THE USE OF HERBAL SUPPLEMENTS FOR ATHLETES
The vitamin and herbal supplement industry is big business in this country with annual sales exceeding $23 billion and involving over 40,000 products. A 15-year old law permits supplements to enter the market without the approval of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As a result, claims are often outrageously exaggerated and incorrect, and ingredients and product safety have not been determined. The FDA can act only after consumers become ill or a safety issue arises.
The current law does not even specify what companies must do to prove what is in their products and sets no limits on toxic contents such as lead. Quality control is left entirely up to the manufacturer. History shows that manufacturers may not make the correct hoice between the “health of the nation” and the “wealth of the nation” and, as a result, consumers are placed at risk for the benefit of the buck.
Although industry groups indicate that problems are the exception and not the rule, one fourth (25 percent) of the supplements tested by an independent company over the past ten years had some type of problem such as contaminants, contents not matching label claims, and ingredients that exceeded safe limits. Lead in ginkgo pills, arsenic in herbals, bugs in syrup for babies’ colic and teething, toxic metals and parasites, prenatal vitamins lacking claimed amounts of iodine, and supplements short on ginseng and hoodia represent some of the findings. The US poison control centers handles over 50,000 supplement-related health problems annually. An example of the inaccuracy of listed ingredients in herbal products is hoodia. There is actually 10 times more hoodia sold in the USA than is actually produced in the the entire world. It’s easy to see that the latest diet trend involving hoodia quickly moves manufacturers toward falsifying ingredients to capitalize on a current fad.
According to spokeswoman, Susan Cruzan, The FDA is overworked and understaffed and has limited resources to analyze the composition of food products, which includes dietary supplements. Their resources focus primarily on public health emergencies and products that may have caused injury or illness. In 2005, the Institute of Medicine, an independent science group that advises the government, expressed concern about the quality of herbal supplements indicating that product reliability is low and urged amending the 1994 law to improve consumer protection. A more important question that could also resolve the safety issue is “do herbal remedies work?” After over a decade of research at an expense of $2.5 billion, the government concluded that there is little proof of any benefit. Echinacea for the common cold, Ginkgo biloha for memory, Glucusamine and chrondrotin for arthritis, Black cohosh for hot flashes, Saw palmetto for prostate problems, Shark cartilage for cancer were no more effective than placebos (dummy pills). Large sums of money continue to be spent as manufacturers jump on our craving for a quick, miraculous fix of the nation’s ailments with one pill. Until herbal remedies receive careful scrutiny in terms of proven benefits, health claims, ingredients, and safety, athletes are at risk of numerous health consequences.
SOURCE: National Association of Speed and Explosion, Sports Speed News Bulletin Volume 5, Issue 23 (July, 2009)