CA Prop 65, Heavy Metals and Herbal Safety

CA Prop 65, Heavy Metals and Herbal Safety

Perhaps you’ve seen the California proposition 65 stickers and warnings on various products, including some of your herbal remedies?  CA prop 65 was passed to protect drinking water sources by reducing and eliminating exposure to toxic substances.  It also prohibits businesses from knowingly exposing customers to toxic substances without clearly exhibiting a warning label.  The label states, “This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.”

This is a quite a scary thing to read on an herbal supplement that is supposed to support your health.  In most herbal products, the toxic substance they are typically referring to is lead.  Many plants and other natural occurring ingredients used for supplements contain trace amounts of lead and other heavy metals, but the quantities are no higher than other vegetables and meats that we consume on a daily basis.  The warning label is scary, but the actual risk is considered very minimal.  In fact, most of the herbal products carried by reputable herbal companies are actually considered “no significant risk level”.  This means that even if taken daily for decades it would only increase the incidence of cancer by 0.00001%.  For perspective sake, eating tuna and pumping gasoline would pose a greater exposure of toxins and heavy metals than taking reputable herbal prescriptions.

The question that arises then is why these labels are on herbs and not other products that contain heavy metals and other toxins.  While it is highly beneficial to be aware of what we are putting into and using around our bodies, prop 65 has some political controversy regarding its enforcement.  The burden of proof is on businesses rather than the government to make scientific determinations about the safety levels for specific chemicals.  In addition, new claims are only brought to attention and enforced when a private interest or company reports a product.  All this has caused herbal products, specifically Chinese medicinal herbs, to be enforced upon in greater numbers than other foods and supplements.  Pharmaceutical companies took up most of these cases, likely due to monetary interests with which they have the finances to pursue the campaign in court.  It is likely that we will be seeing an increasing number of these warnings on food products, supplements, and household items in the future.

Interestingly, the allowable limits of heavy metals and toxic substances for pharmaceutical drugs are actually higher than the limits of prop 65 guidelines.  Pharmaceutical drugs do not have to come with any heavy metal warnings because they are in a different class and regulation category.

Many medicinal herbal companies and practitioners feel extremely comfortable, confident and safe in proscribing formulas with prop 65 warnings as long as they are made by reputable companies that have been researched and have met their own high standards.   However, as always, if this or anything you put into your body gives you suspicion or unease do your research and trust your conclusions.  Alternate treatments to anything you feel uncomfortable about are always available, and taking charge of your healthcare is your absolute right.

You can read more about prop 65, herbal guidelines and specific independent high standard testing practices by clicking this link.