparral.6

The bottom line is that despite the claims in the CR report, chaparral has been fully cleared in terms of liver damage. The only concern is possible allergic reactions. But let's think for a moment about how likely that is. Consider that even though chaparral has been in use as an herbal supplement for several centuries, and that millions and millions of doses have been consumed, only a tiny handful of "possible" complaints concerning allergic reactions have ever been reported. When you compare that to acetaminophen, which, according to a 2005 study published in Hepatology, is the leading cause of acute liver failure in the United States, by far,7 then Consumer Reports' complaints about chaparral appear to be extremely bad research at best, and disingenuous at worst.

But what about the dig from CR that chaparral does not have sufficient proven benefits to warrant what amounts to an almost non-existent risk? Setting aside the centuries of anecdotal evidence, are there any studies that demonstrate benefits?

Chaparral studies

According to a report in the May 2010 issue of the Medical Science Monitor, numerous studies have shown that the main metabolite of chaparral, NDGA, is likely effective in the treatment of multiple diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, neurological disorders, cancers, and in the field of tissue engineering.8 The report went on to explain that several medicinal properties such as NDGA's antineoplastic, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory characteristics have been supported by in vitro and in vivo experimental studies, as well as historical reports. Studies have also confirmed that NDGA has extensive pharmacological effects and specific mechanisms of actions. It is a strong antioxidant; it can scavenge ROS (reactive oxygen species, AKA free radicals) or inhibit ROS production, stimulate nitrous oxide production, increase immune function, enhance central nervous system function, and prevent cardiovascular or other diseases. And tissue engineering studies demonstrate that NDGA-crosslinking is an effective way to improve the mechanical properties and biocompatibility of artificial tissues and organs.

And when it comes to cancer, there are a number of studies that show the benefits of chaparral and NDGA--and many of them recent. For example, a 2010 study published in Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters found that several synthetic variations of NDGA act as inhibitors against human liver cancer.9 The results of this study were reinforced by a study published in 2014 in ChemMedChem that found that eight methylated versions of NDGA were protective against liver cancer.10 Incidentally, I started with two studies on chaparral's ability to inhibit liver cancer specifically to counter any lingering concerns over its falsely rumored liver toxicity, but its anticancer benefits are by no means limited to liver cancer. As a 2012 study published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment shows, it's equally protective against breast cancer.11 And a 2008 study published in the journal Prostate shows that it might be just as effective in dealing with prostate cancer.12 And then, of course, there are the numerous studies that show that NDGA is more effective than acyclovir when it comes to treating the viruses HIV, HSV,13 and HPV14--HPV being notable as a primary factor in the onset of cervical cancer. And for that matter, studies have shown that NDGA and its derivatives are directly effective against cervical cancer itself.15

At this point, I think it is safe to conclude that there is more than just bad scholarship involved in CR's report. The complaints about chaparral are clearly agenda driven. But that's just one of the 15 ingredients. Anybody can make a mistake--unless there's a pattern of misrepresentation in the report.

Red Yeast Rice

The first thing we notice is that the risks associated with red yeast rice in the CR report--kidney and muscle problems, liver problems, hair loss; can magnify effect of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, increasing the risk of side effects--look surprisingly familiar. In fact, they are the exact same side effects associated with statin drugs, especially Mevacor. That's curious. How could that be? Well, as it turns out, one of the most important components in red yeast rice is monacolin K, also known as lovastatin, which just happens to be the active ingredient in the prescription drug Mevacor. Hmmm, if Mevacor and red yeast rice contain the same active ingredient, why would the claim that red yeast rice lowers LDL ("bad") cholesterol and prevents heart disease be considered questionable by the panel? Just saying.

And in fact, there is a pair of studies published in 2009, one in the Annals of Internal Medicine16 and the other in the American Journal of Cardiology17showing that a red rice yeast supplement works as well to lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol as prescription statin drugs. The study included 62 patients, all of whom quit taking statins because of muscle pain, the most common side effect of these drugs. Half the 62 patients in the study received a red rice yeast supplement; the other half were given a placebo. After three months, average LDL levels among those taking the red rice yeast had dropped an average of 27 percent compared with six percent among the placebo group.

