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U.S. Spending Millions to See if Herbs Truly Work
Date:12/16/2010

rom doctors and health researchers. There are worries regarding the purity and consistency of supplements, which are not regulated as strictly as pharmaceutical drugs.

"One out of four of the dietary supplements we've quality-tested over the last 11 years failed," Obermeyer said. The failure rate increases to 55 percent, he said, when considering botanical products alone.

Some products contain less than the promoted amount of the supplement in question -- such as a 400-milligram capsule of echinacea containing just 250 milligrams of the herb. Other products are tainted by pesticides or heavy metals.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned supplement makers on Dec. 15 that any company marketing tainted products could face criminal prosecution. The agency was specifically targeting products to promote weight loss, enhance sexual prowess or aid in body building, which it said were "masquerading as dietary supplements" and in some cases were laced with the same active ingredients as approved drugs or were close copies of those drugs or contained synthetic synthetic steroids that don't qualify as dietary ingredients.

But even when someone takes a valid herbal supplement, it may not be as effective when taken as a pill or capsule rather than used in the manner of a folk remedy. For example, an herb normally ground into paste as part of a ceremony might lose its effectiveness if prepared using modern manufacturing methods, Obermeyer said.

"You move away from the traditional use out of convenience, and you may not have the same effect," he said.

Researchers also are concerned that there just isn't a lot of evidence to support the health benefits said to be gained from herbal supplements. People may be misusing them, which can lead to poor health and potential interactions with prescription drugs.

"Consumers often are taking them without telling their doctor, or taking them in lieu of going to the doctor," Klein said.

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