Dear Future Centenarian,
A few weeks ago, I got this email from a close friend:
“Herbal meds pulled from Walmart, Target, GNC, and Walgreens after government testing shows that 79% of samples tested have NONE, that is, ZERO, of the herb you are paying for - - Stuff like St. John's Wort and Ginko Biloba, etc.
“More "evidence" that government regulation is totally unnecessary since the "free market" will regulate itself - like when Lake Erie used to catch fire and burn... Yeah, right! Corporations ARE people, and they're your friends (ala Mitt Romney).”
Besides not knowing what he means by “your friends” (an erroneous assumption), I was shocked to see that he took the article he read at face value.
There are two sides to each coin, but in spite of this intelligent, PhD with a biotech and strong business background spanning approx. 40 years, he made another assumption. He assumed the article was an accurate representation of the facts.
Maybe it was… and maybe it wasn’t.
So I checked articles from Forbes and the New York Times covering the same report. I also pulled up an article from Mercola.com.
Here are some excerpts from the articles I found:
“The test used to deem the herbal products adulterated is considered inadequate and unproven by experts, such that the results cannot be considered valid.”
“The products were tested up to five times each using a DNA barcoding technique, which is at the heart of the controversy over the results.”
“The AG's office has not released full study protocols or reports of analytical data. As Forbes reported:
"[American Botanical Council chief science officer, Stefan Gafner, PhD],who also serves as technical director for the ABC-AHPA-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program, expressed surprise that the AG would issue such aggressive actions against major U.S. companies with just one round of research results from one investigator's laboratory.
“More detailed and published investigations by other researchers particularly with ginkgo products, seem to diverge from the results with the chain store product brands in New York.
“…the high percentage of supplements that did not contain the material indicated on the label definitely should make the investigators wonder just how accurate this approach is.'"
“The AG's investigation used DNA testing, which, according to The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), is an "inadequate and unproven analytical method to test herbal supplement products."
“… many herbal supplements contain herbal extracts, which have a loss or denaturation of DNA material during processing. The DNA barcoding test cannot, therefore, identify the ingredients accurately. AHPA President Michael McGuffin said:
"It appears that many, if not all, of the products the New York State Attorney General tested contained herbal extracts and this processing would likely disrupt or destroy the DNA…
“If an herbal product manufacturer used this analysis, without any additional confirmation, to prove that an herbal extract is accurately identified, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would almost certainly dismiss this as inadequate to verify identity."
“In fact, in 2013, the New York Times reported on a similar study using DNA barcoding, which also found a sizable number of products tested did not include the product on the label. At that time, the FDA publically called the testing method invalid.
“…it appears the New York Attorney General launched an investigation patterned after the one in 2013, even though the FDA already called the data invalid.”
“… the United Natural Products Alliance is collecting "large quantities" of the supplements cited in the Attorney General's investigation and submitting them to certified botanical testing labs for analysis.”
According to ABC News:
"'They will perform universally accepted methods and procedures to test the products and will independently report their findings, which will be made public,' said Loren Israelsen, the group's president. 'We feel the most appropriate response to bad science is good science.'"
“…In performing its tests, GNC used only validated, widely used and generally accepted testing methodologies approved by standard setting bodies, including the United States Pharmacopeia, Association of Agricultural Chemists, British Pharmacopeia and European Pharmacopeia.”
“The re-test results were even reviewed by Robert Fish, who is described as an expert on FDA good manufacturing. He, too, confirmed their authenticity, stating:
“…the products at issue were each manufactured in compliance with federal FDA requirements… the products contain the ingredients stated on the labels at the levels indicated on the labels… the products are not contaminated, and… the products are therefore not adulterated.”
So do you think supplements should be regulated or not?
Well guess what? They already are.
“…very first sentence on the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) website to settle that dispute. There, it plainly states:
"FDA regulates both finished dietary supplement products and dietary ingredients. FDA regulates dietary supplements under a different set of regulations than those covering 'conventional' foods and drug products. Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA):
“An estimated 106,000 hospitalized patients die each year from drugs that, by medical standards, are properly prescribed and administered, and two million more suffer serious side effects. How does the safety of supplements compare?
- In 2001, 84.6 percent of all substances implicated in fatal poisonings were pharmaceutical drugs, according to that year's American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) report. This compares with 0.8 percent for all dietary supplements combined, even including substances such as dinitrophenol, a dangerous (and illegal) substance banned in 1938, as well as the central nervous system stimulant Ma Huang (Ephedra). ONE drug alone, the anti-asthma drug theophylline, which was responsible for 15 deaths that year, amounted to 66 percent more than all the available dietary supplements combined.
- In 2011, it was reported that there are more than 487 times more adverse event reports for FDA-approved prescription drugs than there are for supplements, and 409 times more serious events for drugs than supplements.”
So which of the articles are most accurate?
I have my own opinion, but it’s only that. The take home lesson here is…
… Question everything
Do I ever jump to conclusions when I read or hear sensational news? Sure. I’m not immune. Especially when the news reinforces my preconceived notions.
But learn to be a skeptic… whether or not what you read, see or hear conforms with, or violates your most cherished beliefs.
Latest Headlines from Fight Aging!
Still No Sign of a Late Life Mortality Plateau in Humans - Monday, February 23, 2015
If aging is defined as an increase in mortality rate over time, then old flies eventually stop aging - their mortality rate reaches a high level but increases no further after that point. As a phenomenon this is much harder to explain than a continued rise in mortality rate, both from a mechanistic and evolutionary point of view.
