GAO Exposes Five Herbal Supplement Cons
Wait! Before you pop those herbal supplements into your mouth, you might want to hear some new facts.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office went all "60 Minutes" undercover recently to record overblown or entirely false claims made by herbal-supplement sellers.
The GAO researched diet supplement labeling and sales-representative claims that their products can treat, prevent or cure such diseases as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. One product even claims it can reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. The study noted the elderly, who take more prescription drugs than younger patients, are particularly at risk of negative interactions.
In addition, these supplements can be expensive, useless and raise false hopes.
Details of the May 26 GAO report included the following questionable claims and comments.
Claim 1: The supplement possesses a powerful anti-cancer function.
Comment: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends breast and uterine cancer sufferers not take ginseng as it can have "an adverse interaction with some cancer drugs."
Claim 2: Ginseng can prevent diabetes.
Comment: While this supplement may lower blood-sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes, the long-term effects aren't clear and the NIH recommends patients seek more proven therapies.
Claim 1: Prevents diabetes and obesity and cures cardiovascular disease.
Comment: The NIH doesn't recognize garlic supplements as a treatment for any of these problems.
Claim 2: Garlic, "is extremely helpful in treating any form of flu or colds; from a mild head cold to pneumonia. It also helps treat such bronchial conditions as inflammatory disease, asthma and tuberculosis.
Comment: Some research suggests this herb may reduce the severity of upper respiratory tract infections. However, better studies need to be performed to confirm this effect in humans.
Claim 3: According to product labeling, "Hundreds of scientific studies have proven garlic enhances the body's immune function, protects cells from free-radical damage, and reduces cardiovascular risk factors, including blood pressure and cholesterol.
Comment: While garlic may help with certain conditions, research hasn't proven it enhances the body's immune function (unless you encounter a vampire). While studies have shown it may slightly lower bad cholesterol and blood pressure, the long-term effects are unknown and the impacts on good cholesterol are unclear.
3. Gingko Biloba
Claim 1: Effectively treats Alzheimer’s disease, depression, memory problems, impotence and more.
Comment: Several NIH studies have shown ginkgo to be ineffective at reducing the risk of Alzheimer's or otherwise enhancing memory. A minor increase in depression for elderly patients taking ginkgo is a possibility, but there really isn't enough evidence to substantiate this concern.
Claim 2: Gingko biloba can safely betaken with a daily prescription aspirin.
Comment: The supplement can increase the risk of bleeding when taken with aspirin.
4. St. John's Wort
Claim: Can naturally reduce depression and the negative impacts of some medical treatments.
Comment: St. John's wort actually can negatively affect the efficacy of antidepressant medications, HIV treatments, cancer drugs and anticoagulants, though this is not always noted on product labels.
Claim: Can alleviate insomnia, diverticular disorder, gum disease and gingivitis.
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