WITH THE USUAL FLOURISH AND media focus, a Washington press conference this week highlighted the release of a study calling for greater regulatory scrutiny and scientific study of complementary and alternative medicine, such as acupuncture and herbal remedies.
It would be nice to think of this as the first step toward developing standards for these unregulated and increasingly popular practices and products, but I don"t know if any of us will live to see it come to fruition.
A Harvard study released the same day says that 35 percent of Americans use some form of alternative medicine. Dietary supplements account for more than $18 billion in annual sales, and the use of herbal supplements has grown by 50 percent in the past five years. Google "nutritional supplements and eyesight," and 27,000 hits later you"ll see that ophthalmologists get no free pass on this one.
The Institute of Medicine report recognizes the difficulty that the lack of regulation presents to doctors, who are expected to advise patients on the use of supplements.
Complicating that is the reality that 60 to 70 percent of patients using alternative medicine fail to mention the fact to their doctors. Overdosing and potential interactions with prescription drugs are certain to complicate your life for years to come, particularly with age-related eye diseases on the rise along with the potential for dubious products to combat them.
The politicians, of course, are calling for the FDA to play a greater role in policing adverse events, unsubstantiated claims and impure products. Not happening. That agency can"t even keep up with the drug industry it"s already charged with watching.
At the first sign of any effort to rein it in, look for the supplement industry to charge that anti-competitive Big Pharma is the manipulator behind the scenes. With its current low standing among American consumers, that"s not a case I"d want to argue.
No, as comforting as it might be to believe otherwise, it looks like you"re on your own on this one. How much of an issue you want to make of supplements and vision is going to be between you and your patient.