There was some suggestion that the sparse human data for extremely old individuals showed signs of this late life mortality plateau, but that has since been fairly comprehensively refuted.
The Aged Tissue Environment Impairs Natural Killer Cells - Monday, February 23, 2015
Of late researchers have started to investigate a variety of biological systems that decline with aging to determine the degree to which they are degraded by signals in the tissue environment, as a reaction to the presence of damage in tissues, versus degraded by intrinsic damage within the system itself.
There will be attempts to force reactivation and better function by altering levels of signaling molecules rather than by repairing underlying damage, an approach that may well provide significant benefits but which is probably not the best way forward.
Natural killer (NK) cells are an important part of the immune system, with responsibilities that include destroying errant cells and viruses. In this open access paper researchers find that NK cells are degraded in function by the aged tissue environment and restored to youthful function in a young tissue environment. The next step is to identify the specific signals responsible for this effect.
On the Palo Alto Longevity Prize - Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Here is little more press for the Palo Alto Longevity Prize, which will make awards for the extension of healthy life in mammals based on heart rate variability as a measure of physiological aging.
Aside from all the normal networking and influence effects produced by research prizes, and this one will certainly boost the growing Bay Area community of longevity advocates and researchers, the initiative should go some way towards validating or invalidating the use of measures such as heart rate variability as a biomarker of aging.
Independently of progress towards ways to intervene in the aging process, the development of good biomarkers to measure physiological age is very important. How else to evaluate any proposed rejuvenation therapy in a reasonable amount of time?
Without biomarkers, the only things you can do are guess or wait: running full life span studies is very expensive even in mice, and never mind in longer-lived species. Anything that makes rigorous research more expensive slows down progress, and should be targeted for improvement.
Parkinson's Disease as a Result of Aging - Tuesday, February 24, 2015
This open access paper reviews what is known of the biochemistry of Parkinson's disease.
The underlying issue is usually presented as the loss of a small population of dopamine generating neurons. This happens to some degree to everyone over the course of aging; lose enough of these neurons and you will manifest the condition. As to why some people do and some people don't, it's all a question of whether you are inherently more susceptible to the underlying cell death mechanisms, as is the case in a small fraction of the population, or simply through happenstance reach a threshold of loss sufficient to cause symptoms.
The question proposed here is whether loss of neurons is all that is going on, or whether the many other changes that occur with aging are also necessary for the development of Parkinson's as a disease.
Grafting Tissue Engineered Muscles into Mice - Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Tissue engineering of muscle continues to move forward, with a new approach here demonstrated in mice.
Interviewing a Researcher Working on Stem Cells and Aging - Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Via the Buck Institute Science of Aging blog, here is a look at the work of a scientist who specializes in the intersection of the stem cell and aging fields, an area that includes cancer and regenerative research.
Microbes Generate Amyloid, But Is It Important in Aging? - Thursday, February 26, 2015
There are a score or so of different forms of amyloid that accumulate in the aging body and brain. These are misfolded proteins that precipitate out of tissue fluids to form clumps, and the biochemistry surrounding this process can cause harm in numerous ways.
Alzheimer's disease is associated with amyloid-beta, and long years of research in that field illustrate that the mechanisms by which amyloid formation can damage tissue function are potentially very complex.
A few other forms of amyloid are directly linked to age-related disease, but many are not, or ambiguity remains regarding how they are harmful. Still, the presence of amyloid is a clear difference between young tissue and old tissue. Any potential rejuvenation toolkit should include a way to safely clear these misfolded protein aggregates, such as via immunotherapies of the sort under development as potential Alzheimer's treatments.
Here is a speculative paper on the role of microbes in amyloid accumulation in the body. While reading note that amyloid levels, at least for amyloid-beta, are very dynamic. The body can clear it, but those clearance processes either diminish with the damage of aging or are slowly overwhelmed by increased generation.
Reviewing What is Known of Insulin in Aging - Thursday, February 26, 2015
When it comes to the mechanisms by which the operation of metabolism determines natural variations in longevity, few areas are as well studied as the role of insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1).
This is no doubt in part due to the size and influence of the type 2 diabetes research community, but it is also the case that most of the methods so far demonstrated to slow aging and extend life in mice, such as calorie restriction, appear to act at least partially through alterations to insulin metabolism and related systems. Here is a review on this topic, with a focus on the brain.
Cartilage Repair Without Scaffolds - Friday, February 27, 2015
Researchers are working on a method of delivering cells for cartilage regrowth in aged joints that doesn't use a porous scaffold in order to guide cell growth, but rather relies on the engineering of specific cell characteristics. In theory this should produce a better end result.
The Progression of Leukemia: Most Old People Have Some of the Necessary Mutations in Blood Cells - Friday, February 27, 2015
Here is an interesting look at the progression and prevalence of DNA damage leading to leukemia, cancers of bone marrow and white blood cells.
Cancer is an age-related disease because its proximate cause is DNA damage and we accumulate ever more of this damage as time goes on. DNA repair systems in our cells and destruction of precancerous cells by the immune system are highly efficient but not perfect, and falter with age due to other forms of accumulating damage.
The development of a robust suite of effective cancer treatments is an essential part of progress towards effective treatments for degenerative aging, and perhaps so is a means of DNA repair as well.