- Mounting evidence suggests that increasing numbers of Americans
are falling seriously ill or even dying after taking dietary
supplements that promise everything from extra energy to sounder
sleep, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.
The victims include men and women of all ages as well as children
whose parents are feeding them snacks, drinks and nostrums made with
herbal supplements that are neither regulated by the federal
government nor tested for their effects on the young.
While the Food and Drug Administration issues periodic warnings
about the dangers of individual supplements, no organisation or
agency has ever made a comprehensive analysis of the sickness and
death associated with them.
But in attempting the first national survey, The Washington Post
collected statistical snapshots from health officials throughout
America. Among the findings:
Abuse of the bodybuilding
supplement gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and similar substances has
skyrocketed in recent years.
Tests continue to reveal dangerous
contaminants and poor quality control in supplement ingredients.
California investigators in 1998 found that nearly one-third of 260
imported Asian herbals were either spiked with drugs not listed on
the label or contained lead, arsenic or mercury.
Last month, state officials discovered
five Chinese herbals that contained powerful diabetes drugs. Health
professionals across the country complain they cannot be sure how
powerful a supplement is because the actual potency of the pill
often doesn't match the legend on the label.
The weight-loss and energy
supplement ephedra, also known as ma huang, and its derivatives are
producing a stream of complaints from many states, including
Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania and
New, previously unreleased FDA data
implicates about two dozen different ephedra products in 134 cases
involving everything from jitteriness, chest pains and insomnia to
addiction, stroke and death.
Poison control centres in various
states are reporting adverse reactions to a broad range of
supplements. Pittsburgh documented 198 incidents involving herbal
supplements in the 15 months ending last March, with ginseng and St
John's wort, an antidepressant, the most frequently mentioned
In Georgia, ephedra and melatonin, a
sleep aid, led the list in 1999. In New Mexico, St John's wort
ranked first in 1998, followed by a compound that eases teething
pain in infants.
Children are increasingly becoming
the victims of supplement abuse. Last year paediatrician Hillary
Perr reported on children from wealthy California families who were
malnourished from eating snack food spiked with supplements.
In Long Island, a mother gave her
18-month-old baby a teaspoon of eucalyptus oil last year because a
store clerk told her it was good for a fever. The child suffered
permanent neurological damage and almost died. - Sapa-DPA