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Recommended Reading: A Natural Mistake by Dr. James T. MacGregor


There is a wide misapprehension that the descriptors natural, organic and botanical in advertising parlance signify safe, healthy and nutritious. Dr. James MacGregor incisively dissects these presumptions in A Natural Mistake indicating that in many situations natural and organic may be deleterious to health.


Dr. MacGregor earned a PhD in toxicology and biochemistry from the University of Rochester, NY. and he is a diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology.  His credentials include directing the Safety Evaluation Program at the U.S. FDA, directing programs at the Stanford Research Institute and the USDA.  He has consulted extensively for major international companies, non-profits and governmental organizations worldwide on aspects of food and pharmacologic safety.


The text cites specific examples of toxicity from natural products. These include Balkan nephrosis caused by consumption of supplements or food containing Aristolochia, the Fen-Phen debacle, acute liver toxicity from herbal supplements, fava bean toxicity and interactions between pharmaceuticals and St. John's Wort and grapefruit.


Based on his extensive experience in regularity agencies he notes deficiencies in oversight of herbal supplements and nutritional additives and the unjustified protection afforded manufacturers under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994.  This legislation essentially presumes all dietary supplements are inherently safe.  Inexplicably these compounds are not subject to the extensive and rigorous tests for both safety and efficacy required of drugs.  For the FDA to take action it is necessary for the agency to demonstrate that nutritional supplements are in fact toxic or deleterious.  A second enigma is that advertising of supplements is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission and not by the FDA. 


A Natural Mistake is an easy read and should be considered by both marketing and R&D managers of companies either actively promoting or considering nutraceuticals or additives.  Guidance on regulation of these compounds and how they have been abused in the past should serve as important lessons in a litigious environment.


The 213-page text includes a section with approximately 150 references documenting the opinions and recommendations provided.


One take-home message from the book is that a healthful lifestyle with moderation in food intake and exercise contributes to longevity and freedom from metabolic conditions. A second reality is that pesticide residues in U.S. foods are not a significant health concern despite publicity generated by promoters of organic foods, macrobiotic diets and other fad regimens.