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[whitespace] It Only Looks Herbal: On the reverse you learn that "all organs and glands come from bovine sources." Could mad cow disease also be lurking inside?

Brain Power

When you think herbal, you probably don't think "raw animal parts" in the same breath. But recent reports could be troubling to many an unsuspecting vegan, and suggest that animal parts masquerading as herbals in dietary supplements are more common than many realize.

In a recent letter to the editor in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Scott A. Norton points out that while some supplements are forthright about their contents (one nationally distributed product lists 17 bovine organs on its label), others are more subtle.

Brain tissue, for example, is often referred to as "hypothalamus," while "orchis" is the polite way to refer to bull testicles. Another popular and equally ambiguous ingredient is "thymus," which can either refer to the herb thyme or to bovine lymphoid tissue. Even something as innocuous as comfrey extract can contain allantoin, also known as alcloxa or aldioxa, which comes from bovine fetal urine.

Labels of many herbal supplements are better at telling you what isn't in them than what is. One antioxidant found on local shelves lists harmless ingredients such as grape seed extract and red raspberry before getting to L-Glutathione, an acid secreted by the liver. Another supplement designed to boost the thyroid is more blatant, listing raw liver, raw lung, raw pancreas, raw heart, raw kidney, raw spleen and raw brain, all "derived from bovine sources."

Nu&-z asked people in a local health food store how they felt.

"How disgusting!" said Bonnie Getz, a vegetarian with a basket full of vitamins and tofu. "I always read the labels but I usually have no idea what half the words mean."

John Delaforesta's face cringes with disgust.

"Back when I was young and naive, I took supplements containing raw organs and stuff," he says. "My understanding was that they would increase brain activity, but now I am very concerned that any cow organs used in these products may be contaminated."

The Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act of 1994 limits federal authority to regulate dietary supplements, allowing the Food and Drug Administration to recommend the exclusion of animal tissues but not to prohibit them.

This is unsettling in light of recent studies on Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), or "mad cow disease," which eats away at the brain, causing dementia, and can be transmitted by powdered bovine brain matter.

This January the U.S. Department of Agriculture placed a ban on bulk shipments of high-risk tissue from countries with cases of BSE. Though the USDA considers bovine organs found in dietary supplements to be susceptible to BSE, the ban applies only if the tissues are intended for use in food, medical products and medical devices, and not if they are intended for use in dietary supplements.

Beating The Odds

Teen pregnancies are down nationwide, Santa Cruz County included. Even so, South County's teen birth rates are among the highest in the nation, officials say.

On a national scale, teen birth rates have been decreasing since the early 1990s, says Lynn McKibbim, director of the County Health Department's maternal, child and adolescent health program. Pregnancy rates for girls 15 to 19 declined from 90.7 pregnancies per 1,000 teens in 1997 to 51.1 per 1,000 in 1998.

Santa Cruz County's pregnancy rate for teens 14 to 19 has been declining-- from 409 in 1998 to 366 in 1999. But Watsonville still accounts for a disproportionate number of the county's teen moms--259 in 1998, and 216 in 1999.

By comparison, only 78 of the 1999 births were in Santa Cruz, even though its population is roughly 50 percent larger than Watsonville's.

"Monterey County, and south Santa Cruz County, Watsonville in particular, has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation," says Nan Lewicky, a project manager for Population Services International, a social marketing and health education organization that opened in Watsonville last month.

PSI, established in 50 countries, works with community organizations to make birth control and sex education accessible and affordable.

PSI is still in conversation with several Pajaro Valley agencies. "We hope to work with Planned Parenthood, the County Health Department, the YWCA," Lewicky says. "We know that Salud Para La Gente has a wonderful program."

Lewicky points to a 1998 evaluation of PSI's Portland, Ore., program, which shows that the use of condoms among teens rose from 51 percent to 80 percent after PSI moved into town. The percentage of sexually active teens also declined, from 38 to 30 percent.

McKibbim credits prevention and education programs and agencies like Healthy Start, Salud Para La Gente and the YWCA for the downward trend in South County teen births.

Chain Smoker

Some say that chain bookstores don't pay the same attention to the local literary community that independent bookstores have traditionally paid. Actually, the problem with chains like Borders, according to independent booksellers, is that they go out of their way to pander to local authors when they open in a community. But after they've driven the local competition out of business, shelf space for local writers dries up to make room for higher-sales-volume books.

Independent booksellers across the country are currently suing Borders, alleging the store offers illegal discounts on such books. Another way chains undercut independents is in promotional events, like readings. Because the chains buy in such volume, they can induce publishers to strong-arm writers, local or not, into booking readings with chains to the exclusion of independents.

But never mind all that. Those predatory independents must be stopped!

In a recent email to local authors, Sentinel book writer Chris Watson went looking for dirt on local booksellers.

"I'm looking for Santa Cruz-area authors ticked at local bookstores who won't carry their books or host a reading," Watson writes. "Similarly, I'd like to hear from local authors who've found that chain bookstores like Borders are willing to step into the breach and host local authors."

Soliciting help for such a brazen hatchet job left Nu&-z so breathless, we decided we had to print Watson's email in full. The remainder reads:

"I know this is a sensitive issue in Santa Cruz, but as one local author put it recently, 'people are afraid to speak out.' If the issue were TOO hot, we could make it all anonymous in my weekly book column. Hope some brave souls will contact me."

Look for Watson's advertorial for Borders coming soon to a daily newspaper near you.

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From the August 9-16, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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