U.S Government Clamps Down On Natural Remedies

Arabic herbal medicine book c. 1334

Arabic herbal medicine book c. 1334

You knew it was coming — $5 Billion of sales that Big Pharma would like for itself is surely enough to get the U.S. Federal government and its friends in the mainstream media to persuade the public that plant medicines don’t work and are dangerous, despite many centuries of effective use by peoples around the world. To wit, this article from the Wall Street Journal:

Elderberry extract and acai to boost the immune system. Black cohosh to lessen the discomforts of menopause. Soy capsules to prevent bone loss and prostate cancer.

Many botanical supplements—made from the seeds, bark, leaves, flowers and stems of a wide range of plants—have been widely used as folk remedies for centuries. Americans have been consuming growing quantities of the supplements in hopes of warding off disease and easing symptoms of various conditions. But there is scant scientific evidence to support their health benefits.

Now, the federal government is stepping up research into the safety and effectiveness of a wide range of over-the-counter supplements, including plant oils, garlic, soy, elderberry, licorice, black cohosh, St. John’s wort and the Asian herb dong quai. The aim is to better understand how compounds in the plants affect health and to help consumers make more informed choices about supplements, which can interact with prescription drugs, cause side effects or lead to new health risks. Sales of botanical supplements in the U.S. topped $5 billion last year, up 17% from five years earlier, according to the non-profit American Botanical Council.

“Sometimes people assume because a product is natural, it is also safer. But these compounds can have both benefits and potential side effects and we need to understand both of those,” says Floyd Chilton III, director of the Center for Botanical Lipids and Inflammatory Disease Prevention at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. Dr. Chilton’s center received a $7.5 million federal grant to study botanicals, including whether plant oils such as echium and borage can help play a role in preventing cardiovascular disease, asthma and diabetes.

“People are using supplements for purposes for which they were not intended,” such as treating health conditions they have self-diagnosed, or using multiple supplements in combination with prescription medications, says Marguerite Klein, director of the Botanical Centers Research program at the National Institutes of Health…

[continues in the Wall Street Journal]

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  • Haystack

    “You knew it was coming — $5 Billion of sales that Big Pharma would like for itself is surely enough to get the U.S. Federal government and its friends in the mainstream media to persuade the public that plant medicines don’t work and are dangerous, despite many centuries of effective use by peoples around the world.”

    On the contrary, drug companies like Bayer, Johnson and Johnson, &c are already raking in hundreds of millions selling Echinacea, St. John’s Wort and other natural remedies through their subsidiaries. There is no patent protection for botanicals, so drug companies can make far more money selling these on their own than they would by suppressing them.

    That fact that something has been used for thousands of years in no way demonstrates that it is safe or effective. Bloodletting and blistering go back thousands of years–does that mean that they must work? Nor does the fact that something is “natural,” make it safe–belladonna and nightshade are natural.

    The real story here is that, in the guise of “standing up to big pharma,” we have permitted corporations to strip away the consumer protections which normally apply to drugs. Under the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, in the US dietary supplements no longer have to show evidence of either safety or efficacy. So, for example, ephedra was only taken off the market *after* it had been linked to scores of deaths.

    The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine was established in 1991 to study various alt-med modalities. With billions of dollars in taxpayer funding, they’ve come up with negative results almost 100% of the time. Yet, hundreds upon hundreds of failures in clinical trials are easily written off as “Big pharma is keeping us down” in the minds of the public.

    I am by no means singing the praises of pharmaceutical companies, which are amoral and greed-driven, but companies selling natural remedies are just as greedy, and just as likely to lie to you–even to the point of exploiting your healthy mistrust of big phrama to sell potentially dangerous substances of their own. The same consumer protections and rules of evidence which apply to Prozac ought to apply to St. Johns Wort.

    • Honuman

      You seem to make a good argument but I have to wonder where you get your information from regarding The national center for complementary and alternative medicine and their studies saying nearly 100% of the time the alternative modalities are ineffective? I wonder what modalities you are referring to. As a long time bodyworker I’m a little sensitive to charges like this. I suppose I’ll do some research on that with the NCCAM. As far as the rest of your post, I’m of two minds on it. I agree it sounds appropriate for the government to oversee herbal and natural remedies running clinical trials to shape their policies. My other mind says keep the government out of it. Health policies and FDA policies have shown to favor business and pharma. Already there is quite alot of respectable and accessible information in books and from respected nutriotionists/herbalists that if someone is truly interested in using natural remedies, they can consult and research on their own. In this case, I say let the free market regulate natural remedies and information about it. The government has proven far too many times that they are not about the best interests of the American people.

      • Haystack

        The NCCAM publishes its research results on its website; the lack of positive findings has been reported on in various mainstream media outlets, usually in the context of scientists calling for the program to be defunded.

        Your point about the government is well-taken. My main point is that, to whatever degree the government is involved in regulating health products, pharmaceuticals and botanicals ought to be held to the same standard. If GlaxoSmithKline has to prove the safety/efficacy of their new anti-depressant, people marketing St. John’s Wort for the same symptoms ought to have to as well.

