Boo for the University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter

Up until the June 2009 issue, I’ve had very few complaints with the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.   They’re a pretty conservative publication but they’ve had interesting articles and have seemed to be pretty balanced, until this issue.

In the Wellness made easy section on the last page, they published this:

Avoid “herbal” or “natural” weight-loss supplements.  The FDA recently warned that dozens of products contain hidden and potentially hazardous drugs such as diuretics or laxatives, or else risky prescription anti-obesity medication, often combined with a witch’s brew of other ingredients.  The supplements are usually sold on the Internet, but some, such as StarCaps (now recalled) are also sold in health-food stores and drugstores.  Most are made in China.  There are no safe and effective dietary supplements for long-term weight loss.

Wow.  So many things pop off the page in this blurb, the most upsetting being the combination of “witch’s brew” and “made in China”.  I checked this out by having some folks I know read the article to see what their reaction was.  They all looked at me and asked a version of the same question “Are the herbal formulae you prescribe safe?”.

The answer is an emphatic “Yes!” followed by a longer explanation of how, as a licensed acupuncturist in California I have been trained in prescribing these substances and how I buy my teapills (pre-packaged herbal formulae) from manufacturers who meet and exceed GMP standards.

As a practitioner of Traditional Oriental Medicine, I have an uphill battle in America.  My patients know the medicine works; herbs, acupuncture, dietary advice, lifestyle advice, exercise; they all work together to help my patients become healthier.   But when publications like the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter start throwing these scary phrases around, it has a strong impact on people who could benefit from T.O.M. but are hesitant.

This is what I sent to the Editors of the Wellness Letter:

Dear Editors,

I am a California licensed acupuncturist and I wanted to register my disappointment with the “Avoid ‘herbal’ or ‘natural’ weight loss supplements” article in the Wellness made easy section of the June 2009 issue.

I don’t object to the information, but I am offended by the phrasing “. . . combined with a witch’s brew.  .  . “.

Part of my training is to concoct prescriptions by combining substances in the Materia Medica of my profession, something I was extensively trained in and have earned the rights and privilege to do by passing the most comprehensive and difficult licensing examination in the country.

Just because your authours don’t understand the theories behind the substances in the offending products, doesn’t mean they’re ineffectual or dangerous.

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