A new study conducted by the National Toxicology Program, an agency that is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, has put yet another dietary supplement in the spotlight. Ginkgo biloba, which has been long-used used to enhance memory a doubtful claim at best may have very well graduated from useless, but safe to useless and unsafe.
The supplement was shown to be effective at something, however, that something was causing whopping cases of cancer in rats and mice. It is important to keep in mind that cancer studies in animals subjected to high doses of some substance are unlikely to be predictive of cancer in humans, but these results are at least thought-provoking.
Dr. Cynthia Rider, a one of the principal investigators for the study, said, The tumors found in mice were pretty impressive. They were among the highest in NTP studies for one of the tumors that doesn t occur simultaneously all the time in mice.
Indeed, according to the report, Every group of animals exposed to Ginkgo biloba extract experienced increased rates of a variety of lesions in the liver, thyroid gland, and nose, and male and female mice also experienced several different lesions in the fore-stomach.
ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom, a vocal critic of the supplement industry, says, This is more of the same, but even worse. Supplements operate in the world of may do some good, but at least won t harm you. He points out that a 2008 study of the ginkgo showed that it was ineffective in preventing dementia and Alzheimer's disease. He continues, This is about as good an example of risk-benefit analysis as you'll ever see zero benefit and at the very least, a finite chance of risk.
So, how can a supplement like this be sold at all? Because of a 1994 law introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch designed to protect the supplement industry in his state, Utah, the FDA is not allowed to regulate supplements.
We don t review supplements before they go to market, said Tamara Ward, an FDA spokeswoman. We get involved when there is a risk to the consumer, but manufacturers are responsible for making sure the products do not pose a risk to the consumer and for making sure claims are not misleading.
Dr. Bloom comments, "Well that sure is comforting. It takes years for the FDA to review safety studies for prescription drugs, but this junk is only evaluated after problems show up. Yet, if they tried to add this stuff to a food product as opposed to selling it as a supplement, the FDA would come down on them like bats out of hell. We are living in Bizzaro World."
You can read Dr. Bloom's American Spectator op-ed entitled "When is a Drug a Drug" here.