Just Because It’s “Natural” that Doesn’t Mean Safe

We all get bombarded daily by the sound bites. This product is “natural”, “whole” or in some instances “organic”. As someone who likes to be cautious about what I put in my body don’t think I am minimizing the importance of “clean” foods or supplements. Unfortunately, however, there is growing acceptance in our culture that something that is deemed as “natural” is inherently safe. Consider for example the drug digitalis. Digitalis is a chemical that comes from a plant and is used in several different types of heart disease. It is an important chemical and in some cases life saving for the patient. It is “natural”, as one would say, in that it is naturally occurring in the environment. However, in the wrong dose this plant derivative is highly toxic and can lead to severe illness and death. Natural? Absolutely. Harmless? Not in the least.

How serious is this problem among the veterinary profession? Consider the following case. Charlie is a 6 year old Boston Terrier who is adored by his owner. He was basically a healthy boy and made regular trips to the veterinarian whenever something was amiss. Lately the owner had started to take a supplement containing blue green algae for her own health. Blue green algae is often thought to be a powerful anti oxidant as well as a good protein source. Charlie’s owner felt that if this supplement was good for her and seeing as though it was a “natural” product it would be good for Charlie. She began to dose him as well. Within a few weeks the owner noticed Charlie didn’t look right. He appeared to be losing weight, looked very tired and began vomiting. A trip to the veterinarian, as she put it, “was the worst day of my life”. Charlie was in liver failure. When the veterinarian questioned the owner as to any thing that was different in Charlie’s diet or environment, the owner was aghast. She mentioned the blue green algae supplement and a sample of the supplement was sent for lab analysis. The lab revealed that the supplement was contaminated with a bacteria that often occurs when the algae is grown in less than ideal conditions. Since “natural” supplements and products are not marketed as pharmaceuticals but rather as “supplements” they do not come under the scrutiny of any regulatory agencies. So there were no implications or accusations that could be made against the manufacturer. Charlie is recovering slowly but may never be the same active guy as before this episode.

Be aware. Just because a product is natural, it doesn’t mean that it is safe. Do the research on the product and the company. Get as much input as you can from professionals, both human and veterinary. Spend some time on line to see if there are any episodes of toxicity or reported contraindications. Above all, remember that there are many toxic and harmful substances in the “natural” environment in which we live.