Monday, March 05, 2007

Natural Hypocrisy Is Safe Hypocrisy

Reported in the West Australian's Mind&Body supplement on Tuesday 27th February, 2007 is "Warning on too much St John's Wort":

Doctors at a Melbourne hospital have warned against consuming large amounts of the herb St John's wort after a 16-year-old girl suffered a dangerous overdose and seizures from taking excessive amounts.

Of course, this is because St John's wort is a drug. It may be marketed as "natural" with the implication that it is also "safe", but this is only advertising and not defensible. If such a reaction occurred to someone taking a pharmaceutical drug there would be immediate finger-pointing by the alternative brigade, calls to withdraw the product without delay, accusations of ignoring these side effects, and mutterings about Big Pharma and the evil side effects of drugs. When it happens to one of their own drugs, what do the alternative brigade do? Resort to hypocrisy:

Complementary Healthcare Council executive director Tony Lewis told Mind&Body that this was the first case he had heard of of an overdose of the herb. He said St John's wort was safe - and had shown some success in reducing depression symptoms - but only if the manufacturer's directions were followed. "The issue here is that the girl took quite a substantial overdose and was not using the product as directed," Dr Lewis said.

No. The issue is that St John's wort, and other "herbal" treatments are freely available on pharmacy and supermarket shelves, with little or no quality control, little or no studies of longterm use and side effects, and blaming the consumer for the adverse reaction is uncaring and hyprocritical. And it is clearly not safe. A person has had serious negative health effects from taking the drug.

Should the majority of pharmaceutical drug adverse reactions be ignored because patients "failed to follow directions"? Are they therefore "safe"?

Meanwhile, the Journal of the American Medical Association has published a study, reported by the Sydney Morning Herald:

Popular vitamin supplements designed to prevent disease might actually increase the risk of death, a landmark international study has found. Vitamin A performed worst in the 68-trial review, with the supplement said to lift mortality risk by 16 per cent. A closely-related nutrient, beta carotene, had a 7 per cent rise. Vitamin E supplements were associated with a 4 per cent increased risk, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. The Danish researchers found the top-seller, vitamin C, had no effect - positive or negative - on survival. The researchers also cleared the trace mineral selenium of increased risks. They concluded "the public health consequences may be substantial" given that 10-20 per cent of Western adults swallow supplements regularly in the belief they're preventing disease. [...] Supplement manufacturers claim these products have an antioxidant effect, essentially eliminating free radical "messenger molecules" that are responsible for the so-called oxidative stress which has been linked to disease. But critics doubt whether oxidative stress even exists, with this research saying that killing off free radicals only interferes with some essential defensive mechanisms which affect survival.

Again, the "natural is safe" quickstep was not long in coming (strangely, from the same person):

The Complementary Healthcare Council (CHC), which represents the industry, said the results were based on old data and included trials which allowed doses of vitamins not accepted in Australia. CHC executive director Tony Lewis would not comment on the study's claims but said the evidence was "weak".

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