Even better, only seven percent of the patients taking the supplement with the natural lovastatin developed muscle pain, whereas among the pharmaceutical statin users, at least twenty percent (almost three times as many) experienced muscle pain, although, to be fair, many improved once their bodies got used to the drug. Which brings up the question: if they have the same active ingredient, why would red yeast rice perform better than the pharmaceutical drug? And the answer is that red rice yeast is a natural source of statins, which means that unlike pharmaceutical drugs, it provides a mix of beneficial compounds rather than just monacolin K. The complex mixture interacts with the body more smoothly and is less likely to cause toxicity. The lead researcher of the Annals of Internal Medicine study, David Becker, M.D., of Chestnut Hill Cardiology in Pennsylvania, said that because the dose of monacolin K in the red rice yeast supplement used in the study was five times smaller than the amount in a typical Mevacor prescription, "something else is having a powerful lipid-lowering effect."

Bottom line: for the panel to say that any benefits associated with red rice yeast are questionable is simply disingenuous. They have the same active ingredient! Now to be fair, their argument might be that the greater number of side effects associated with the pharmaceutical drugs as well as its lower effectiveness are not concerning because the drugs are being prescribed by a doctor, whereas the people using the red rice yeast are self-medicating. But isn't that a circular argument, which ultimately translates as: don't use supplements because they might work? And really, isn't it more than a bit disingenuous to consider doctors responsible gatekeepers of medication when they now want to prescribe statin drugs for nearly 25 million adults, and at ever younger ages?18

Green Tea Extract Powder

The risks they're listing for this supplement are dizziness, ringing in the ears, reduced absorption of iron; exacerbates anemia and glaucoma; elevates blood pressure and heart rate; liver damage; possibly death.

That just seems plain silly. We're talking about green tea here.

In fact, it's probably based on recommendations for green tea extract published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology, saying it can be toxic and cause liver failure.19 According to those guidelines, the culprit is too many catechins, a key polyphenol antioxidant found in green tea. According to the journal, catechins target mitochondria--the powerhouses of your cells. The problem is that if you have too high a dose of catechins in your bloodstream (over 500 mg a day), they prevent the mitochondria from being able to help your body metabolize food and turn it into energy, which can lead to jaundice, hepatitis, or liver failure. The problem is that some outlying weight-loss supplements that use green tea extract as their primary ingredient contain up to 700mg in one capsule and come with instructions to take several capsules daily.

Let's be clear here, the problem isn't with green tea extract powder, but with stupid formulators and marketers who have no idea what they're doing and encourage people to vastly overdose on a beneficial ingredient. Given that situation, why would you throw the baby out with the bathwater? You don't dismiss the supplement, you control the irresponsible companies. (Incidentally, when I use green tea extract in my ultimate antioxidant formula, I only use 120 mg a day.)

Well, that covers the safety issue, but what about efficacy? Both the CR experts and the ACG Guidelines are dismissive of any benefits associated with green tea extract. How valid is that position?

When taken for weight-loss, there is certainly some validity to their concerns, but even then, there is no question that accelerating metabolism, which the caffeine in the green tea will do, helps you lose weight. The problem, of course, is that there are better ways to accelerate metabolism that don't carry the risks associated with massive overdoses of green tea. But again, we're talking about bad formulations and ignorant marketers. Setting weight-loss aside, though, and despite the claims to the contrary by the CR panel, there are numerous studies attesting to the benefits of green tea--either consumed as a beverage or taken as a supplement.

