Twenty years ago, the FDA pulled the amino acid l-tryptophan off the market. They said it caused health problems in a handful of people. The real problem was a tainted batch of the supplement. But the FDA still kept untainted tryptophan off the market. There was some talk of making it a prescription drug, but there’s no way to patent an amino acid.
Nearly a decade ago, a similar problem occurred with Kava extract, an anti-anxiety herb. They took it off the market when a few people in Europe contracted liver problems after taking unknown quantities. Several died. No one in our country had any side effects. But the medical world questioned Kava’s safety and badmouthed the herb. Questioning the safety of natural substances is one way to drive people to drugs they believe are safer. But we know this is not necessarily true at all.
When a vitamin, mineral, or other natural nutrient causes even a minor reaction in a handful of people, they take it off the market. But it takes more than a few complaints before the FDA takes action against pharmaceutical drugs.
Take for instance the serious side effects — including death — from several common over-the-counter pain drugs. It took 775 reports over two years to get the FDA to take action. But that didn’t keep these drugs off the market. You can walk into any drugstore and buy as much of them as you like. Johnson & Johnson, the pharmaceutical giant that makes these painkillers, makes sure you’re able to get your supply of Tylenol, Tylenol Arthritis Pain, and Motrin. Over-the-counter drugs are a multimillion-dollar business. It looks like the FDA is more concerned with protecting pharmaceutical companies than the public.
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I take recalls of all pharmaceuticals seriously. It takes a lot for the FDA to pull any of them off the market or print warnings on their bottles. When I hear about problems with natural products I look even further. All too often it’s just another campaign to frighten the public into choosing drugs over nutrients.
Remember: all drugs have some side effects. Very few nutrients do.
Your voice of reason in Women's Health,
Dr. Janet Zand
CNN, May 26, 2010.