Some pills contain dried cow parts: Experts don't agree on risk of glandular supplements
- Some pills contain dried cow parts: Experts don't agree on risk of glandular supplements
By HEATH FOSTER
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
Many who have ached with the stiff pain of arthritis or ailing
thyroid or pituitary glands are familiar with the world of glandular
Dozens of brands of these unregulated products are for sale on
the Internet and line the shelves of health food stores. They're
promoted as a means to improve sexual performance or "balance,
energize and support the body's glands and organs."
And some of them are made with dried and ground-up cow parts,
including bovine brains and spinal tissue.
But experts were divided yesterday about whether that makes
these supplements life-threatening now that the first case of mad
cow disease has been discovered on United States soil.
For more than two years, the Puget Consumers Co-op has
warned customers to avoid altogether any dietary supplements
containing animal glandular tissue, pituitary tissue or other
nervous-system tissue. Humans can get an illness related to mad
cow called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease by ingesting tissue
from diseased cattle.
Dr. Michael Greger, who has done extensive research on mad
cow disease for the Minnesota-based Organic Consumers
Association, said he believes the supplements do pose a serious
Greger said some of the glandular supplements on the market
contain parts of the cow brain and the thymus, thyroid, pituitary
and adrenal glands -- parts that the Food and Drug
Administration has warned should be avoided. And he said that
the average dose could provide enough of the tissue needed to
cause the development of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, if
that tissue were infected.
"Any one of your readers can walk into any GNC down the
block and find what is basically cow-in-a-pill," Greger warned.
"This is a real problem, and it has been for years."
But Dr. Phil Harvey, the director of science for the National
Nutritional Food Association, stressed yesterday that there is no
known case of a person ever contracting Creutzfeldt-Jakob
disease from a glandular supplement.
His organization represents about 5,000 manufacturers
and retailers of health foods and dietary supplements. He
said glandular supplements account for just 0.4 percent
of the health food industry's business.
"There is no evidence that glandular have caused any problem,"
said Harvey, who has a doctorate in nutritional biochemistry.
"There is a risk, but it is extremely low."
In March 2001, after the mad cow scare in England, the National
Nutritional Foods Association developed a number of guidelines
for manufacturers of glandular supplements to follow to keep
their products risk-free. The organization recommended using
only cows from countries free of mad cow disease for
ingredients, demanding that importers provide documentation
about where their cow parts are coming from and taking care not
to mingle the raw materials.
Harvey said the recommendations assumed that body parts used
from American cows were safe and that his organization will
re-evaluate whether that remains true.
Dr. Joe Pizzorno, past president of Bastyr University, said
yesterday that glandular supplements are used widely by
naturopaths with good results for patients, and they should not be
taken off the market.
Instead, he said consumers and doctors need to pay close
attention to which animals are being used in the manufacture of
the supplements they buy and prescribe. But he acknowledged
that the labels on most supplements will not give consumers the
information they need.
"The more responsible manufacturers use pharmaceutical-grade
animals that are raised according to FDA standards," Pizzorno
said. "Consumers will have to get very assertive in this area."
One issue experts did agree on yesterday is that gelatin capsules
encasing many drugs and vitamins do not pose a serious mad
cow risk, though they are made from the bones and skins of
cows. Greger said vigilant consumers are better off choosing
vegetable-based gelatin when they are offered a choice. But he
said many medications are not available in anything but
animal-based gelatin, and consumers should not stop taking their
medications because of fear of mad cow disease.
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