Scientists Call For Clearer Information, Warnings on Potentially Dangerous " Natural" Products

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Consumers may be endangering their health by consuming excessive doses of "all-natural" dietary supplements, swallowing untested and unregulated herbs, vitamins and other dietary supplements, warned scientists from the American Council on Science and Health today. ACSH called for an end to the current legal double standard that requires warnings on standard prescription and non-prescription drugs while exempting makers of dietary supplements from revealing the possible health hazards of their products.

In a letter responding to a request from the Commission on Dietary Supplement Labeling for public testimony, ACSH Director of Nutrition Dr. Ruth Kava and ACSH President Dr. Elizabeth Whelan noted that many Americans have suffered death or injury after taking overdoses or defective preparations of products such as L-tryptophan, chaparral tea, and supplements of selenium, vitamin A and vitamin B6.

Drs. Kava and Whelan charge that the 1994 Hatch-Richardson Act has put consumers in jeopardy. That law allows manufacturers to market dietary supplements without having to prove that they're effective or safe. At present action can only be taken against these products after someone is harmed by them (The FDA is currently considering banning supplements containing the "natural" stimulant ephedrine, responsible for the deaths of 17 people within the last year). Drs. Kava and Whelan note that manufacturers of vitamins or herbs do not have to list the potential adverse effects of their products. A survey in June, 1996 by ACSH showed that the labels of most vitamin A supplements do not indicate that large doses can cause birth defects, and the labels for most herbal preparations do not disclose their potential toxic, allergic, or diuretic effects.

In their testimony, which the Commission will consider in recommending new FDA regulations in this area, Dr. Kava and Dr. Whelan propose that dietary supplements be held to the same standards of truth in labeling as those for food products, and that any potential side-effects, such as toxicity, birth defects, or interference with other medications, also be disclosed on the label.

"The message is clear," stated Dr. Kava, "consumers should have the right to buy supplements but the choice should be an informed one, including information on the potential risk of these products."