December 6, 2004
To the EditorTIME Magazine
Re: "Herbal Supplements," p. 89, Dec. 6, 2004
In your bottom-line brevity to cover the year's health news in this issue, you have published some erroneous and misleading information on herbal dietary supplements:
- Your listing of the 12 "dirty dozen" unsafe herbs and supplements as (mis)reported by Consumer Reports in May 2004 ("Dangerous Supplements Still at Large") includes the safe and gentle herb scullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), an herb that has never been documented to produce any serious adverse effects. Consumer Reports did not conduct appropriate journalistic due diligence in researching the cover story that you have cited. Had it done so, it would have discovered what is patently obvious to most herbal experts: that in the 1970s and 1980s much of the "scullcap" sold in the U.S. was actually germander (Teucrium chamaedrys), an herb that Consumer Reports accurately includes in its list as toxic to the liver. The widely acknowledged safety of scullcap has been tarnished through guilt by association. Scullcap should never have been included in the "dirty dozen" list in articles by either Consumer Reports or Time! As a leading science-based nonprofit organization that conducts literature reviews on herb safety and efficacy, we know of no compelling or authoritative evidence to support safety concerns about skullcap.
- Also, your page 89 has a photo of an Echinacea flower with the caption "Flower without power", referring to a 14-day study1 in which you say "the popular herb had no effect on cold symptoms." Curiously, you ignore at least two other clinical trials2,3 published in 2004 in which Echinacea preparations were shown to have a positive effect on reducing cold symptoms. One wonders why your writers chose to highlight the negative trial and ignore the two positive studies.
1 Yale SH, Liu K.. Echinacea purpurea therapy for the treatment of the common cold: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Arch Intern Med. 2004 Jun 14;164(11):1237-41. 2 Goel V, Lovlin R, Barton R, et al. Efficacy of a standardized Echinacea preparation (Echinilin™) for the treatment of the common cold: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Clin Pharm Ther. 2004;29:75-83. 3 Cohen H, Varsano I, Kahan E, Sarrell M. Effectiveness of an herbal preparation containing echinacea, propolis, and vitamin C in preventing respiratory tract infections in children. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. 2004;158:217-221.