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Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, November 22, 2005


(OMNS) American poison control statistics show that in one year, there were 28 deaths from heroin; acetaminophen (the active ingredient in products like Tylenol ) killed 147. Though acetaminophen killed over five times as many as an illegal drug, few would say that we should make this generally regarded as safe, over-the-counter pain reliever require prescription.

Yet misconceptions and misinformation about alleged dangers of mineral, herbal and amino acid supplements are persistent, in spite of the lack of scientific evidence to support such fearfulness.

The 2003 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers Toxic Exposures Surveillance System, published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine (1), lists eight deaths in the “mineral supplement” category. Five are not from supplements at all, but rather are from pharmacological sources rightly termed electrolytes : two from sodium and three from potassium (p 389). Pharmacologic doses of sodium and potassium are usually given in hospital intravenously and are a frequent cause of electrolyte imbalance. Two deaths were allegedly due to iron overdose. Since 1986, there has been an average of two deaths per year associated with iron supplements. The sole remaining death was from calcium, a mineral that is employed medically for its antidote properties. In fact, in 2003, calcium was used as a lifesaving antidote in 5,228 cases (p 344). There is no evidence that the single listed calcium death was from a supplement, and the odds are overwhelming that it was not. That makes a year’s total of perhaps two deaths “associated with” a supplemental mineral. Caffeine also killed two people in 2003. Yet tea, coffee and cola soft drinks are not sold with restriction, prescription, or in childproof bottles, and rather few would maintain that they need to be.

The 2003 Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers Toxic Exposures Surveillance System indicates a total of 13 deaths attributed to herbal preparations. Three of these are from ephedra, two from yohimbe, and two from ma-huang. Accepting all seven claims of deaths attributed to these products, we still find that there were over 20 times as many deaths each year from acetaminophen.

Only three deaths are attributable to other single ingredient botanicals, and oddly enough, their identity remains unnamed in the Toxic Exposures report. Reporting three deaths without naming the cause is a clear admission of uncertainty.

Millions of persons take herbal remedies, and have done so for generations. Indigenous and Westernized peoples alike have found them to be safe and effective, and the 2003 Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers Toxic Exposures Surveillance System confirms this (p 388-389). There have been no deaths at all from cultural medicines, including ayurvedic, Asian, Hispanic, and in fact, from all others.

Additionally, we find:

  • Blue cohosh: 0 deaths
  • Ginko biloba: 0 deaths
  • Echinacea: 0 deaths
  • Ginseng: 0 deaths
  • Kava kava: 0 deaths
  • St John's wort: 0 deaths
  • Valerian: 0 deaths

Furthermore, there have been zero deaths from phytoestrogens, glandulars, blue-green algae, or homeopathic remedies.

In 2003, poison control centers reported zero deaths from amino acids.

Natural health products, such as amino acids, herbs, minerals, and other nutritional supplements, have a proven safe usage history. This is clearly demonstrated by the 2003 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers Toxic Exposures Surveillance System, published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine.

1. Watson WA et al. Vol. 22, No. 5, September 2004, p 335-404. (

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