Dolomite, Comfrey Tea and Octocosanol.

Many of my family members were greatly interested in health food, in times past. My mother was an avid reader of Prevention magazine. And my Uncle Chet. Well, even the more eccentric members of my family called him a nut. A health food nut, that is.

Anyways, FWIW, one doctor once told me the problem with health food. If there were any chemical, any plant, any herb, that held the cure for cancer, or anything else, modern science would be all over it immediately. But health food fanatics want to dream. So why stop them? (My uncle alone had already had some bad experiences with doctors and medicine.) I digress.

Anyways, some time back, I would say around 30 years ago or so, there were 3 health food items that were all the rage. And now I just don’t hear about them anymore.

Dolomite was offered as a natural Calcium supplement. I am not sure. But I think it might be a mineral or rock. Now, I never hear about it anymore. I know my mother once told me it was reputed to have heavy metals in it. But I don’t know if that has anything to do with its conspicuous absence now.

Comfrey tea was offered as a soothing tonic for the stomach and intestines. I have colitis. So I would often drink it. Now, I do seem to vaguely recall it was found to be toxic to the liver, or something like that. But I drank it for years, with no ill effect.

Octocosanol came out about 30 years ago. Before fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids, it was touted as a heart-healthy fat. I think I spelled it the right way. The funny thing about it is, it was totally the creation of the health food industry. The “octo-” came from the fact it had 8 molecular bonds or something. Frankly I don’t even know what, if anything, it was. I never hear of this now either.

Oh, and maybe you could help me. Around the mid-80’s, there was this supplement that was said to deliver oxygen directly to the brain. Calcium pantomine, or something like that, it was called.

What on earth happened to all these supplements? As I said, they were quite popular at the time. Isn’t health food, like medicine, timeless and unchanging?


You mean to say that there may be passing fads in health food? I’m shocked, shocked!

However, I’m sorry to have to tell you that there are also passing fads in mainstream medicine and pharmaceutical drugs…

Dolomite is a mineral, and also a rock. It’s as much a source of magnesium as calcium. It also nowhere near pure and often does have various things in it like zinc, cobalt, aluminium, arsenic, mercury, and lead in it so yes, that is an issue. Really, there are better sources of calcium which are less likely to have unhealthy contaminants in them.

Comfrey is most definitely toxic to the liver. However, dosage is important. If you’re not drinking enough comfrey tea to outright kill you then obviously you’re not dead. The thing is, liver damage can occur without obvious symptoms until the situation is really, really bad

It’s a “fatty alcohol”, and apparently, from a quick google, found in the waxy coating of eucalyptus leaves, among other things. It’s still available, and seems to be promoted as a way to naturally increase testosterone and sperm production.

I got nuthin’ for this one. But it’s your blood that delivers oxygen to the brain, can’t see any way a supplement you swallow could take that place. Sounds like complete woo to me.

Well, the first two were found to be toxic, dolomite because of the presence of stuff you don’t want in your body, and comfrey because a main component is toxic to your liver (and possibly other body parts). It seems number three is now marketed mostly to body builders and men concerned about sperm production. Number four I’m not even sure what it is.

As a result, dolomite has been largely replaced by alternatives less likely to give you heavy metal poisoning, or induce reported side effects like nausea, constipation, irritation, and/or diarrhea. Comfrey is banned in the US for internal use although if you’re really determined to trash your liver there’s nothing stopping you from growing it yourself and making your own tea. As noted, number three is still out there, but perhaps you are not in the demographic targeted by advertising.

FOOD is timeless. What sold in “health food stores”, oddly enough, is often pills and potions and not actual food. The supplement business, alongside stuff that might actually be of benefit, is full of fads, woo-woo, and outright lies.

As for medicine - no, it’s not “timeless and unchanging”, thank goodness, because otherwise we wouldn’t make any progress. Modern medicine is increasingly evidence based, which is a good thing, and changes over time as new evidence and knowledge is acquired.

It’s a mineral. Confusingly, rock made up mostly of it is also often called dolomite, but properly, it’s the mineral. It’d be both a calcium and magnesium supplement. But most natural dolomite will also have some non-zero heavy metal content (lead has been a particular concern, but you’re also looking at arsenic, mercury, barium, etc.), so I can see why it’s not that popular anymore.

Also, as I understand it, absorption for Ca from dolomite is less than for calcium citrate or calcium carbonate, and that Ca inhibits Mg absorption as well.

*"The pyrrolizidine alkaloids contained in comfrey include intermedine, lycopsamine, symphtine and echnimidine, which are metabolized by the cytochrome P450 enzymes into highly toxic pyrrole metabolites which have alkylating properties that can damage hepatic endothelial cells and can cause sinusoidal obstruction. The amount of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in comfrey varies by the part of the plant used, its age and time of harvesting. The toxicity of pyrrolizidine containing substances is increased by microsomal enzyme inducers such as phenobarbital. Infants appear to be particularly susceptible to pyrrolizidine alkaloid injury.

Hepatotoxicity from comfrey is now rare, as it is widely accepted as being toxic when taken internally and oral formulations are restricted or banned in most countries."*

There are plenty of prescription drugs, herbs and supplements that can damage the liver. The risk needs to be balanced against the usefulness of these products. Comfrey’s dubious benefits do not in my opinion justify the risk of ingestion.

Ol’ Granny always said if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. Served me well for a long time. She lived til 101yo. Just saying.

Granny must’ve been a breatharianist if she followed that mantra (which these days is also promoted by the likes of the Food Babe and Michael Pollan):

“Eating food free of chemicals is quite literally impossible, and many common elements that are vital to good health and continued living have some of the hardest-to-pronounce names,” wrote Mike Rothschild in Attn. He makes a good point. “Tongue-twisters like menatetrenone, ergocalciferol, and cyanocobalamin are all the chemical names of vitamins. Multi-syllabic monsters like dihomo-γ-linolenic acid, docosatetraenoic acid, and docosahexaenoic acid all sound like killers but are really unsaturated fatty acids that are essential to good health. Boiling Pollan’s advice down to the molecular level might seem mean-spirited, but it’s also useful. Science and chemistry are rarely as cut and dried as ‘if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.’”

And whatever you do, never eat a banana. :eek:

I can pronounce “arsenic” just fine, but I have trouble with “Darjeeling”. I don’t think I’m going to follow Grandma’s advice.