        If you want to go the other way and take a libertarian posture toward it, I would urge you to think back to the days of laudanum wine and arsenic complexion wafers. It’s possible for us to do research on, say, Paxil, and make an informed decision because the government is forcing drug companies to perform studies. If you take the regulations out, you tend to end up with lots of marketing and very little testing, which gives you little real data to base a decision on. Much of the information put out by the alt-med community (think Kevin Trudeau) is really just marketing, and can be highly deceptive.

  • Haystack

    “You knew it was coming — $5 Billion of sales that Big Pharma would like for itself is surely enough to get the U.S. Federal government and its friends in the mainstream media to persuade the public that plant medicines don’t work and are dangerous, despite many centuries of effective use by peoples around the world.”

    On the contrary, drug companies like Bayer, Johnson and Johnson, &c are already raking in hundreds of millions selling Echinacea, St. John’s Wort and other natural remedies through their subsidiaries. There is no patent protection for botanicals, so drug companies can make far more money selling these on their own than they would by suppressing them.

    That fact that something has been used for thousands of years in no way demonstrates that it is safe or effective. Bloodletting and blistering go back thousands of years–does that mean that they must work? Nor does the fact that something is “natural,” make it safe–belladonna and nightshade are natural.

    The real story here is that, in the guise of “standing up to big pharma,” we have permitted corporations to strip away the consumer protections which normally apply to drugs. Under the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, in the US dietary supplements no longer have to show evidence of either safety or efficacy. So, for example, ephedra was only taken off the market *after* it had been linked to scores of deaths.

    The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine was established in 1991 to study various alt-med modalities. With billions of dollars in taxpayer funding, they’ve come up with negative results almost 100% of the time. Yet, hundreds upon hundreds of failures in clinical trials are easily written off as “Big pharma is keeping us down” in the minds of the public.

    I am by no means singing the praises of pharmaceutical companies, which are amoral and greed-driven, but companies selling natural remedies are just as greedy, and just as likely to lie to you–even to the point of exploiting your healthy mistrust of big phrama to sell potentially dangerous substances of their own. The same consumer protections and rules of evidence which apply to Prozac ought to apply to St. Johns Wort.

  • Honuman

    You seem to make a good argument but I have to wonder where you get your information from regarding The national center for complementary and alternative medicine and their studies saying nearly 100% of the time the alternative modalities are ineffective? I wonder what modalities you are referring to. As a long time bodyworker I’m a little sensitive to charges like this. I suppose I’ll do some research on that with the NCCAM. As far as the rest of your post, I’m of two minds on it. I agree it sounds appropriate for the government to oversee herbal and natural remedies running clinical trials to shape their policies. My other mind says keep the government out of it. Health policies and FDA policies have shown to favor business and pharma. Already there is quite alot of respectable and accessible information in books and from respected nutriotionists/herbalists that if someone is truly interested in using natural remedies, they can consult and research on their own. In this case, I say let the free market regulate natural remedies and information about it. The government has proven far too many times that they are not about the best interests of the American people.

  • Vox Penii

    >…despite many centuries of effective use by peoples around the world.

    Appeal to tradition.

    Additionally, here’s the list of most dangerous “natural” supplements, courtesy of consumer reports: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/AlternativeMedicineSupplements/consumer-reports-dirty-dozen-12-risky-supplements/story?id=11309450

    Furthermore, re: “big pharma”:

    With no real socialist states to uphold as positive examples of
    socialist practice, the Left’s new strategies focused almost exclusively
    upon critiquing the liberal capitalist nations.
    The first major new strategy required altering the ethical
    standard by which capitalism was attacked. A traditional criticism
    of capitalism had been that it causes poverty: Except for the very
    few rich at the top of the social heap, capitalism drives most people
    into bare subsistence. Capitalism was therefore immoral, for the
    basic moral test of a social system is its ability to provide for its
    people’s basic economic needs. The ethical standard used in
    criticizing capitalism was, accordingly, Marx’s slogan in Critique of
    the Gotha Program: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.‛ Satisfying need was thus the fundamental
    criterion of morality.
    Yet come the 1950s it was hard to argue that capitalism fails to
    satisfy its people’s needs. In fact, a big part of the problem seemed
    to be that capitalism had satisfied its people’s needs so well that the
    people had become fat and complacent and not at all revolutionary.
    So a moral standard that made satisfying needs primary was now
    useless in a critique of capitalism.
    From need to equality
    A new ethical standard was therefore necessary. With great fanfare,
    then, much of the Left changed its official ethical standard from
    need to equality. No longer was the primary criticism of capitalism to
    be that it failed to satisfy people’s needs. The primary criticism was
    to be that its people did not get an equal share.
    The German Social Democrats took the lead in developing the
    new strategy. As the party most directly descended from Marx
    himself and still the leading socialist party in the Western world,
    the Social Democrats made major changes to their Basic Program at
    a Special Party Congress at Bad Godesberg in November of 1959.
    The most significant of the changes emphasized equality. The
    ‚Godesberg Program‛ recast the party from being a party of the
    defenseless and impoverished worker to being a party of the people
    at large. Since the worker seemed to be doing well enough under
    capitalism, the focus had to shift to different capitalist pathologies—
    the many inequalities across various social dimensions. One
    dimension singled out for special attention was the unequal sizes of
    business enterprises. Some businesses are much bigger than others,
    giving them an unfair advantage over their smaller competitors. So
    equalizing the competitive playing field became the new goal. No
    longer would the Social Democrats condemn all private businesses as rapacious and call for their outright socialization. Rather they
    would push for cutting bigger businesses down to size and for the
    strengthening small and middle sized businesses. In other words,
    achieving equality had supplanted satisfying basic needs as the
    revised standard by which to evaluate capitalism.

