I consider myself a careful consumer, but in 1989, I took L-tryptophan, an amino acid. I took it on advice from a physician for some health problems, but I ended up with a lot more health problems caused by the L-tryptophan.
More than 38 people died as a result of a bad batch of L-tryptophan. It was imported as a food supplement and was not regulated as a drug by the FDA. About 1,500 people, including me, still suffer problems of muscle pain, nerve damage and immune system problems. We have what is called “EMS.” Broken down in lay language, EMS stands for elevated eosinophils muscle pain syndrome.
So I read with dismay that an herbal supplement company has developed herbal fen-phen. It is available at some pharmacies. The weight loss drug fen-phen was recently pulled off the shelves because at least a third of patients who used fen-phen for weight loss have suffered heart valve damage. I hope, for the mental and physical health of these people, that the damage is not permanent.
I just don’t understand how companies can continue to produce non-FDA-approved food supplements and partially approved drugs. Even L-tryptophan, which is supposed to be unavailable in its pure form, is listed as an ingredient in several vitamin supplements now being sold.
What can you as a consumer do? Become informed. When it comes to anything that you ingest or put into your body, know as much about it as possible. Accept responsibility for your own medical care as a consumer. Ask questions of your physician.
Watch out for those physicians who prescribe non-FDA-approved food supplements or partially approved drugs, unless they have tried them on themselves or a family member first. If a food supplement or a drug sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
In 1993, an EMS friend told me: “It’s only a matter of time before something like the EMS epidemic of 1989 hits again.” I’m in total agreement.
My conclusion is that humans are humans. Unfortunately, they usually do not learn from mistakes or misfortunes of others. But if I helped one person today be cautious about food supplements and other unregulated herbs and drugs, I’ll be happy.
MEMO: Your Turn is a feature of the Wednesday and Saturday Opinion pages. To submit a Your Turn column for consideration, contact Rebecca Nappi at 459-5496 or Doug Floyd at 459-5466 or write Your Turn, The Spokesman-Review, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210-1615.