Mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, and pesticide residues are finding their way into your herbal dietary supplements, according to a recent Congressional investigation and reported in The New York Times. Nearly all of the supplements tested in the investigation were found to contain trace amounts of heavy metals–and although those levels did not exceed thresholds considered dangerous (by the F.D.A.’s standards, at least), 16 of the 40 supplements tested contained pesticide residues that appeared to exceed legal limits. Some supplements have even been known to include prescription medications, like Viagra.
Itís a Jetson’s-like idea that most of us have become completely accustomed to: condense the nutritious elements of food into a neat little pill. Take the pill, and voila, you have all you need for optimal health. Itís a theory and practice enjoying tremendous popularity in America ever since the 1970s when chemist extraordinaire Linus Pauling began promoting the importance of supplemental vitaminsĖin particular, vitamin C to ward off colds.
The health benefits of taking dietary supplements has been controversial in medical circles, but the American public has eaten the idea upĖto the tune of $25 billion dollars per year. Half of all American adults take some type of dietary supplement regularly. The growing popularity has led to an increasing number of imported supplements containing contaminants, spiked with illegal drugs, and promising false health claims.
According to the article in the Times, Congress passed legislation in 1994 that allowed supplement makers to sell products without first getting approval from the F.D.A. for their ingredients or for basic health claims. But scientific organizations have warned repeatedly since then that the F.D.A. should do more to ensure that the supplements are safe and that their health claims are substantiated.