SUBSCRIBE

Breaking News on Supplements, Health & Nutrition - Europe US edition | APAC edition

Read more breaking news

 

 

Attacked 30-year herbal academic on leaked document: “I haven’t slept in four days”

9 commentsBy Shane Starling , 21-Nov-2011
Last updated on 23-Feb-2012 at 13:08 GMT2012-02-23T13:08:57Z

Attacked 30-year herbal academic on leaked document: “I haven’t slept in four days”

A lifelong UK-based herbal sector academic who was attacked by the Alliance for National Heath (ANH) on Friday over her views about herbal medicine regulations, says she is “crushed and devastated” by assertions made in the ANH letter.

“I have no beef with the herbals industry and categorically deny that, as the letter implies, I am influenced by the pharma industry,” an emotional Elizabeth Williamson (pictured), from the University of Reading, told NutraIngredients this morning.

I have been a champion of the herbal industry for 30 years and in my letter was simply voicing concerns about herbal products that it is my view are better regulated under the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD),” the professor and Director of Clinical Pharmacy at the Uni of Reading continued.

“To leak something like this casts aspersions on my professional career and my department and implies I am inept and corrupt. I am crushed and devastated by it and haven’t slept in four days. You spend a lifetime defending herbal products and then this. I am seriously considering leaving the area.”

Leaked letter

The ‘leak’ is Professor Williamson’s letter written to UK Secretary for Health, Andrew Lansley, expressing her view that most medicinal herbs should be regulated under the EU THMPD and not as food supplements.

The ANH published the letter on its website on Friday along with two open letters written by its executive and scientific director, Robert Verkerk, PhD, to both Professor Williamson and Lansley.

Those documents can be found here.

The ANH letter highlights what it views as Professor Williamson’s misconceptions of European food supplements law which it states are able to ensure the safety and efficacy of herbal products.

One part of the ANH's letter states: …your position would seem to taint your scientific independence, and suggests that your primary concern is to protect one particular sector of the herbal industry with which you are likely to have close ties.”

Not personal

Speaking with NutraIngredients, Dr Verkerk said his organisation had leaked the letter to bring into the public sphere the debate about the, “narrow line between herbal products used for medicine and wellness”.

“This is not meant to be a personal attack,” he said. “I would urge professor Williamson and anyone else to engage the issues raised in our letter.”

In it, Dr Verkerk wrote: “Backroom discussions between larger vested interests and government officials appear to have been the order of the day.”

He said the idea that almost all herbal products should be classified as medicines belied the fact many of them were not used as medicines but promoters of wellness, in the manner of food supplements. Only Echinacea and St John’s wort deserved exclusive THMPD treatment, he said of an EU Directive his group believes is too costly and discriminates against Chinese, Ayurvedic and other traditional medicines.

The UK medicines regulator – the MHRA – has issued more than 10 warning letters to companies manufacturing herbal products it has deemed medicinal but lacking a THMPD license. Most of those were mailed more than 12 months ago but no enforcement action has as yet been taken and the MHRA has ceased to answer queries about its intentions in that area.

The ANH has announced its intention to challenge the THMPD in the courts and says one target in the case it is building is the UK Department of Health.

On its website, the group added of Professor Williamson's letter: "In the face of an ongoing campaign by certain phytopharmaceutical companies to portray herbal food supplements as a danger to public health and in need of yet more regulation – including questions in both Houses of the UK Parliament – Professor Williamson’s intervention was at risk of wielding a dangerous level of influence. Accordingly, we felt compelled to do something about this, exposing what might have otherwise been kept behind closed doors."

9 comments (Comments are now closed)

food, herbs and medicines

Suzanne said, "where does food end and medicine start!"

A very good question! To me there seems to be several aspects to this - what the product actually does and what the packaging says about what it can do for me. I want to buy something (actually whether herbal or not!) that does what it says on the tin. So if it says it can treat my eczema, then I want to know that it is both safe for me and effective for my eczema.

But I don't understand what you say here "Standardized extracts in my opinion should be regulated as drugs. There should have to be clinical trials to prove and one compound or more compounds exaggerated. They are no longer as found in nature. Clinical trials should be required to prove safety at least. The full matrix and integrity of the herb is no longer present. It is no longer what it was!"

Standardisation is good in that it is easier to predict the effects of a dose on a person and I agree with you when you say there should be tests to make sure we understand what they do and how safe they are.

But if herbs are not standardised (how could they be?) then surely there is even more need to have good information on what their affects are particularly when there can be so much variation? As you say, some herbs are toxic - we need to make sure they are safe, but how do we do that if not by testing them properly? And if we don't test them, how do we know which ones are safe for different people? I just can't see that we can blindly trust that the manufacturers to know what they are doing.

Report abuse

Posted by Jo
05 December 2011 | 23h372011-12-05T23:37:53Z

What Does Codex Say?

Does this have anything to do with CODEX ALIMENTARIUS and their stand on nutritional suppliments in Europe & the rest of the world?

Report abuse

Posted by Laurel Marshall
02 December 2011 | 16h182011-12-02T16:18:33Z

Herbs as food / drugs ?

We need to define a herbal medicine. My problem is the word medicine ..this is a medical word. Standardized extracts in my opinion should be regulated as drugs. There should have to be clinical trials to prove and one compound or more compounds exaggerated. They are no longer as found in nature. Clinical trials should be required to prove safety at least. The full matrix and integrity of the herb is no longer present. It is no longer what it was!
Some herbs of course are toxic by nature and obviously should be identified and regulated. Common herbs that have been used for hundreds if not thousands of years that we use for relief of minor conditions (no they are not diseases as teas, and that have used for culinary purposes should be left in the food category to be used as we wish. this is a slippery slope .. where does food end and medicine start!

Report abuse

Posted by Suzanne Stoeckle
01 December 2011 | 03h252011-12-01T03:25:40Z

Read all comments (9)

Related products