Member of Congress
House of Representatives
Washington, CD 20515-0403
This past week I received 2 letters from you responding to my "thoughts about H.R. 2868." The Consumer Health Free Speech Act. Actually, Asa, what I and over 100 other constituents I was representing asked was that you co-sponsor this Act.
Yes, I do understand that this legislation would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to exclude dietary supplements from the definition of a drug. Dietary supplements are not drugs! And yes, this legislation would, in fact, exempt all foods (this would include herbs) from being regulated as drugs by the FDA. Foods (herbs) are not drugs! The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, with its current flawed definition of drug (which includes food), makes it a federal crime for the dietary supplement industry to give consumers any information about the medicinal benefits of herbs or dietary supplements on the labels of their products. As you said in your letter there has been a good deal of scientific research which demonstrates the medicinal benefits of herbs and dietary supplements. I would certainly say that to forbid the supplement industry from using that information on their products certainly does infringe upon their right to free speech.
More and more people have been turning to these natural substances to enhance their health and prevent illness. As this market has grown, the pharmaceutical companies have been putting pressure on the FDA to regulate them. And this is not difficult since the FDA and the pharmaceutical companies have a revolving-door work relationship. In recent weeks there has been a spate of press releases and AP wire stories warning consumers about the dangers of some vitamin supplements and herbs. Three such press releases appeared during the week of February 23rd: "FDA: Diet Drugs Pose Health Risks," "Government List of Risky Supplements," and "Tips on Supplement Safety." All of these releases contained wildly misleading information.
Some specific examples: The FDA says that consumption of 5 to 50 milligrams of Selenium a day can cause nausea, loss of hair and nails and nerve damage. Asa, Selenium is sold by micrograms. In order to take enough to cause any of these side effects one would have to ingest 100 to 1000 tablets of the Selenium every day for weeks.
And DHEA? The FDA claims that this substance "could increase cancer risk and may lead to liver damage even when taken briefly." Research into the studies used by the FDA to make these claims shows that they were conducted on rats (not on humans). For a human to consume a corresponding dose of what caused liver damage in rats, they would have to take about 7,000,000 milligrams. The FDA says it has received 31 reports of possible DHEA side effects, from fainting to hepatitis. But, who is to say that it was actually the DHEA that caused these possible side effects? Cancer patients have taken as much as 2000 milligrams a day for extended periods with no ill effects.
And why this concern over a substance from this beautiful plant that grows all over this part of the district you represent? DHEA is derived from Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) and was the soul source of progesterone used in birth control pills until 1970. Now the pharmaceutical industry gets it DHEA from pregnant mare's urine or from synthetic sources. It's cheaper that way. But for centuries women have used the whole plant source, in combination with other plants or alone, in infusions or tinctures, for the very same reason the pharmaceutical industry wants to regulate and control its use: it works. If DHEA does indeed increase one's risk for cancer and lead to liver damage as the FDA claims, then why have they approved Premarin?
All this seeming concern for our safety -- this posturing to "protect" us from these "dangerous supplements" -- might keep some of us believing that we really are too stupid to handle our own health concerns. But anyone taking the time to do the research will find that pharmaceutical drugs and FDA approved "food additives" cause far more side effects, illness, and death than any vitamin, mineral, or herb ever has. The FDA has shown absolutely no concern about the many drugs and food additives that have been approved by them but are a risk to the public. Aspartame, the Searle-Monsanto sweetener found in Equal and NutraSweet and Redux, the weight loss drug that has since been removed from the market because it was found to cause heart valve problems are perfect examples.
Chemically Aspartame is a molecule that has three components: aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol. It is a powerful metabolic poison. The methanol - wood alcohol- converts to formaldehyde and eventually formic acid (ant sting poison). Yet this "food additive" can be found in over 1200 processed food products and soft drinks and is unknowingly consumed in great quantities by our children. David Kessler, the FDA Commissioner who recently "retired" when questioned for padding his expense account, gave blanket approval to NutraSweet without public notification. He protected Monsanto by ignoring the FDA register of 10,000 complaints and their published list of 92 reactions to aspartame from coma and blindness to seizures and death. Consumers and consumer advocacy groups have demanded that the FDA recall of aspartame and an unbiased assessment of this chemical's life threatening potential. To date, acting FDA Commissioner Michael Friedman has ignored the demand.
Instead, the FDA publicizes a list of "Risky Supplements." This dis-information campaign is just another attempt to justify the current action by the FDA and the pharmaceutical companies to move vitamins and herbs into a more restrictive category, making access to them more difficult and more expensive. As my representative, and the representative for the more than hundred people who signed the letters I delivered to you, I surely expect that you will do whatever is necessary to stop this, including co-sponsoring Representative Paul's Consumer Health Free Speech Act.
Alice Q. Swanson
21 March, 1998