Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe

Posted on August 9, 2012


I woke up to the radio this morning like I do most mornings, and as I was grumbling to myself that I really should have got to bed earlier last night, I heard an advertisement for a supposedly inexpensive “erection enhancement” pill that you could get without a prescription. Annoying, as I’d rather have been listening to music, but whatever. Then I heard this gem of advertising “brilliance”

[Product] is made from all natural ingredients so you know it’s safe.

Um, no. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

There are two fails in this sentence, one of which should be obvious to anyone with a functioning synapse in their skull.

First, if the pills are “all natural” and you don’t need a prescription for them, that means the contents qualify as an “herbal supplement” according to the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And unlike drugs, herbal supplements are not regulated by the FDA and don’t have to be tested for safety before they’re sold. They’re essentially considered food, and the FDA doesn’t usually get involved in food safety until someone gets sick from contamination. Which means that, unlike a prescription drug like Viagra, no-one is required to document the side effects of the supplement or even verify that it actually works the way the advertising claims it does.

Second, just because something is made from natural ingredients doesn’t make it safe. Rattlesnake venom is “all natural” too, but it can still cause serious injury or death if it gets in your bloodstream. The mineral cinnabar (mercury sulfide) occurs naturally, but that wouldn’t protect you from brain damage if you stupidly sprinkled it over your salad.

Not all nutritional or herbal supplements are bad. Most are just fine (in a “safe to eat in reasonable quantities” sense). But if you come across someone who’s advertising a supplement and they claim that it’s safe because it’s “all natural,” choose something else. Any company willing to lie to potential customers is fundamentally untrustworthy, and your health is far more important than getting it and keeping it up a little longer.