Next week I get to cover the more fun stuff—some surprising supplement benefits, pointers on their use and thoughts on why they are still controversial. However, today I had better finish telling the rest of the story about the 15 supplements that the Consumer Reports (CR) September cover article says to avoid.
Kava – I addressed this controversy in the blog on July 28. But, just to quickly review, Kava has a long-held and justly deserved reputation for helping relieve anxiety, insomnia and pain without compromising mental sharpness. The controversy arose when the herb was mistakenly blamed for trouble caused by the careless use of the wrong part of the plant. That carelessness (or deceit) also explains why sometimes herbs don’t work. (E.g. maybe the bark is what works, but a sleazy operator will use the leaves instead because they are cheaper.)
Lobelia – (Hehe…it is also known as “pukeweed”). This herb is used mostly for asthma, congestion and bronchitis. About 80% of the consumer reviews on Lobelia are 5-star. High doses can cause nausea and dizziness. That is not ideal, but in contrast, I am always amazed to hear in a TV commercial for an asthma pharmaceutical stating that one of the many potential side effects is “asthma-related death”.
Methylsynephrine – This chemical does not meet the FDA’s definition of a supplement. It is banned but that doesn’t keep some fringe body building, athletic and weight loss products from slipping it in. When the FDA catches them, the agency stops them.
Pennyroyal Oil – This member of the mint family was added to food in the middle ages and was used by our early settlers to repel rattlesnakes. Although there is a history of use as an herbal medicine, I did not find it for sale as a supplement. Today the essential oil is used as aromatherapy.
Red Yeast Rice (RYR) – This supplement is widely used to lower cholesterol by blocking its production in the liver. Although RYR is generally believed to be safe, it should not be used by persons already taking statin type cholesterol-lowering drugs or by those who have liver disease. CR lists some side effects for RYR. They should mention that those are rare, but with the statin drugs used for cholesterol those same effects are more severe and more common.
Usnic Acid – CR is right. This substance, found in lichens, can harm the liver and serves as a reminder that not everything that occurs naturally is safe to take willy-nilly. However, I was only able to one foreign pill that contains it and two herbal liquids designed for only professional use. So, not something you are likely to stumble on.
Yohimbe – It is not hard to find this herb because it appears in many male enhancement and body building supplements (even from mainstream companies). Yohimbe should be used under doctor’s supervision. I’m not a big fan. A high percentage of pharmaceutical drugs originated as herbs. The herb is safer, but any that are very powerful can also be tricky. I’m more comfortable using herbs for nutrition, prevention and minor issues. Homeopathics are a safe, effective approach that is underutilized.
So, in summary, the 15 warnings given in the CR article delivers more scare tactics than useful information.
Sometimes individual herbs are not an issue, but a combination of several might be. For example, I began corresponding with Carla, an endearing nurse at a prestigious hospital. (She had commented on a newsletter where I mentioned Dr. Linus Pauling who had been a patient). Carla told me that a woman was waiting for a liver transplant because she had taken a “Detox” supplement. (The patient had admitted that she was very sensitive and should have known better.) That supplement package contained over 30 ingredients including some very powerful herbs and laxatives. (BTW, that is not my idea of how to detoxify. I’ll soon have a video outlining a better approach.)
I mentioned to Carla that I wondered how many liver transplants Tylenol (acetaminophen) was responsible for. Her reply was: “Oh, tons….and I’ve known of several people who needed liver transplants…people even manage to commit suicide with it [Tylenol].” Statistics show that this seemingly safe over-the-counter FDA-approved medicine is the leading cause of acute liver failure. And yet, it is marketed in medicine for children. Sigh…It is a funny upside down world we live in.