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October 3, 1977

Lead-Contaminated Health Food: The Tip of an Iceberg

JAMA. 1977;238(14):1544. doi:10.1001/jama.1977.03280150114046

Yet another case of accidental lead poisoning from health food comes to our attention elsewhere in this issue (p 1539). A California housewife poisoned by herbal health pills imported from Hong Kong recalls the case of the California resident poisoned by a powdered-bone health food imported from England (JAMA 237:2627, 1977). In both women, incapacitating hematologic, neurologic, and emotional disabilities developed. Do these two women represent isolated, insignificant cases, or do they represent the tip of an iceberg?

The Food and Drug Administration has been quoted (National Observer, June 27, 1977, p 15) that while such cases are regrettable, they are "not representative of a major national problem of lead poisoning." The agency cannot run full cry after every mischief in the nation. Some problems are more important than others, and the FDA does suffer perennially from "money constraints." But they do keep their channels open to physicians, and we