As a refresher on green tea extract, green tea antioxidants are of the same family as grape seed and pine bark extracts. They are polyphenols, chief of which are the flavonoids called proanthocyanidins. In green tea, the main proanthocyanidins are the catechins, and the most powerful of the catechins is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), found in the highest concentration in green tea. It works to prevent tumors from developing the blood vessels they need to survive (anti-angiogenesis),20 and it has been shown to inhibit metastasis.21 It is the first known natural telomerase inhibitor, eliminating the "immortality" of cancer cells, which is what makes them so deadly.22 Green tea is particularly effective in destroying the causes of leukemia, prostate cancer, and breast cancer. It has also been shown to be effective in regulating blood sugar, reducing triglycerides, and in reversing the ravages of heart disease.23 (Incidentally, the Japanese, who drink large amounts of green tea, have some of the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease in the world.) Green tea seems to almost totally prevent cancer from causing DNA damage in smokers--a possible explanation as to why the Japanese, who are among the world's heaviest smokers, have such a low incidence of lung cancer.24 And finally, green tea has great benefits for the brain as well, serving as an effective monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor, protecting against brain-cell death. The net result is that there are strong indications that green tea extract may play a major role in protecting against both Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.25

More recently, there's the study published just last month in Nutrients that confirmed that tea catechins inhibit breast cancer.26 And more to point, there's the Acta Cardiologica Sinica study, also published just last month, which seems to run counter to The American Journal of Gastroenterology recommendations. This study found that green tea catechins produced a significant reduction in LDL cholesterol levels versus placebo--with greater benefits in patients not taking statin drugs.27 The bottom line is that once again the implication that the supplements on the CR list provide no proven benefits seems more than a tad disingenuous.

Conclusion

That the Consumer Reports conclusions represent bad research, bad scholarship, and bad science would seem to go without saying. Unfortunately, I don't think that's the worst of it. Keep in mind, the panel that put them together is comprised of some very bright academics. There's no way they make that many mistakes accidentally. And let's be honest here, it's not only that they screwed up on just three of the 15 ingredients, or that they stretched the truth on a number of others such as kava kava, lobelia, and caffeine powder for that matter. No, the real statement of intent is that so many of the ingredients they list are outliers in the world of supplements.

Go to vitacost.com, which has one of the largest supplement inventories in the world. Search on Coltsfoot, Germander, Greater celandine, Methylsynephrine (which by the way is not a dietary supplement), and Usnic acid. None of them are available for sale. Can you find them elsewhere? Yes, vitaminsshoppe.com sells one celandine product and none of the others. But best of all is when you search vitacost.com for Aconite. Several products do indeed appear, but they're all homeopathic formulas. As it turns out, aconite is a homeopathic ingredient. And remember, one of the knocks against homeopathy in the scientific community is that homeopathic products may not have a single molecule of the original ingredient in the final formula. So Consumer Reports is warning you about an ingredient that may not even appear in the products that list them on the label. Why would they do that?

And the answer is simple. In fact, all one has to do is look at the title of their report to understand what's going on: "15 Supplement Ingredients to Always Avoid." The key word here is "supplements." This report is not about the 15 ingredients in the list. It's about all supplements. The purpose of this report is to undermine the credibility of all supplements. It's yet another attempt to promote the idea that supplements, in general, are dangerous--and pretty much always useless. It's an attempt to promote the ultimately ridiculous idea that no natural ingredient is ever useful or safe. That when it comes to health, the only thing that is safe and good for you is a pharmaceutical drugs. Trust me, I'm a doctor! If you think I'm exaggerating, then look how the media promoted the CR report.

  • "Consumer Reports Highlights Dietary Supplement Dangers." ABC News28
  • "New report exposes potential dangers of dietary supplements." WNCT TV29
  • "Are Herbal Supplements Safe?" Medical Daily30

You get the idea.

Tweet: If your name is John Wayne Bobbitt, you want a surgeon after your wife If your name is John Wayne Bobbitt, you want a surgeon after your wife "adjusts" you, not an herbalist.

