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Relative Risks – The Issue is Safety

Neil E. Levin

The news media has not been kind to health products lately. Even when these products are sold in drug stores or in mass-market superstores, if there’s bad news to be reported on supplements or functional foods, all of the fingers are pointed at the health food industry. This was true for the genetically engineered batch of tryptophan that caused multiple deaths over a decade ago, even though much of the product was used under doctors’ care and purchased at pharmacies. And it’s just as true today. Negative news about herbs these days singles out health food stores and natural supplement manufacturers, when we know full well that big mainstream grocery stores, drug store chains, and big box discount retailers probably sell more of these products than we do. While the effectiveness of these inexpensive mass-market brands may not be equal to what health food stores sell, the issue here is safety.

The good news, which isn’t being publicized, is that other classes of products are much more dangerous than the products sold in health food stores. For example, the FDA has recently acknowledged the dangers of acetaminophen as a liver toxin. While knowledgeable experts have known this for many years, it often takes the government years, even decades to accept scientific evidence. A recent survey indicated that 35-38% of reported cases of liver failure or acute liver injuries are attributable to acetaminophen. That’s double the rate of all other medications combined! In England, this over-the-counter nostrum is regulated to the point that only very small packages are sold. Apparently, this was the drug of choice for would-be suicides, stimulating severe restrictions on its sale. Even a glass of wine taken with acetaminophen could overload the liver. Of course, this is with chronic use or overdose. But with millions using this product for pain relief, it’s entirely conceivable that overuse will eventually overload the liver of a chronic user. New label warnings are imminent. Doesn’t this remind you of the current debate over ephedra and ephedrine?

Acetaminophen is classified as a Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS). A new study in the journal Pediatrics warns pregnant women against consuming NSAIDS, which also means avoiding aspirin and ibuprofen. There is a confirmed link between these drugs and blood flow to the lungs of developing infants in the womb. Fortunately, we have gentler alternatives to combat pain and inflammation, including ginger, cayenne, bromelain and other botanicals.

Speaking of botanicals, many women come into health food stores to find natural alternatives to Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). For some reason, these women object to being given an extract of pregnant mare’s urine, which matches only one of the 3 forms of estrogen in the non-pregnant adult female human. And mare estrogen comprises a type of estrogen that makes up only about 10% of the total estrogen in women - a type that, without the balance of the other estrogens, may be slightly carcinogenic! The result is that as many as six out of every ten women on HRT stop taking the hormone during the first year. Their reasons include side effects (breast tenderness, menstrual bleeding) and concerns about heart disease or cancer. And going off HRT suddenly may cause significant side effects including sleep disorders, dryness, excessive bleeding and hot flashes. One problem is that many Ob-gyns insist that ALL of their patients agree IN ADVANCE to go on HRT if they want to be treated! Why wait for a demonstrated medical need before going on a medication for life? Natural health advocates recommend natural progesterone creams and plant estrogens for maximum compatibility with our natural bodily systems. Now there’s even a home test kit to help you determine your hormone levels without a prescription.

When it comes to product safety, I’ll pit natural products against anything in drug stores, any day of the week! If in doubt, please check the records of the American Association of Poison Control Centers to see the very low toxicity of natural products compared with almost every other category.

Health Disclaimer. Content provided by NOW Foods. Copyright ©2006-2018. Published with permission. Neil E. Levin CCCN, DANLA is a certified clinical nutritionist and is a professional member of the International & American Associations of Clinical Nutritionists.