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The AICR Lifestyle & Cancer Symposium addresses the most current and consequential issues regarding diet, obesity, physical activity and cancer.

The Annual AICR Research Conference is the most authoritative source for information on diet, obesity, physical activity and cancer.

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Read real-life accounts of how AICR is changing lives through cancer prevention and survivorship.

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Are you ready to make a difference? Join our team and help us advance research, improve cancer education and provide lifesaving resources.

AICR’s resources can help you navigate questions about nutrition and lifestyle, and empower you to advocate for your health.

May 27, 2010 | 2 minute read

Herbal Supplements: Do You Want Lead with That?

Do you know what’s in your ginkgo biloba bottle and what it really does?

Investigators from the Congressional Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that some supplement sellers claim their herbal products could cure cancer and other diseases.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates dietary supplements and their regulations don’t allow sellers to make claims that their products can treat, prevent, or cure specific diseases.

In addition, when an independent lab tested 40 randomly purchased supplements they found trace amounts of hazardous contaminants in 37 of them. The contaminants include lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic, although the levels do not exceed any FDA or EPA regulations. Pesticides were also found and some did exceed FDA advisory levels.

The GAO team reviewed 30 retail web sites and posed as elderly consumers visiting 22 storefront and mail-order retailers of herbal dietary supplements.  They questioned sales staff about the supplements.  Here are some of the claims they found:

The report notes that herbal dietary supplement use by the elderly in the US has increased substantially over the last few years.  This study was done to determine if deceptive marketing practices are occurring and whether the supplements are contaminated.

AICR does not recommend taking supplements as a means to prevent cancer.  However if you decide to take a supplement, look for one with a USP seal.

According to the USP, their Verified Mark helps assure consumers of a manufacturer’s commitment to quality and helps them easily identify and choose a product that

  • contains the ingredients listed on the label, in the declared potency and amount
  • does not contain harmful levels of specified contaminants
  • will break down and release into the body in a specified amount of time
  • and has been made according to the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Processes

Herbal products and supplements can be confusing and cancer survivors (and anyone!) should talk with their doctors before taking any supplement.

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