November 3, 2004
EditorUSA TODAY 7950 Jones Branch Drive McLean, VA 22108-0605
Re: Leigh, Susan. Lax rules let supplements lurk as health threats. USA Today. October 27, 2004. (p. 13A).
Ms. Leigh erroneously characterizes the safety of bitter orange (Citrus aurantium), an herbal ingredient in numerous ephedra-free dietary supplements. She cites a recent article in Experimental Biology and Medicine as part of her concern that bitter orange may cause some of the same cardiovascular effects as the now-banned herb ephedra. A careful reading of the cited article reveals that increased blood pressure in humans occurred after the isolated compound synephrine (found in bitter orange) or bitter orange extract itself were injected intravenously into humans. That article acknowledges that there were no ill effects in humans when bitter orange was ingested, that is, consumed by mouth, as is done with foods and dietary supplements (dietary supplements are permitted only for ingestion, by law).
Science recognizes that different routes of administration of the same substance can have markedly different biological effects. The author, a medical writer, presumably knows this and should have made this critically important distinction clear to your readers.
Ms. Leigh also suggests that bitter orange should have been pre-approved by the Food and Drug Administration. She does not mention that bitter orange is considered a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) food ingredient by FDA for use in candies, soft drinks and other foods and that it is the primary ingredient in many brands of orange marmalade.
As an independent nonprofit educational organization, the American Botanical Council has evaluated the safety of two dozen popular herbs so that manufacturers can offer more safety information on product labels and thus guide consumers in using herbs responsibly. We are in the process of conducting a comprehensive review of the scientific and medical literature on bitter orange and to date we have found no plausible evidence suggesting it is unsafe when consumed orally in reasonable quantities.
Sincerely, Mark BlumenthalFounder and Executive DirectorAmerican Botanical CouncilAustin, TexasEditor, HerbalGram