    Stephen Hicks, “Explaining Postmodernism: Socialism and Skepticism from Rousseau to Foucault” (2004)

  • Reba

    how about doctors becoming experts in the folk herbal remedies, kinda like they were a century or so ago before the Rx gangs started to invade? Does this mean that Big Pharma will discontinue producing all of the medications that are derived from plants? Also does this mean that Big Pharma will change their research methods to a more scientific approach than we don’t know exactly why it works but it works for most people?

    These debates keep going on and really have nothing to do with the actual health of people but is based on which group has the control of the industry.

    • Haystack

      “how about doctors becoming experts in the folk herbal remedies, kinda like they were a century or so ago before the Rx gangs started to invade? Does this mean that Big Pharma will discontinue producing all of the medications that are derived from plants?”

      Right. Much of “big pharma” are just natural remedies refined and standardized. They don’t need to suppress what they’re already selling. The stuff that turned out to work entered the mainstream, the stuff that didn’t ended up marketing itself as “alternative.”

  • Reba

    how about doctors becoming experts in the folk herbal remedies, kinda like they were a century or so ago before the Rx gangs started to invade? Does this mean that Big Pharma will discontinue producing all of the medications that are derived from plants? Also does this mean that Big Pharma will change their research methods to a more scientific approach than we don’t know exactly why it works but it works for most people?

    These debates keep going on and really have nothing to do with the actual health of people but is based on which group has the control of the industry.

  • Vox Penii

    And also, why does Disinfo often call for tighter regulation of, say, banking, while simultaneously criticizing government regulation of, say, nutritional supplements?

  • Andrew

    Are you really stupid enough, “dawg,” to be asking that question seriously when the obvious answer has been provided to you many times?

  • Ironaddict06

    Supplements are controlled by the Govt under the DSHEA act. The so-called deaths the ephedra caused, was a 9 or 10 year study were allegedy 89 people died. The debate is the FDA want to controll all supplements. The FDA wants all supplements to go through the same steps that drugs go through. That would make most supplements cost probhibitive. I think the FDA will force the supplement industry to standardize all supplements. What that means all supplements will be such a low dose that, most supplements will be in-effective. I’m fine with the FDA doing all this, because that will create a HUGE black market.

  • Ironaddict06

    Supplements are controlled by the Govt under the DSHEA act. The so-called deaths the ephedra caused, was a 9 or 10 year study were allegedy 89 people died. The debate is the FDA want to controll all supplements. The FDA wants all supplements to go through the same steps that drugs go through. That would make most supplements cost probhibitive. I think the FDA will force the supplement industry to standardize all supplements. What that means all supplements will be such a low dose that, most supplements will be in-effective. I’m fine with the FDA doing all this, because that will create a HUGE black market.

  • Haystack

    “how about doctors becoming experts in the folk herbal remedies, kinda like they were a century or so ago before the Rx gangs started to invade? Does this mean that Big Pharma will discontinue producing all of the medications that are derived from plants?”

    Right. Much of “big pharma” are just natural remedies refined and standardized. They don’t need to suppress what they’re already selling. The stuff that turned out to work entered the mainstream, the stuff that didn’t ended up marketing itself as “alternative.”

  • Haystack

    The NCCAM publishes its research results on its website; the lack of positive findings has been reported on in various mainstream media outlets, usually in the context of scientists calling for the program to be defunded.

    Your point about the government is well-taken. My main point is that, to whatever degree the government is involved in regulating health products, pharmaceuticals and botanicals ought to be held to the same standard. If GlaxoSmithKline has to prove the safety/efficacy of their new anti-depressant, people marketing St. John’s Wort for the same symptoms ought to have to as well.

    If you want to go the other way and take a libertarian posture toward it, I would urge you to think back to the days of laudanum wine and arsenic complexion wafers. It’s possible for us to do research on, say, Paxil, and make an informed decision because the government is forcing drug companies to perform studies. If you take the regulations out, you tend to end up with lots of marketing and very little testing, which gives you little real data to base a decision on. Much of the information put out by the alt-med community (think Kevin Trudeau) is really just marketing, and can be highly deceptive.

  • http://www.catalyst-energy.com Natural Supplements

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  • Andrew

    Are you really stupid enough, “dawg,” to be asking that question seriously when the obvious answer has been provided to you many times?