As I have stated on many occasions before, unlike many in the alternative health community, I'm actually a fan of doctors and like much of what the medical community does. And sometimes there is simply no natural alternative. If your name is John Wayne Bobbitt, you want a surgeon after your wife "adjusts" you, not an herbalist. But, and this is absolutely crucial to understand and acknowledge, medical doctors and their supporting academics have no monopoly on health and safety. And by no means should you ever trust them or the medications they prescribe for you blindly. If you think supplements account for death and destruction, then you need to check out the over 100,000 deaths a year caused by adverse reactions to properly prescribed, pharmaceutical drugs31 or the fact that we are now facing the largest drug addiction epidemic in the history of our country because people trusted their doctors when they prescribed opioid pain killers like candy. And if you think, "Well yes there might be risks, but at least pharmaceutical drugs always provide benefits, then you might want to reconsider. Even the medical community itself doesn't believe that. For instance, there's a huge debate in the medical community about the risks VS benefits of statin drugs, but you'd never know it. Like any good PR machine, the medical community makes sure you don't see that debate. As a result, people keep using vast quantities of questionable statin drugs. Sometimes doctors simply prescribe drugs because they're in the habit of prescribing them--not because they're safe or they work.

  • 1. "15 Supplement Ingredients to Always Avoid."  Consumer Reports July 27, 2016. http://www.consumerreports.org/vitamins-supplements/15-supplement-ingredients-to-always-avoid/
  • 2. "Methodology Behind "15 Ingredients to Always Avoid."" ConsumerReports. (Accessed 8 Aug 2016.) http://www.consumerreports.org/content/dam/cro/magazine-articles/2016/September/Consumer_Reports_Magazine_Methodology_Behind_15_Ingredients_to_Always_Avoid_9-16_Issue.pdf
  • 3. Sheikh, N. M.; Philen, R. M.; Love, L. A. "Chaparral-associated hepatotoxicity." Arch Intern Med, 157(8), 913-919. http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/Plantox/Detail.CFM?ID=28
  • 4. Dafna W. Gordon, Gayle Rosenthal, John Hart, et al. "Chaparral Ingestion, the Broadening Spectrum of Liver Injury Caused by Herbal Medications." JAMA. 1995;273(6):489-490. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=386895
  • 5. Watts, C. "Final Report to the American Herbal Products Association." Special Counsel, Ford and Ferraro, LLP, Austin, TX. 6 Sept 1994. Unfortunately, there do not appear to be any internet accessible copies available at this time.
  • 6. SILENA HERON, N.D., and ERIC YARNELL, N.D. "The Safety of Low-Dose Larrea tridentata (DC) Coville (Creosote Bush or Chaparral): A Retrospective Clinical Study. THE JOURNAL OF ALTERNATIVE AND COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE. Volume 7, Number 2, 2001, pp. 175--185
  • 7. Larson AM et al. "Acetaminophen-Induced Acute Liver Failure: Results a United States Multicenter, Prospective Study." HEPATOLOGY 2005;42:1364-1372. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16317692
  • 8. Lü JM, Nurko J, Weakley SM, Jiang J, et al. "Molecular mechanisms and clinical applications of nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA) and its derivatives: an update." Med Sci Monit. 2010 May;16(5):RA93-100. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2927326/
  • 9. Hwu JR1, Hsu CI, Hsu MH, Liang YC, Huang RC, Lee YC. "Glycosylated nordihydroguaiaretic acids as anti-cancer agents." Bioorg Med Chem Lett. 2011 Jan 1;21(1):380-2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21123067
  • 10. Hsu MH1, Wu SC, Pao KC, Unlu I, et al. "Hepatocellular carcinoma targeting agents: conjugates of nitroimidazoles with trimethyl nordihydroguaiaretic Acid." ChemMedChem. 2014 May;9(5):1030-7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24648164
  • 11. Zhang Y1, Xu S, Lin J, Yao G, Han Z, Liang B, et al. "mTORC1 is a target of nordihydroguaiaretic acid to prevent breast tumor growth in vitro and in vivo." Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2012 Nov;136(2):379-88. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23053656
  • 12. Ryan CJ1, Zavodovskaya M, Youngren JF, Campbell M, Diamond M, Jones J, Shiry L, et al. "Inhibitory effects of nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA) on the IGF-1 receptor and androgen dependent growth of LAPC-4 prostate cancer cells." Prostate. 2008 Aug 1;68(11):1232-40. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18491370
  • 13. Chen H1, Teng L, Li JN, Park R, Mold DE, et al. "Antiviral activities of methylated nordihydroguaiaretic acids. 2. Targeting herpes simplex virus replication by the mutation insensitive transcription inhibitor tetra-O-methyl-NDGA." J Med Chem. 1998 Jul 30;41(16):3001-7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9685239
  • 14. Zhao J1, Zhao Y, Chen W, Li YM, Bian XW. "The differentiation-inducing effect of Nordy on HPV-16 subgenes-immortalized human endocervical cells H8." Anticancer Drugs. 2008 Aug;19(7):713-9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18594213
  • 15. Gao P1, Zhai F, Guan L, Zheng J. "Nordihydroguaiaretic acid inhibits growth of cervical cancer SiHa cells by up-regulating p21."Oncol Lett. 2011 Jan;2(1):123-128. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3412500/
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  • 17. Halbert SC, French B, Gordon RY, et al. "Tolerability of red yeast rice (2,400 mg twice daily) versus pravastatin (20 mg twice daily) in patients with previous statin intolerance." Am J Cardiol. 2010 Jan 15;105(2):198-204. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20102918
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Comments

