When I asked my doctor if herbal supplements or herbal tea could help with the symptoms of chemotherapy, or even fight leukemia, he told me to stay away from such products because you can’t be sure what’s in them.
Now I’m glad I heeded his warning.
Last week, the New York state attorney general’s office issued the results of an investigation that has national implications.
The office accused four major retailers of selling fraudulent and potentially dangerous herbal supplements, demanding that they remove the products from their shelves.
According to their report, the authorities conducted tests on top-selling store brands of herbal supplements at four national retailers — GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart — and found that four out of five of the products did not contain any of the herbal ingredients on their labels.
In fact, pills labeled medicinal herbs often contained little more than cheap fillers such as powdered rice, asparagus, and houseplants. And in some cases, there were substances that could be dangerous to people with allergies.
The Food and Drug Administration regulates herbs and other dietary supplements differently from traditional medications. The safety standards that medications have to meet before gaining approval do not apply to these types of supplements.
And while herbal supplements have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries, because I have chosen the traditional cancer-treatment route, and it has saved my life, I tend to look with skepticism on claims such as “11 natural strategies to defeat cancer,” or “the single strongest cancer killer we have seen.”
Many people assume that dietary supplements are safe to take along with prescription drugs, but according to the American Cancer Society, that’s not true. Most drug companies and producers of herbal supplements do not research possible drug interactions, so the risks of taking supplements with other drugs are largely unknown.
What is known is that some dietary supplements can cause skin sensitivity and severe reactions if taken during radiation treatment. People undergoing chemotherapy may also be at higher risk for drug interactions if they take dietary supplements.
For these reasons, cancer experts like my own doctor recommend that patients avoid dietary supplements altogether until their cancer treatment is over.
After all, why take chances?
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