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Questions Raised Over Chondroitin Sourcing

NEW YORK--Is it possible that a natural treatment for osteoarthritis may harbor the much-hyped and feared "mad cow" disease? Gerald Weissmann, M.D., published an exchange of e-mails on his Web site, RheumatologyWeb.com, chronicling his investigation into the safety of chondroitin sulfate. However, not only were there gaps in the published e-ails, but Weissmann proved to be far from being unbiased when presenting the facts about chondroitin, stating in a press release "If you can take St. John's wort for depression and echinacea for colds, why not pop ground-up cow cartilage for arthritis?"

The e-mail exchanges began with Jason Theodosakis, M.D., author of The Arthritis Cure, which recommended that arthritis sufferers take glucosamine and chondroitin as "structure-modifying" treatments. Weissmann asked about the potential for BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) contamination from chondroitin supplements, to which Theodosakis replied that eating cow meat is far more risky that taking a supplement made from a cow's trachea, "not a significant reservoir for BSE [but] nerve tissue is." Weissmann followed up by asking how a cow's trachea can be extracted from the cow without splitting the sternum and contaminating it with marrow blood.

Within the e-mail exchange, it was stated that all chondroitin sulfate consists of materials taken from U.S. cattle, although this is only "word of mouth." In addition, the safety of cartilage-derived tissue vs. the more predisposed-to-BSE nerve and organ tissue was visited, but the e-mail correspondents were inclined to believe the U.S. cattle supply was relatively safe from such contamination. As for European companies, most have already addressed this concern by stating that at-risk materials used in products like chondroitin must provide verification of country of origin and appropriate import permits.

In his posting, Weissmann cited Spain-based Bioiberica as an example of a manufacturer whose chondroitin could be contaminated with BSE. "[H]ow can one be sure ... that no Spanish BSE cow creeps in [Bioiberica's chondroitin]," he stated in an e-mail. Weissmann later noted that Bioiberica could not be reached for comment.

"I can assure Dr. Weissmann that Bioiberica does not use any bovine material from Spain or any other country that has been cited as a country where BSE is present," said Iver Berry at Austin Chemical, a company that represents Bioiberica in the United States. "Bioiberica has three approaches to avoid any risk of transmitting [BSE]: source of animals, nature of animal tissue used in manufacture and a validated production process. In addition, the raw materials used by Bioiberica are cartilaginous tissue and belong to Category IV of `no detectable activity.'"

For more on Weissman's e-mail exchange, visit www.rheumatologyweb.com.

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