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Some pills contain dried cow parts: Experts don't agree on risk of glandular supplements

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  • Teresa Binstock
    Some pills contain dried cow parts: Experts don t agree on risk of glandular supplements By HEATH FOSTER SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 31, 2003
      Some pills contain dried cow parts: Experts don't agree on risk of glandular supplements

      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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