Friday, January 07, 2011

Tainted Medication, Supplements, and Water Oh My!

2010 brought us sobering reminders of how careful we must be with what we ingest. In the following piece, we explore the recent issues with medication, supplements, the water supply, and what you can do to be proactive in protecting yourself.

How many recalls were there of some of the most commonly ingested OTC and prescription medication? More than in recent memory and way too many. If you have concerns:
  • Take only medication that is essential. We recommend this for many other reasons than just reducing your exposure to potential risk of tainted product.
  • Research the manufacturer's safety record before taking a medication. If the company has a checkered past, ask about a similar medication by another manufacturer with a better safety record.
  • Two year rule - we never recommend taking a medication that has just come to market. We always suggest waiting two years for the safety record to shake out.
January's British Medical Journal stated that US drug companies paid $15 billion dollars in fines for criminal and civil violations over the past five years. According to the report, illegal marketing activities and injuries from drugs pulled from the market have risen over the past five years, leading to major penalties. Public Citizen, an independent US watchdog organization, has called the drug industry “the biggest defrauder of the federal government.”

Dietary Supplements
Most dietary supplements are extremely safe and there have been very few issues in the industry's eighty year existence. However, with a booming business sector such as this, there are more unseemly players who want a piece of the pie (i.e, the recent Fruta Planta Diet fiasco). That said, quality control problems are not just limited to the periphery. Hyland, a reputable homeopathic manufacturing company, recently recalled their baby teething tablets and will not be available until this summer because of a quality issue.

The FDA has implemented several new steps to weed out the bad apples and ramp up testing with full implementation of the cGMP and AER guidelines. But you cannot fully rely on the FDA as evidenced by their consistent failures to keep medication safe.
  • If it looks, sounds, and is marketed as "too good to be true," be wary. Other terms such as, "money back guarantees," "heal all ills," etc. should have you looking elsewhere. Most of you have seen these ads on the Internet, radio, or television.
  • Consult a health professional with an expertise in dietary supplements. Unfortunately, most doctors are not experts (and part of the time you have to get beyond the argument with your doc of whether to take supplements at all). Pharmacists or offices like ours with decades of experience can be very helpful not just from a the standpoint of suggesting reputable, safe products, but evaluate potential contraindications with medication.
  • Doctors, pharmacists, and nutritionists who dispense supplements at their offices usually means that not only have they vetted the products, but they and their staffs take the products themselves. In our case, we have over 25 years of safety experience to draw from. When considering a product, we look upon it with patience, skepticism, and an exhaustive vetting process to make sure we feel it is safe, because not only do we have our clients best interests at heart, but ourselves as well. Most of us have taken these same products for decades.
  • If you do not choose to have your supplements evaluated by a health professional or pharmacist:
    • Do not buy products directly from the internet. Unless you are familiar with the company and brands they dispense, there is a possibility the supplements could be counterfeit or tainted.
    • Go to a reputable health food store. Certifications by nonprofit nutraceutical associations such as NSF can be helpful because it provide another level of safety screening. While the staff at health food stores are not licensed professionals, many of them have been in the business for a while and should have general knowledge.
    • Do not rely on someone telling you to buy a supplement because it has worked wonders for them. As with anything else, dietary supplements need to be individualized. "One man's supplement can be another man's poison."
    • Do your due diligence. See how revealing the label is. Call the manufacturer and ask them where they get their raw materials. Ask them if they are compliant with cGMP guidelines. Ask them their safety record. Then, go with your instincts. If you are confident with the company's transparency, then it is probably fine.
Most of you probably read about cancer-causing Chromium-6 found to be widespread in 89 percent of US cities tap water supplies, according to sampled laboratory tests commissioned by Environmental Working Group (EWG).

In 25 cities tested, hexavalent chromium, the carcinogenic “Erin Brockovich chemical,” was found at concentrations above the safe maximum recently proposed by California regulators. The National Toxicology Program has concluded that hexavalent chromium in drinking water shows “clear evidence of carcinogenic activity” in laboratory animals, increasing the risk of gastrointestinal tumors. In September 2010, a draft toxicological review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) similarly found that hexavalent chromium in tap water is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” In 2009, California officials proposed setting a “public health goal” for hexavalent chromium in drinking water of 0.06 parts per billion (ppb) to reduce cancer risk. This was the first step toward establishing a statewide enforceable limit. Despite mounting evidence of its toxic effects, the EPA has not set a legal limit for hexavalent chromium in tap water nationally and does not require water utilities to test for it.

While we wait for the EPA to address this issue, if you live in an area where the numbers are high (you can look at your city here), certain water filtration methods will remove hexavalent chromium. Although basic water filters such as those made by Brita and PUR do not remove hexavalent chromium, most reverse-osmosis systems designed for home use can take the chemical out of water. Distilled water would also do the trick, but we usually dissuade our clients from drinking distilled water as it depletes your body of essential minerals. Bottled water is not necessarily an alternative because it is often drawn from municipal water systems and unless filtered by reverse osmosis, can still contain hexavalent chromium or other contaminants.


Pat said...

I am in the process of choosing
another water filter. Presently
I have an old reverse osmosis. I've been told that an ion exchange filter
will remove hexavalent chromium. Is this true? Love your newsletter. said...

We have not seen any data on the ion exchange filter doing this. We suggest sticking with a new reverse osmosis system.

Thanks for the kind words.