“Natural” Doesn’t Mean Safe

Arsenic is totally and completely ‘natural’.  A basic chemical element, the metalloid is #54 on the periodic table; discovered in 1250 A.D.  The color of arsenic ranges from yellow to grey (see pic below) and even a rather small amount of the stuff in your system will usually kill you.  It affects your body’s ability to make energy, and cells virtually shrivel up and die when exposed to it.  One hallmark of arsenic poisioning is deep red membranes due to severe hemorrhage in the tissues.  This wonderful basic element isn’t made in a lab by googly white coated skinny nerds.  It’s made by Mother Earth.  Created from the warm loam of Earth Goddess, unadulterated, unmanipulated, un-organic chemistrated, the stuff is deadly.

The presence of natural substances that kill with impunity totally undermines the basic premise of “natural remedies” sold by medically-naive businessmen.  I work with doctors who use “natural” remedies, but they understand at least some of the chemistry behind how they work (nobody can fully understand ALL of any drug’s chemical reactions in the human body).  They follow the patient carefully and document how much the patient takes and when they take it.

By contrast, stores that sell “natural” medicines don’t care about the patient at all.  They care about sales.  They care about hitting a 20% profit margin.  Case in point is a recent patient who came in with leg cramps.  He was told that the best way to take care of cramps is to increase his potassium.  Everybody thinks potassium fixes leg cramps.  I’m not sure how this idea became so popular, but if you’ve got cramps and you ask someone how to manage them chances are you’ll be told to “eat bananas”. 

This patient regularly, almost daily, drinks large amounts of Gatorade, which has a higher-than-normal potassium content (remember the commercials….”replenishes vital electrolytes!”).  He also has a number of other medical problems, which in his case predispose him to hyper-potassium states, not low ones.  His very good and compassionate friends at GNC told him that for the cramps, “you need potassium”.  But his “extra bad” case necessitated more than mere bananas (never mind that THEY also are…natural), but really needed a MAJOR DOSE of potassium if he wanted to beat these terrible cramps.  They sold him, thus, a bottle of condensed liquid potassium and told him to take it orally three times a day.

Let’s talk about hyperkalemia (high potassium) for a moment.  IV-induced hyperkalemia is the final endpoint of lethal injection.  The first drug given causes unconsciousness, then another stops respiration.  For the final death stroke, the med that actually kills the condemned inmate, potassium (mixed with chlorine) flows into the body to stop the heart.  Of the drugs given, potassium truly does the job.  At high levels, potassium alters – catastrophically – the heart’s rhythms.  The first signs to show up are lethargy, malaise, heart palpitations and mild hyperventilation.  Then…dead.

Selling potassium supplements without medical training and good medical follow-up should be flat-out illegal.

I can understand that everyone needs to survive in this world, even the mineral supplement people.  But their governmental lobby, flush with funding and clout, succeeded in allowing them to sashay around virtually any FDA regulation; a success that defies reason and ethics.  Drugs – ‘natural’ or otherwise – can kill people.  I hate governmental regulation, but there are situations when it really does serve an important purpose in society.  Diet “supplements” should be regulated just like any medication, and they should not be given without prescriptions.  The only reason they currently are not regulated is bald politics, and patients are the worse for it.

3 thoughts on ““Natural” Doesn’t Mean Safe

  1. curious

    Since FDA can’t adequately inspect foreign manufacturers’ plants, test pharmaceuticals (e.g. recent heparin contamination cases), it seems unreasonable to put them in charge of the supplement industry. Besides, Big Pharma owns many of the supplement companies whose wares you’ll see at various retailers (e.g., Wyeth = Solgar). Think they’ll want to give up such seemingly lucrative business? Perhaps regulation should mandate training and licensure of those who sell supplements, or require Rx for known harmful substances such as potassium, kava, and the like.
    Disclaimer: I seek the advice of a good friend who is a naturopathic physician before buying/taking supplements.


  2. secretwave101

    That’s a great point. I did clinical research before med school and lost much respect for the FDA over those years: redundant, irrational, massive cost inflation, endless policies.

    I should have said that “alternative” drugs need regulated distribution just like sanctioned, mainstream ones. People shouldn’t get their advice about metoprolol from a professional with 7-10 years of training, but additional advice about potassium from someone who may not have finished high school.

    Naturopathic docs are perfectly suited to this task. Their schools are serious, rigorous and regulated. They know these meds as well as many of their interactions and side-effects. More importantly, they maintain offices where patients can be followed and evaluated.


  3. Educate the proles…I mean people!
    I sincerely wish any fool who tries to sell poison for profit may…may taste his own medicine…ok..I don’t wish anyone any ill, but when I see a member of my family taking expensive natural remedies, its enough to make my blood boil!

    Ok..I am calm. Good post. I hope a lot of people get to read this.


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