In a politically-motivated operation, the General Accounting Office has chosen to launch a witch hunt against dietary supplements, employing frightening headlines that inaccurately warn the public of heavy metals in herbal supplements and of misdirected advice offered by health store clerks, at a time when legislation is pending in Congress to usher in greater enforcement and restrictions over these popularly-used products.
The GAO report itself fails to provide adequate evidence of a public hazard. The GAO report, entitled "HERBAL DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS", Examples of Deceptive or Questionable Marketing Practices and Potentially Dangerous Advice," presented before the Special Committee on Aging, U.S. Senate, says:
- "Trace Contaminants Found in Selected Herbal Dietary Supplements, but None Pose an Acute Toxicity Hazard to Humans. The levels of contaminants found do not exceed any FDA or EPA regulations governing dietary supplements or their raw ingredients, and FDA and EPA officials did not express concern regarding any immediate negative health consequences from consuming these (40) supplements."
Poison Control Center data does not suggest herbal supplements pose a significant mortal or morbid risk to consumers (American Association of Poison Control Centers annual reports – 1983 to 2008 – can be found here.) Furthermore, heavy metals like lead, cadmium, palladium and arsenic are ubiquitous (ever-present) in foods and pharmaceutical drugs and it is unfair to single out herbal supplements when the Documentary Standards Division of the US Pharmacopeia in Rockville, Maryland states that "screening for metals in medicines and dietary supplements rarely indicates the presence of toxic metal impurities at levels of concern."
Regardless of the facts, the damage has been done. The news media has lip-synched what the government wanted them to say and the public is led to be wary of dietary supplements. Any level of heavy metals in dietary supplements appears to be unacceptable, yet foods contain far more heavy metals, particularly foods grown in mineral-rich soil.