Are the herbs we take harmful?

Once again food supplementation and herbal therapy are under the gun. Recently we learned of a teenage boy who chose to take a large dose of an herbal supplement known as ephedra or ma hung along with some other herbals and paid the ultimate price -- his life. A tragic situation for everyone. Certainly it's the kind of story that no one likes to hear about. Everyone wants to know who's to blame?

Responsible herbalists, including myself, always hate to hear this kind of news. It does prove that herbs indeed can be harmful -- if not downright dangerous -- when used inappropriately.

Legitimate concerns were raised about the marketing of some ephedrine products that are being touted as legal ways to get high. For the most part, responsible journals and health food stores refuse to get involved in the marketing of these products. For those of us who use herbs as they were intended, plants that were given to us for healing, it's nothing short of a personal affront for manufacturers to market and sell herbs in this fashion.

One particular ad I saw for an ephedra-based herbal in The Herbal Companion, which appeared to be wonderful journal, ran a full-page color ad for the product ''Purple Haze.'' The ad had several eye-catchy phrases like ''electrify your senses, the world's most powerful ecstasy, (X) alternative, Get mellow legally & naturally.'' This is not responsible -- if not downright deceptive -- advertising and has no place in a responsible journal on herbal medicine and healing. I will not favor them with a subscription.

Unfortunately, events like these open the door anew for the FDA, which continues from time to time to launch new assaults on your right to use herbals and dietary supplements. They usually start with similar negative media blitz against herbal and dietary supplements and end up stating that under The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, the agency does not have the legal authority to remove unsafe products from the shelves. They claim that the FDA has the burden of proof that a dietary supplement is unsafe in order to remove the product from the market. Here are the facts you need to know about the herb ma hung and the powers of the FDA:

The herb ma hung, when properly labeled and manufactured, can be used safely without side effects. It does carry applicable warning labels.

The FDA and the FTC could have brought legal action against the manufacturers of those products based upon the marketing and distribution of those products under the current law but did not act. Why? Was it because of public outcry they scramble to save face, and instead of acting ask for more police powers to fix what's wrong?

The FDA states that they once again will ask Congress for more power to limit your rights to have and use herbs. A bigger gun? They aren't using the one they have!

Want to have a say? Write your Congressman and Senators and advise them that the FDA has sufficient powers to control dietary supplements to protect the health and well-being of the public. The letter does not need to be lengthy; just state that the current Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act is sufficient legislation to curb these kinds of undesirable products and that you would like for the law to be applied -- not waste more tax dollars on new laws. Address it to Hon. Peter Fitzgerald, U.S. Senate, Washington DC 20510, Hon. Richard Durbin, U.S. Senate, Washington DC 20510 or Hon. Lane Evans, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington DC 20515.

Herbal medicine is just that a medicine. Just like other medicines, it needs to be be properly labeled, stored and used -- not abused.

Till next time, Rebecca.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online October 18, 2000

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