  •  
    Submitted by Kelli on
    August 21, 2016 - 7:51pm
    Illinois

    Since they cannot patent herbal supplements and herbs themselves they try to make them out to be bad and "warn" people against taking them. They're just pissy about it because people can get them without a prescription.
    Well, it is my opinion(may not matter to anyone else but sure as hell matters to me), that since they cannot patent them, they shouldn't be able to ban them either.
    Don't get me wrong, I do think mainstream medicine and doctors have their place and in some instances are certainly the obvious choice. (i.e. like in the article about losing a part of your anatomy). I also think that people should be able to make their own choices when it comes to herbs and supplements. If they do the proper research and consult with someone who is a trained herbalist or Natureopathic Doctor, they can find out if there are side effects or contraindications from herbal supplements.
    The shocking thing to me is, that the public would believe what the doctors from this Consumer Reports research say about these supplements or any supplements in general. The sad thing is, when people have a health issue and they go to the doctor and then the doctor prescribes some kind of prescription medication, nobody ever second guesses what was prescribed for them. I mean, it has to be okay right??, cuz it was prescribed by my doctor. But then if you look at some of the horrendous side effects of a great many medications you have to ask yourself, "why isn't anyone saying or doing anything about these???" "why haven't these medications been banned when they cause such terrible side effects???" It certainly can't always be said that the benefit they provide outweighs the bad. It's probably more accurate to say that doctors, and mainstream medicine in general are run by pharmaceutical companies. It's all about the money!!!

  •  
    Submitted by Linda Roy on
    August 21, 2016 - 7:52pm
    Columbia , Kentucky

    I would like to know what is the best colostrum on the market.
    it is confusing because they all claim to be the best.

  •  
    Submitted by Francea on
    August 21, 2016 - 9:07pm
    Palo Alto , California

    I've never read such an outstanding article that tells exactly what's going on. I read nonstop to the end.
    Thank you for this effort.

  •  
    Submitted by BaselineFoundation on
    August 22, 2016 - 2:19am

    Thanks for letting us know!  We are so glad you liked it.

  •  
    Submitted by Hölli Vals on
    August 22, 2016 - 5:08am
    Aarhus, Denmark. ,

    I don't have the time to read the article, but would like to add that good research, good scholarship, and good science has been used to legalize all kinds of shit that kills people.
    Personally, when it comes to my own health, which I have improved dramatically by eating right, and living in peace, with moderate exercise, I am always skeptical of any advice that comes from people who's names are assoicated with MD and PhD. If it takes more than nature to create it without effort, you'll have to be very convincing before I even consider giving it a try.

