October 1, 2001

5 Min Read
Hearing Probes Dietary Supplements and the Elderly

WASHINGTON--On Sept. 10, in a hearing entitled "Swindlers, Hucksters and Snake Oil Salesmen: The Hype and Hope of Marketing Anti-Aging Products to Seniors," the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging (www.senate.gov/~aging/hr73.htm) focused on companies that misled consumers with regard to dietary supplements.

In particular, the committee centered on one company, GB Data Systems, a direct marketing company for dietary supplements. The Committee made a point of stating that this one company was not a prototypical dietary supplement business. "As with any industry, the vast majority of manufacturers and marketers of supplements are reputable and law abiding," stated Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), chairman of the committee. "It is the bad actors that we are concerned with today." He added that the hearing was only focused on those marketing misleading and/or ineffective products and not the science of complementary therapies.

"They've painted the entire industry with a broad brush, but even Sens. Breaux and Larry Craig [R-Idaho, the ranking member of the committee] admitted that although this was a recent issue in the industry, it was not indicative of the industry as a whole," said David Seckman, executive director of the National Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA), who watched the hearing. "Supplement sales on the Internet are only 1 percent. A vast majority of them are sold in the retail marketplace."

Industry organizations attempted to pre-empt and respond to the negative press coverage. The Dietary Supplement Education Alliance (DSEA) and the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) issued releases before the hearing convened discussing the positive news on dietary supplements and the elderly. Both discussed ongoing studies on supplements and aging being conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as well as recently published clinical studies on the benefits of dietary supplements for the elderly.

Public Interest Group Wants Ephedra Supplements Banned

WASHINGTON--The Public Citizen Health Research Group (www.citizen.org), founded by Ralph Nader, asked the federal government to ban the sale and production of ephedrine alkaloid dietary supplements and send out an immediate advisory concerning the possible health risks associated with these products. The letter was sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson asking him to implement these requests for all ephedrine alkaloids, including ma huang, ephedra, ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and methylephedrine.

Public Citizen cited that there was a "sharp" increase in adverse event reporting for ephedra users from 1997 through 1999 at the American Association of Poison Control Centers. However, a spokesperson at the Ephedra Education Council (EEC) (www.ephedrafacts.com) stated that, according to the council's statistics, there was also a large increase in ephedra users during that time period.

The letter also suggested that ephedrine alkaloid products may lead to kidney stones and hepatitis, as well as initiate or exacerbate autoimmune conditions (such as toxic shock syndrome).

Public Citizen concluded in its letter to Thompson that, "From the perspective of defending the public health, you must be willing to take on this drug (ephedra)-pushing part of the dietary supplement industry."

"It's important that we acknowledge that ephedra is not a benign substance, and that there needs to be some government regulatory overview on this substance," said Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) (www.ahpa.org). "We agree with Public Citizen that there needs to be a change in the regulatory approach to this ingredient. Where we disagree is that we wouldn't remove it from the market, we would see to it that it was properly labeled, which we asked FDA to do last October. However, they responded 181 days later that this was 'too complex an issue to provide a response at this time.'"

Both McGuffin and EEC consultant Steven Karch, M.D., believed that the science Public Citizen used to support its letter was off base. "I'm sure the letter was well-intended, but it was based on very bad science," Karch said. "I've read all of the adverse reports that [Public Citizen] has, and the reports don't have the data to support the authors' conclusions. By them condemning ephedra products, they're dismissing reasonably good evidence that this ingredient helps in weight loss. However, with the American Heart Association's Web site saying that 40 percent of Americans are overweight, even a 10-pound weight loss decreases your risk profile."

 

GOVERNMENT BRIEFS

Biotics Research Recalls Products for Possible Salmonella Contamination

ROSENBERG, Texas--Biotics Research Corp. issued a voluntary recall due to possible salmonella contamination in certain bottles of Hydrozyme and HCl-Plus, digestive aids that contained pepsin from American Laboratories Inc. Other companies that have initiated recalls due to American Labs' pepsin included Solgar Vitamin & Herb Co. and Natural Organics, maker of the Nature's Plus brand. Biotics, like the other two companies, found no salmonella contamination but opted to voluntarily recall its products to err on the side of caution. Approximately 5,000 bottles, distributed nationwide between February 19 and April 25, were recalled. No illnesses or adverse reactions have been reported from consumers using these two products. Questions can be directed to the company by calling (281) 344-0909.

Global Enterprises Recalls Tiratricol Product

COLLEGE STATION, Texas--Global Enterprises, based here, recalled all lot numbers of its T3 dietary supplement, which contains the banned substance tiratricol. The product, which comes in a 90-count bottle, was distributed nationwide to retail stores and was sold via mail order. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) posted the recall Sept. 5 on its Web site (www.fda.gov), and no illnesses have been reported. Consumers can return product for a full refund, and those who have any questions can call (979) 218-5935.

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