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Beware: Health Food Can Kill You

19 Sep

aconitum_napellus (1)

Aconite, also known as monkshood or wolfsbane, is beautiful and looks harmless. Not true. It’s a deadly poison. When ingested, it has potentially deadly cardiotoxic and neurotoxic effects. Its most often kills through the generation of deadly changes in the cardiac rhythm. Victims suffer shortness of breath, palpitations, chest pain, numbness and tingling of the face and other body parts, nausea, and ultimately paralysis, cardiac arrest, and sudden death. Pleasant, huh?

Aconite is easily available, not only at your local nursery but also at various health food stores where it comes in many varieties, including herbal teas. Several recent poisonings related to an aconite-containing herbal tea sold by a San Francisco company show how dangerous this chemical can be. Of course, other health food stores sell aconite and you can easily buy it on the Internet.

I always tell my patients that the second most dangerous place on earth, after a aircraft carrier deck during flight operations, is a health food store. Though most of the products they sell are mostly harmless, and mostly not helpful, some are downright deadly. Many years ago there was a Ma Huang crisis in that several people died from taking supplements laced with this material. Ma Huang is basically an amphetamine and, like aconite can cause deadly cardiac arrhythmias as well as a marked elevation of blood pressure and strokes.

The point is, none of these are regulated. The FDA, for all its warts, does indeed protect consumers. It’s very difficult to create, test, and bring a new drug to market. It cost billions and takes many years, sometimes more than a decade. The FDA requires strict proof that the medicine actually does what it’s designed to do and that its side effects and toxic potential are acceptable and well understood. This is not the case in products you buy at your local health food store. Many are mixed up by a guy named Joe in his garage in a cat box. Trust me, Joe is not a chemist, or a pharmacist, and he possesses no medical training. He might not even have a GED. But he can mix up some cool stuff and put it in fancy packaging and make it look real. And safe. And it might be. But of course, it might not.

The take-home message here is that do not accept the packaging, the product description, or its prime location at eye level on the display rack. Do your research. Find out what’s really inside and what its toxic potential is. And do not buy anything from a guy named Joe.

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3 responses to “Beware: Health Food Can Kill You

  1. Sara

    September 19, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    We do a lot of herbal medicine in my family but we always do our research – not just anecdotal but check into scientific research done on that particular herb. It makes me shake my head when people assume that natural means safe. I often say “poop is natural but you don’t see me eating it.”

    Liked by 1 person

     
  2. patriciaruthsusan

    September 20, 2017 at 2:58 am

    Thanks for this good post and the warning. People can be easily convinced as some are naive. —- Suzanne

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  3. Chris Norbury

    September 20, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    I always appreciate being reminded to “read those labels!” The main reason I’m not an “early adopter” is that I’m not ready to be the world’s guinea pig for some new miracle drug or supplement. 😉

    Chris

    Like

     

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