  •  
    Submitted by Marty on
    August 22, 2016 - 6:58am

    The pharm/med community would list even more supplements if they think they could get away with it. Comfrey has been used since before Christ and now all the sudden it's going to kill you. The thugs would remove everything that keeps you healthy if they could.
    Thanks. I'm sharing this great article.

  •  
    Submitted by Ramona on
    August 22, 2016 - 7:18am
    Murphy , Texas

    A great well-written article! I am tired of the lying egos floating around in the medical /pharmacist community, not all but many of them. Thanks for educating us.

  •  
    Submitted by DM on
    August 22, 2016 - 9:19am

    Thanks Jon for another great article and for giving a fair and honest assessment unlike what CR did.

    There is another issue about supplements brewing that needs your attention. The FDA has just come out with their new revised guidelines that are utterly ridiculous and has the potential to wipe out tens of thousands of healthy life giving supplements off the market. In fact if their guidelines become binding most or all of your own supplements will be removed from the market.

    This is probably the greatest attack on natural health we have ever faced.

    Please get involved, please spread the word. We must defeat this. We need authorities just like you to fight for us. PLEASE.

    Thanks.

  •  
    Submitted by Andy G. Eid on
    August 22, 2016 - 9:22am
    Mississauga, Ontario, Canada ,

    Dear Jon,

    I have been receiving your emails for quite sometimes and I enjoy every one of them because they are informative and helps me decide which supplement to take for different ailments.

    Pharmaceutical companies cannot make money on natural supplements and they really don't care about our health as long as they make money.

    In spite of the fact I am a smoker (Not proud of it) I am 70 years old who don't take any medical drugs unless it is absolutely necessary. I take supplement & herbs for cholesterol, diabetes, liver, heart etc. and I am doing just fine.

    I like your style and honesty in bringing us the good information to manage our health. Please keep up the good work and God bless for all the efforts you put in to bring us such valuable information.

  •  
    Submitted by Dale Haas on
    August 22, 2016 - 9:52am
    Albuquerque , New Mexico

    Bravo to you, and shame on CR! I have always been a "true believer" in their research, but I have revised my opinion after reading your article. Supplements play a huge role in my health:

    At age 68, I was taking "drugs" for type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high triglycerides, cholesteral and GERD. All "chronic conditions" for which, I was told, I would "always have to take these meds". My "numbers" never got any better and -in fact- there was an inverse relationship between dosage and results! When I finally balked at increased dosages, my MD suggested "exercise and diet". Sage advice- but, no guidelines other than restricting calories to 2000/day (which would have made me gain weight unless training for the Olympics)! This made me finally realize that to get better, feel better and be better I had to be the "expert" on how to make it happen. As a lay-person, I discovered that thanks to the internet there is almost too much "help" available. The tricky part is determining which advice and information is reliable! (thanks, Jon Barron)

    Well, I made it to 69. It wasn't easy, but it was an amazing journey, as I got breast cancer along the way! Happily I am now "drug-free" (which also meant no chemo, radiation or hormone therapy) because I am disease-free! Nutritional supplements played a key role in getting me healthy and their continued use will ensure that I get to enjoy being 70!
    p.s. next is a letter to the editor of CR

  •  
    Submitted by BaselineFoundation on
    August 23, 2016 - 6:22am

    I think it is a great idea to complain to Consumer Reports! Feel free to send them Jon's article too.

  •  
    Submitted by Francine Vallejo on
    August 22, 2016 - 10:05am
    Berkeley , California

    Thank you for great research on this big lie. Didn't know about chaparal. I always thought it was toxic to liver. Dr. Barron, I I would like to see someone start a petition to require physician to give patients a sort of Miranda warning and telling them that "there may be other treatments that we don't offer here that you are free to research and try out elsewhere." It would change the medical business big time just like the Miranda warning changed the justice system. Just forcing them to acknowledge that there are other possible treatments would be a game changer. I am shocked to see that even educated people do not know that NSAIDs are bad for you and never heard that 'the osteoporosis" drugs are bad. They still prescribe those. Right now physicians do tests on patients for new use for old drugs. A woman I know was told to "try" this and pull; the drug out of his desk, for depression from removed of thyroid and it was a drug only recommended for schizophrenia, but it is not working and had horrible adverse effects.

