The cover story of the February 12, 2001 issue of U.S. News & World Report reads ''The Risk of Natural Cures, new findings show supplements can be hazardous to your health.'' With all that is going on in the news these days, I was shocked this tired story gets any attention! But, obviously the drug companies are once again feeling pinched; enter negative smear campaigns.
The story takes off talking about a trip to the emergency room by a 34-year-old woman using the very controversial herb, ephedra, a natural form of caffeine. She had a long history of irregular heart beat and had asked her doctor who told her he thought it wouldn't hurt in spite of labeling contraindicating its use when these conditions were present -- bingo!
Yes, the story reads very sensationally, sighting studies from the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, various physicians and universities and, of course, the drug companies -- bingo! They cite cases of serious and permanent injury, loss of life and lawsuits. It looks like enough to make anyone turn tail and run from the use of herbs, supplements and vitamins. If this is the case, why doesn't the sale of these remedies stop, or why doesn't the government just march in and close every health food store in America?
This story is so full of holes it is pitiful. America, would you please wake up? Herbal medicine is just that, a medicine. It is not without consequences or side effects when used incorrectly. I agree completely there are some very irresponsible people out there wanting only to make money; let's bring them down.
Let's take a look at some facts:
1. Ephedra is a very strong alkaloid used safely for thousands of years as a stimulant. It would be considered by the Shaman as big medicine, not something taken everyday to stimulate the senses or suppress appetite. This constitutes incorrect use of this powerful herb.
2. America wants a pill to fix what's wrong. It's the simple way, the American way, and it makes it something you do without having to think -- just like drugs. Herbs were originally used as teas or tinctures (a tincture is an alcohol-based liquid that preserves the herb) and is still the preferred way by any responsible herbalist.
3. Herbals should never be mixed with high-powered medicines. (Yes, this practice is readily acceptable in China but is undertaken with great caution and the advise of the herbalist or other trained individual.)
4. We want to make someone else responsible for our irresponsibility. We want to lose weight but undertaking a reasonable diet of balance is not considered. We want to build our muscles beyond what may be physically possible for our body so we misuse supplements that are touted as natural alternatives to steroids. On and on it goes!
5. The drug companies are quick to point the finger, never looking in their own backyard. In this country alone there are more deaths and more hospitalizations due to drug interactions and side effects even when the drug was taken as prescribed than any other single cause -- including heart disease and cancer combined.
The article points out that 123.5 million Americans use herbs, minerals, vitamins or other supplements. This fact is somewhat removed from the other statistics of 2,900 adverse reactions and 104 deaths reported -- mostly from the incorrect use of ephedra products, I might add Not being very good at math I can't begin to tell you out of 123.5 million what percentage 104 represents, if you can I'd love to hear from you!
Till next time would you please use those herbals as directed, safely and responsibly?