February 16, 2005 - The headlines were recently ablaze with warnings about Ayurvedic herbal products. A survey of such herbal remedies sourced from India and Pakistan found that one in five of them were contaminated with dangerous levels of heavy metals like lead, mercury and arsenic. This is an important finding and worthy of discussion but, once again, the mainstream press is blowing this all out of proportion by claiming that all Ayurvedic herbal remedies are contaminated with heavy metals.
The people behind this announcement clearly have an agenda, and that agenda is to discredit all herbal remedies in an effort to call for new FDA oversight of herbal remedies and nutritional supplements. And they do that by scaring people with headlines that distort the true findings. These are just a handful of products sourced from India and Pakistan. There are not the Ayurvedic formulas made in the United States, Germany and other countries with higher quality standards. Just because you're buying Ayurvedic medicines doesn't mean that you're going to be getting heavy metals.
What this announcement fails to mention is that a whole lot of the food products in the United States is also contaminated with heavy metals. There was an article a few months ago about a girl in the United States who, for a science fair project, found heavy metal poisoning in canned foods made right here in the U.S. There was also another story about candy made in Mexico that contains lead as part of its coloring ingredient - it's being sold in the United States and it's perfectly legal, even though it is knowingly contaminated with lead.
Similarly, I also covered a story about Kellogg's putting a toy and
batteries (made with mercury) in
boxes of Spiderman cereal and refusing to remove those batteries even after health authorities warned Kellogg's about the potential health dangers.
Frankly, there are heavy metals all over the place! It's not just in Ayurvedic medicines, it's also in manufactured, brand-name foods right here on the shelves in every grocery store in America. Where's the official warning on that?
And come to think of it, most
prescription drugs are
encapsulated in colored capsules made with artificial food coloring chemicals that promote nervous system disorders. Most packaged meat products are made with sodium nitrite, an ingredient that's highly carcinogenic and promotes colon cancer. Diet sodas still contain aspartame, an ingredient that's classified as an excitotoxin because of the way in which it kills nerve cells and damages the nervous system, according to Dr. Russell Blaylock.
If you're going to get concerned about dangerous ingredients in our food and herbs, there are a whole lot of other places to start rather than some obscure imported herbal products. (Please also see Our Deadly Diabetes Deception.)
Of course, when it comes to quality control of
herbal supplements, it's important to source your herbs and supplements from trusted companies who have stringent quality control standards. For example, if you are buying spirulina from a company that sources it from Cyanotech in Kona, Hawaii, you know that you're getting spirulina without any heavy metals whatsoever, because it's grown in pristine waters pumped up from the depths of the Pacific Ocean, unaffected by modern industrial run-off or other sources of contamination. (India Herbs Supply is also located in Hawaii.) Or if you're purchasing Amazon herbs from the Amazon Herb company, one company I strongly support, you know that you're getting herbs that are routinely tested for quality and purity.
Most supplement companies in the United States have stringent quality control standards, but what these herbal critics are trying to do is paint the whole industry with one brush and say that just because a few imported products were found on the shelves with toxic metals, therefore the FDA should have new oversight over the entire nutritional supplement industry. And that, of course, is nothing short of outrageous because we've already seen that the FDA can't even properly regulate prescription drugs without corruption and collusion with the pharmaceutical companies, nor without silencing its own drug safety scientists such as Dr. David Graham.
If the FDA can't even get one job right, why would we want to hand them even more authority? And besides, we all know that if the FDA were given new oversight over nutritional supplements, the agency's first mission would be to regulate those supplements out of existence. It has already sought to do so through an ongoing campaign of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) to discredit all herbs. We saw that with Ephedra, which is the "ma huang" herb used in traditional Chinese medicine. This herb has been used safely for thousands of years, and yet the FDA banned it as an isolated phytochemical even though the very same compound remains perfectly legal in the over-the-counter medicine called Sudafed.
The FDA claims to have banned Ephedra, but that's not what actually happened. All it did was ban the Ephedra herb, not the Ephedra molecule. Apparently, if you work at the FDA, all herbs are dangerous, while all over-the-counter drugs are perfectly safe, even if those two contain the exact same molecule. That's right: one has been banned, the other remains perfectly legal.
You can bet that in the ongoing campaign to discredit herbs and gain new regulatory power over them, the FDA is going to cite this study about finding heavy metals in a few imported Ayurvedic herbal products. But the agency will never tell you what I'm about to say, which is that virtually all prescription drugs contain dangerous chemical compounds they are similarly dangerous to human health. Many of the chemical compounds in prescription drugs are far more toxic than heavy metals, and yet they are allowed to be prescribed to tens of millions of Americans. We've seen that with products like Vioxx, which has now been estimated to have caused up to 140,000 heart attacks, with an estimated 44% fatality rate (source: The Lancet, January 2005). Do the math: it comes out to 61,600 people potentially being killed by this prescription drug. And the news headlines are concerned about a few imported products from India? Get real. Get some perspective. Vioxx even dwarfs the 9/11 fatalities. Vioxx makes terrorists look like girl scouts.
We also see dangerous side effects in statin drugs, which, by the way, produce effects on the nervous system that are in some ways similar to mercury poisoning. So while the FDA and nutritional supplement critics are trying to get you to focus on these imported products, they are ignoring the much bigger picture, which is that virtually all popular prescription drugs are made with dangerous chemical compounds that threaten the health of the American public. And those are being widely consumed right now. Vioxx isn't the only dangerous drug, you know.
Now it doesn't mean all of this excuses Ayurvedic herbal manufacturers from having heavy metals in their products. There is no excuse for those companies selling products that contain heavy metals, and this once again speaks to greed. Because greed is present across all industries, not just pharmaceuticals or modern medicine, but also in the health supplement industry. Some of these overseas companies say to themselves, gee, it's cheaper if we don't test for heavy metals. Or it's cheaper if we source low-quality ingredients. So there's an economic incentive and the exploitation of public trust for increased profits -- very much the same behavior that we see at Big Pharma.
Yet the FDA chooses to selectively attack herbs only. We have so many dangerous ingredients in the food supply right now that don't belong there, and yet they remain perfectly legal because the FDA is unwilling to take steps to protect the American public from those ingredients. Those include sodium nitrite, monosodium glutamate (which causes nervous system disorders), and aspartame. We also
have foods with trans-fatty acids and artificial colors and preservatives. All of these ingredients should be outlawed by the FDA if the agency were really interested in protecting the American public. But no, it's going to focus on headlines that tout the dangers of a few dozen Ayurvedic herbal medicine products found on some niche product shelf imported from Pakistan. That's how the FDA is trying to convince the American public that it's doing its job. Meanwhile it ignores the high-priority dangers in our foods and medicines that are killing people right now.
Actually, it's worse than that: the FDA intimidated and threatened its own drug safety scientist, Dr. David Graham, in an attempt to prevent the publication of the study on Vioxx that showed the drug caused heart attacks in as many as 140,000 people. The agency is not just negligent, it is criminal in its pattern of suppression and intimidation. It is blatantly trying to suppress drug safety information in order to protect the pharmaceutical industry.
Thank goodness for courageous individuals like Dr. David Graham. There are many other insiders at the FDA, too, who disagree with the agency's current behavior.
Again, none of this excuses herbal product manufacturers from stringent quality control standards, it's just that we should put health risks in their proper perspective. The entire food supply -- made right here in the USA -- is laced with toxic ingredients. I say we abolish the FDA, form a
brand new agency, put Dr. David Graham in charge of ethics, and outlaw all dangerous food ingredients in twelve months or less.