  •  
    Submitted by George Morris on
    August 22, 2016 - 11:16am
    Winter Park , Florida

    My mission is to become a trusted "Health Activist" Healthcare needs Right Thinking, Right Knowledge and Right Action
    The underlying problem with healthcare today - What they are doing is not Right Thinking!
    In the past when healers were in a position of "respect", they worked with "individuals" to assist them in restoring wellness. With the advent of Science, physicians use scientific information gained from groups to dictate what they do for the individual. This assumes that "Science" has the correct remedy to restore wellness for the individual. That would require Right Knowledge
    Science does not provide Right Knowledge. Because of biochemical individuality an intervention that works for some can cause harm to many. Look at the incidence of adverse drug reactions and deaths from properly prescribed pharmaceuticals, while the use of safer herbal formulas is restricted. Scientific methods can provide Right Knowledge, but only if there is Right Action.
    Right Action can only occur if we can take the "profit motive used by the powerful" out of healthcare. As an example of how this interference is restricting our access to wellness, I provide examples of US and International patents that claim herbs or herbal extracts are an effective treatment for CANCER. See this "patented Herbal Cancer Treatments.pdf at www.longevitytesting.com. No matter the condition (AIDS, Autism, Alzheimer's, Cancer or even libido) the restrictions place by profit and the powerful have restricted our ability to have wellness.

  •  
    Submitted by Blanche-Marie Couture on
    August 22, 2016 - 2:05pm
    Mount Ida , Arkansas

    I really appreciate your emails...this one make me laugh at the stupidity of FDA and the lies...I have used herbs all my life, Chaparral is absolutely non toxic. Talk about all the drugs with their side effects, and herbs have no side effects to speak of. It is all from the Medical Mafia. They cannot patent an herb so they produce false statement to suit their new law. Absurd!!!!

  •  
    Submitted by Karen on
    August 22, 2016 - 2:05pm
    San Diego , California

    I think the United Corporations of America are taking every last bit of everything for themselves. A sad state for people not at the apex since they are entirely disempowered.

  •  
    Submitted by sing gin on
    August 25, 2016 - 5:21pm

    After 6 doctors, and only 1 of them giving me a hint about the problem, (adrenal insufficiency) among other things diagnosed, and wanting me to take a variety of pharmaceuticals including anti depressants, I basically only use the medical community for blood tests. I have come along way from several years ago when I had sleep paralysis among other things, and times of such fatigue that eating was exhausting. I take a lot of supplements and hope this group will keep their hands off. Yes, you need one for injuries or surgery such as appendix, ( I can think of 12 or more people who have had unnecessary gallbladder surgery, drug reactions, and even death from the wrong thing or reaction to the dye used for artery diagnosis. Anyway, they simply can't fix many things, and usually only mask the symptoms. If you want to be better you have to get the nutrients the body needs for all it's growth and processes.

  •  
    Submitted by Debbie on
    November 20, 2016 - 7:47pm
    Shoreline , Washington

    I used chaparral daily for nearly ten years. Usually, I drank it as a tea and sometimes took it in capsule form. I experienced no adverse affects from it. Initially, I started using it for severe acne that didn't respond to anything except antibiotic tetracycline. I didn't want to continue that so I researched chaparral. It actually was more effective than the antibiotic. After the initial use, I continued using it because of the other many benefits.

  •  
    Submitted by Keith Maxwell on
    October 19, 2017 - 4:20pm
    Madison , Alabama

    I posted a comment on CR with your article linked in it. We'll see if they leave it up or not.

    Keith

  •  
    Submitted by BaselineFoundation on
    October 20, 2017 - 1:34pm

    Thanks Keith!  Would be great if they read this article!

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