On Tuesday, January 6, USA Today ran an editorial, "Law lets risky stimulants take ephedra's place." There was a counterpoint editorial from CRN's Annette Dickinson called "Supplement law works." The first editorial contained a box called "Consume at your own risk" in which 6 teas and supplements were listed: dieter’s tea, ginkgo, ginseng, kava, St. John's wort, and willow. Misleading and erroneous statements were given for most.
ABC's founder and executive director, Mark Blumenthal, along with Prof. Norman R. Farnsworth of the University of Illinois, and Richard Kingston, PharmD, of Prosar International, a leading adverse event reporting center, wrote a letter to the editor of USA Today to clarify the misleading information.
USA Today published a slightly edited version of the letter on Monday, Jan. 12, 2004, and, based on USA Today's single author policy, printed it as authored by Mark Blumenthal, only one of the co-authors. Below we provide the letter in its entirety as submitted to USA Today.
January 7, 2004
Re: Sidebar box “Consumer at your own risk” to Editorial, “Law lets risky stimulants take ephedra’s place” Jan. 6, 2004
Your examples of potential risks of herbal supplements contain serious inaccuracies and are largely based on theoretical concerns or unreliable speculation.
Dieters teas: These contain senna leaf, an FDA-approved safe laxative, are labeled with proper warnings like OTC drugs, and are reasonably safe when used as directed.
Ginkgo: Few cases of “internal bleeding” have been reportedly associated with ginkgo despite use in tens of millions people worldwide. Saying it is “peddled” as a “memory enhancer” suggests that it is less than useful, despite at least 33 controlled studies showing safety and efficacy in memory-impaired adults.
Ginseng: Asthma is not a known side effect of ginseng. A recent study shows Asian ginseng can lower blood pressure. Ginseng demonstrated a strong level of overall safety in a recent scientific review of adverse reports, many of which were deemed inadequately documented and unreliable. Kava: Most reported cases of liver damage and kava are not causatively established. We know of no credible evidence linking kava to Parkinson’s disease.
Willow: Willow is not linked to Reye’s syndrome. The relation had been theorized because willow contains aspirin-like compounds, but we know of no reported cases of willow-related Reye’s syndrome.
Your information ignores the impressive safety record for most herbal supplements. Consumers need accurate, responsible information on herb benefits and safety. Initiatives like the American Botanical Council’s Safety Labeling Program provide herb manufacturers with authoritative, reliable information for product labels to help ensure responsible use of herbs and prevent potential adverse effects.
Mark BlumenthalFounder & Executive DirectorAmerican Botanical CouncilEditor, HerbalGram and The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs www.herbalgram.org
Norman R. Farnsworth, PhD.Research Professor of Pharmacognosy and Senior University ScholarProgram for Collaborative Research in the Pharmaceutical SciencesCollege of PharmacyUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicago, IL
Richard Kingston, Pharm.D.Senior Clinical ToxicologistPROSAR International Poison Center &Associate Professor, Dept. of Experimental and Clinical PharmacologyCollege of Pharmacy, University of MinnesotaSt. Paul, MN www.prosarcorp.com