On the surface, the recent front page news regarding the New York Attorney General's cease and desist notification to four of the nation's largest retailers (Walmart, Target, Walgreens and GNC), ordering them to pull from their shelves certain store-brand herbal supplements, may not mean much to those physicians who have already been hesitant about encouraging their patients to use nutritional supplements.
But a closer look should stir up some cause for concern, especially among the complementary, alternative and integrative physician world, about what this attach on supplements may potentially mean for their practice going forward. Many integrative physicians support or even encourage their patients to supplement their diets with nutritional supplements, and nearly all trust that the products they are purchasing from their vendors and promoting to their patients are safe and effective.
Is there a way to guarantee the safety of these products? Regardless of which side you stand on regarding the attorney general's actions (not to mention the alleged flawed DNA barcode testing methods), the front page news should make all health care practitioners re-examine their selection process for purchasing herbs and other nutritional supplements for the safety of their patients and the good of their practice.
The chances are pretty good that those physicians who have historically turned away from nutritional supplements will continued to do so, equipped with only more "evidence" to say, "I told you so." This many be especially true among conventional physicians, many of whom have waited for an incident like this one to find greater justification in turning a blind eye to nutritional supplements.
So as alternative, complementary and integrative health care practitioners looking to treat the whole person, should you now be scared off by the attorney general's findings and move away from nutritional supplement use in your practice?
As mentioned previously, perhaps the best way to approach this for both your practice and your patients is to not lose faith in herbal products or other nutritional supplements that may indeed by the right call for what ails them. Instead, a closer look at your purchasing methods, who is involved in making those decisions, and perhaps asking a few more questions of your supplier is the right path to choose. Remember, there's nothing wrong with asking questions, which in the long run will likely only enhance the relationship between you and your supplier.
Review each product you select carefully, perhaps bringing in the opinions of other physicians in your practice if possible, along with an herbalist and/or nutritionist to make sure all the bases are covered.
As health care practitioners, you are likely receiving higher quality grade supplements products than those that were pulled off the store shelves at your favorite retailer. Make sure the pharmaceutical-grade supplements you recommend are top of the line, not taking anything for granted.
Remember, your patients are worth it.