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'Dirty Dozen' Substances that may caused more harm than good

May 24, 2004

Consumers Union recently issued a warning about 12 dietary supplement ingredients - dubbed the "dirty dozen" - that have been linked to serious adverse affects or strong theoretical risks. All of the potentially dangerous ingredients are available online.

Definitely hazardous:

documented organ failure and known carcinogenic properties

-- Aristolochic acid

It also is known as birthwort, snakeroot, snakeweed, sangree root, sangrel, serpentary, serpentaria and wild ginger. Can be an ingredient in Chinese herbal products labeled fang ji, mu tong, ma dou ling and mu xiang. It can be an unlabeled substitute for other herbs, including akebia, asarum, clematis, cocculus, stephania and vladimiria species.

Dangers: A potent human carcinogen; kidney failure, sometimes requiring transplant; deaths reported.

Regulatory actions: U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning to consumers and industry, and import alert, in April 2001. Banned in seven European countries and Egypt, Japan and Venezuela.

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Very likely hazardous

-- Comfrey

It also is known as Symphytum officinale, black root, blackwort, bruisewort, consolidae radix, consound, gum plant, healing herb, knitback, knitbone, salsify, slippery root, symphytum radix and wallwort.

Dangers: Abnormal liver function or damage, often irreversible; deaths reported.

Regulatory actions: FDA advised industry to remove from market in July 2001.

-- Androstenedione

It also is known as 4-androstene-3, 17-dione, andro and androstene.

Dangers: Increased cancer risk; decrease in HDL cholesterol.

Regulatory actions: FDA warned 23 companies to stop manufacturing, marketing and distributing in March 2004; banned by athletic associations.

-- Chaparral

It also is known as Larrea divaricata, creosote bush, greasewood, hediondilla, jarilla and larreasta.

Dangers: Abnormal liver function or damage, often irreversible; deaths reported.

Regulatory actions: FDA warning to consumers in December 1992.

-- Germander

It also is known as Teucrium chamaedrys, wall germander and wild germander.

Dangers: Abnormal liver function or damage, often irreversible; deaths reported.

Regulatory actions: Banned in France and Germany.

-- Kava

It also is known as Piper methysticum, ava, awa, gea, gi, intoxicating pepper, kao, kavain, kawa-pfeffer, kew, long pepper, malohu, maluk, meruk, milik, rauschpfeffer, sakau, tonga, wurzelstock, yagona and yangona.

Dangers: Abnormal liver function or damage, occasionally irreversible; deaths reported.

Regulatory actions: FDA warning to consumers in March 2002. Banned in Canada, Germany, Singapore, South Africa and Switzerland.

Likely hazardous

-- Bitter orange

It also is known as Citrus aurantium, green orange, kijitsu, neroli oil, Seville orange, shangzhou zhiqiao, sour orange, zhi oiao and zhi xhi.

Dangers: High blood pressure; increased risk of heart arrythmias, heart attack and stroke.

Regulatory actions: None.

-- Organ/glandular extracts, include those from brains, adrenal glands, pituitary glands, placentas or other gland substances or concentrates.

Dangers: Theoretical risk of mad cow disease, particularly from brain extracts.

Regulatory actions: FDA in January 2004 banned high-risk bovine materials from older cows in foods and supplements. High-risk parts from cows younger than 30 months old are still permitted. Banned in France and Switzerland.

-- Lobelia

It also is known as Lobelia inflata, asthma weed, bladderpod, emetic herb, gagroot, lobelie, indian tobacco, pukeweed, vomit wort and wild tobacco.

Dangers: Breathing difficulty, rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure, diarrhea, dizziness, tremors; possible deaths reported.

Regulatory actions: Banned in Bangladesh and Italy.

-- Pennyroyal oil

It also is known as Hedeoma pulegioides, lurk-in-the-ditch, mosquito plant, piliolerial, pudding grass, pulegium, run-by-the-ground, squaw balm, squawmint, stinking balm and tickweed.

Dangers: Liver and kidney failure, nerve damage, convulsions, abdominal tenderness, burning of the throat; deaths reported.

Regulatory actions: None.

-- Scullcap

It also is known as Scutellaria lateriflora, blue pimpernel, helmet flower, hoodwort, mad weed, mad-dog herb, mad-dog weed, quaker bonnet, scutelluria and skullcap.

Dangers: Abnormal liver function or damage.

Regulatory actions: None.

-- Yohimbe

It also is known as Pausinystalia yohimbe, johimbi, yohimbehe and yohimbine.

Dangers: Change in blood pressure, heart arrythmias, respiratory depression, heart attack; deaths reported.

Regulatory actions: None.

- Source: www.consumerreports.org

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