Ron Birckhead in Norway just alerted us to 3 major incoming missiles, homing in on tomorrow's papers from the AP Wire: Here is one of them. Our best defense is a good offense. If you have not yet downloaded the form letter for HR 2868 from the IAHF website, please do so and get your friends to do the same. Its the first item listed under breaking news. Also, by separate email I am forwarding a Special Alert from Ron Birckhead in Norway, who has been instrumental in warning all of us about the Codex International Threat to Health Freedom. His alert particularly exposes the ABSOLUTE fraudulence of the fake grass roots, astroturf organization known as "Citizens for Health" Please download copies of the below article for mass faxing purposes, and fax it around with copies of the form letter for HR 2868 which you can download from my website, first item under breaking news. A move is already afoot to repeal my amendment to the FDA Reform bill. We must be vigilant!!

John Hammell

FDA: Diet Drugs Pose Health Risks

Filed at 1:28 p.m. EST

February 22, 1998

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Burkhard Bilger and his wife never had heard that the ancients used the herb pennyroyal to induce abortion. They just liked the tangy mint taste of pennyroyal tea -- until she discovered she was two months pregnant, and her doctor asked her to avoid caffeine.

Soon after, Jennifer Bilger had a miscarriage.

When he learned the tea may have been to blame, "I was horrified," said Bilger, a New York science editor who contends supplements don't come with proper warnings. "There are a lot of very potent herbs out there. You go into a food co-op, and you don't know what you're getting."

An Associated Press analysis of Food and Drug Administration records suggests Bilger's experience is not uncommon: The agency has logged more than 2,500 reports of side effects and 79 deaths associated with dietary supplements.

About 900 of the illnesses and 44 deaths involved people taking herbal products that contain ephedrine-like stimulants. Other possible culprits range from "diet teas" to hormones like DHEA and even high-dose vitamins.

Millions of Americans take dietary supplements, particularly the herbs that are the fastest-growing segment. They spent $3.2 billion last year.

Supplements promise they'll slow aging, improve memory, clean kidneys, protect the heart, even prevent cancer.

There is evidence that certain herbs, vitamins and minerals do help. Folic acid prevents birth defects. Calcium wards off osteoporosis. Many scientists agree that garlic may help lower cholesterol, ginger calms nausea, and valerian is a mild sleep aid. The National Institutes of Health is studying whether St. John's wort is an anti-depressant.

But scores of other products have sparse, if any, data to support claims that even some in the industry call exaggerated. The pills, tonics and teas sell with little to guide consumers about what actually works or potential side effects.

"You almost have to be a detective," said Mary Ellen Camire, food sciences chief at the University of Maine, who studies natural remedies.

Most such products do not raise safety concerns, said Elizabeth Yetley, FDA's chief of special nutritionals, but the agency has listed 16 supplements as risky.

"You're self-medicating," notes Mark Blumenthal of the nonprofit American Botanical Council. "People should learn how to use these products properly."

The boom in dietary supplements dates to 1994, when Congress shielded them from most government oversight. They sell without prior certification or purity inspections.

The 1994 law prohibited supplements from advertising that they directly treat or prevent disease but allowed more vague claims of "supporting bodily functions." The FDA is supposed to intercede only if it proves a supplement poses an unreasonable risk or is marketed as a drug.

The result is a gray area where Vitamin A, for example, can advertise as "essential for healthy vision" but not to treat eye diseases. Willow bark contains the same chemical as aspirin but doesn't have to carry aspirin's warning: "Do not give to children or teen-agers with flu or chickenpox because they could develop deadly Reye's syndrome."

A presidential commission called last fall for changes to clear the confusion. It urged the FDA to review herbal supplements and let those that clearly work sell as over-the-counter drugs -- clearly labeled with proved benefits and side effects.

The panel also urged that industry provide studies backing a product's claims if consumers request proof, that the FDA act swiftly against risky supplements, and that makers adopt proper warnings.

Some in industry already are acting. A new American Herbal Products Association handbook classifies the risks of 700 herbs with suggested warning labels for its 200 member companies.

And the botanical council this spring will publish a long-awaited translation of Germany's "Commission E" safety and effectiveness evaluations of 300 herbal products, 200 of which were approved as drugs in that country. The document is considered the world's best guide.

"There is a sensitivity in the industry about all the concerns that exist and the need to provide as much information as possible," said Annette Dickinson of the Council for Responsible Nutrition.

She said the FDA has not acted appropriately against exaggerated claims or, in the ephedra case, risky supplements.

The FDA's first response to the presidential commission may come by Tuesday. Officials say they haven't decided whether some supplements can become nonprescription drugs as recommended.

Instead, they first will better define just what claims supplements can make -- that "maintaining healthy cholesterol" could be OK, while "lowering blood pressure" would not be.

Regulations aside, experts warn that "natural" doesn't necessarily mean "safe."

Take ephedra. Chinese herbalists made teas from these plants to open clogged airways. But those teas contained just 1 percent ephedrine alkaloids, or stimulants, while modern supplements contain up to 9 percent, Camire said. Pushed as weight-loss or bodybuilding pills, they are taken today for far longer periods, and some are concentrated into herbal variations of the illegal drug speed.

Faced with reports of 44 deaths -- including heart attacks in healthy college students -- the FDA proposed slashing ephedrine dosages in supplements and banning their sale for weight loss or bodybuilding.

Yetley acknowledges the FDA lacks a good safety net to catch risks. Consumers and doctors can report suspected side effects, but the information is often too sketchy to pinpoint blame.

To help, the American Association of Poison Control Centers is beginning a study to track supplement poisonings.

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