Dr. Paul A. Offit is chief of the division of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Recently he, along with Sarah Erush, clinical manager in the pharmacy department at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia wrote an opinion that was published in the Opinion Pages of the New York Times. The following is a portion of their letter urging the public to think twice about the supplements they take…..

Parents whose children are admitted to our hospital occasionally bring along something extra to help with their care; dietary supplements, like St. John’s wort to ameliorate mild depression or probiotics for better health.

Here’s the problem: The Joint Commission, which is responsible for hospital accreditation in the U.S., requires that dietary supplements be treated like drugs. It makes sense: Vitamins, amino acids, herbs, minerals and other botanicals have pharmacological effects. So they are drugs.

But the FDA doesn’t regulate dietary supplements as drugs – they aren’t tested for safety and efficacy before they’re sold. Many aren’t made according to minimal standards of manufacturing. And many are mislabeled, accidentally or intentionally. They often aren’t what they say they are.

In 2003, researchers tested “ayurvedic” remedies from health foods stores throughout Boston. They found that 20% contained potentially harmful levels of lead, mercury or arsenic. In 2008, two products were pulled off the market because they were found to contain around 200 times more selenium than their labels said. People who ingested these products developed hair loss, muscle cramps, joint pain and fatigue. Last month, researchers in Ontario found that popular herbal products like those labeled St. John’s wort and ginkgo biloba often contained completely different herbs or contaminants, some of which could be quite dangerous.

Our hospital has acted to protect the safety of our patients. No longer will we administer dietary supplements unless the manufacturer provides a third-party written guarantee that the product is made under the F.D.A’s “good manufacturing practice” (G.M.P.) conditions, as well as a Certificate of Analysis (C.O.A) assuring that what is written on the label is what’s in the bottle.

What can other individuals who are concerned about supplement safety do? They can look for “U.S.P Verified” on the label – this proves the supplement has been inspected and approved under the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention. Unfortunately, fewer than 1% of the 55,000 or so supplements on the market bear this label. The real answer is that, until the day comes when medical studies prove that these supplements have legitimate benefits, and until the F.D.A. has the political backing and resources to regulate them like drugs, individuals should simply steer clear.

For too long, too many people have believed that dietary supplements can only help and never hurt. Increasingly, it’s clear that this belief is a false one……..  nytimes    12/14/13

The brand Nature Made which can be found at Walgreens has “U.S.P. Verified” on it’s label.


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