Sunday, December 4, 2011

What's the harm? Lead intoxication from herbal therapy

This week, the American Journal of Medicine published a case report of a man who developed shortness of breath over a two month period and was found to have lead intoxication resulting in anemia. They were able to test the Chinese herbal compound (Qushangjieyu-san powder) he was taking for health maintenance. Turns out, the compound had significant lead contamination. The authors did not mention where he got the compound from, but it does not matter much since even if he bought such a compound from a vendor in the US, testing for contamination is not required
By law (DSHEA), the manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that its dietary supplement products are safe before they are marketed. Unlike drug products that must be proven safe and effective for their intended use before marketing, there are no provisions in the law for FDA to "approve" dietary supplements for safety or effectiveness before they reach the consumer. (Quoted from FDA's consumer information website).
People frequently ask, "Even if herbal supplements are not effective and nothing more than placebo, what's the harm?" Check the website of the same name,, and you will find plenty of examples like this one where the harm was a pesky case of lead poisoning.

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