Mad Cow Threat In Supplements?

We take supplements for a variety of reasons, but none of them is to produce tiny, spongelike holes in the brain like those caused by bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or "Mad Cow" Disease. Unfortunately, there is growing concern that this deadly contaminant is finding its way onto dietary supplements shelves in American stores.

Since the mid-1990s when BSE's human manifestation—new-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)—began resulting in the death of now 92 Europeans, concern has turned to frenzy. To date, no cases of BSE or new-variant CJD have been recognized in the United States, most likely due to precautions taken by American food and drug regulatory agencies.

Recently, however, critics have cited possible federal loopholes that may allow infectious bovine tissue to enter some dietary supplements, although many experts believe that risk is being overstated. "The 1970s were really the heyday for supplements [formulated] with central nervous system and glandular tissue," says Jack Challem, author and dietary supplements expert. Indeed, the Committee for Responsible Nutrition reports that glandulars—gland-containing supplements—banned from importation by the Food and Drug Administration account for less than 1 percent of supplements sales. Still, experts urge consumers and retailers to educate themselves on which products contain bovine tissue and to contact manufacturers for the country-of-origin of that tissue to determine if there's a BSE risk. Otherwise, your supplements should be perfectly safe.

­Charles Blair