Did we get it wrong on supplements?
On Thursday we told you about the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) issuing a recall for a ‘toxic’ health supplement.
The article then went on to explain that scientists of some herbal drugs were flouting regulations by not labelling potentially toxic ingredients.
Complementary Medicines Australia spokesperson Ravinder Lilly wrote to us to clarify the situation regarding herbal supplements and treatments. His letter is pasted in full below.
“A recent journal publication alleges that a surprising number of CMs in Australian pharmacies have contamination issues; this appears to a major beat-up of the facts.
“Published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis, the authors including leading voice of Friends of Science in medicine, Dr Ian Musgrave, attack the regulatory system for complementary medicines in Australia. Yet a large proportion of the products tested were foods that are not regulated as complementary medicines. For those products claimed to be listed on the ARTG, very few have verifiable regulatory problems.
Is it contamination?
The study claims that one product was found to contain 0.0003% ephedrine; this is well below what the Australian Poisons Standard allows. This tiny amount would not have any effect on anyone, let alone be “potentially dangerous.” For the authors to imply that the only tolerable level should be 0.0000% is comparable to saying that we must ban the manufacturing of foods that do not contain nuts from being manufactured in facilities that process nuts, unless every single batch of non-nut food can be tested beforehand to ensure it contains 0.0000% presence of nuts. Even if the product does not claim to be nut-free.
The authors also state that a sample allegedly contained a miniscule amount of paracetamol; this would not have any pharmacological effect. Plus, it is not clear whether the tested sample was a regulated complementary medicine or not. Could it have been honey? Or a tea? The authors don’t enlighten the reader as to the nature of the product while suggesting that regulation is insufficient and the product is deliberately adulterated. That is despite those statements simply not being supported by the findings. Other alleged findings are in such minute, trace quantities, that their effect is negligible and likely due to extremely trace manufacturing issues that occur in all kinds of consumer goods manufacturing.
Pre-market and post-market testing
The pre-market testing of foods or dietary supplements to ensure that there is zero presence of anything in the minutest trace amounts would make them highly expensive for consumers for very little purpose benefit.
“While a worthy effort, increasing post-market testing will not keep non-compliant and potentially dangerous products from being sold in the first place,” say the authors. Yet they have not verified that any of the products are non-compliant or are potentially dangerous in the first place.
Noting that DNA was found from certain undeclared plant and animal sources means very little except perhaps that they might have possibly shared a manufacturing facility or warehouse storage at some point in the product lifecycle. If the authors were truly disturbed that there were concerning levels of neem oil or cow DNA or any other claimed substance in any of the isolated samples.”
What do you think? Are you worried about undeclared contaminants in herbal drugs or do you think they are safe?