Americans, especially seniors, ingest many herbal supplements, such as St. Johns Wort, ginkgo biloba, and echinacea that claim to fight off the common cold, improve memory or fight depression. These claims however, are unproven.
Tests Show Many Herbal Supplements Are FraudulentPosted by Sylvia Cheikosman on
Americans spend over 5 billion dollars annually on these unregulated supplements. Most supplements are unregulated by the FDA because they are neither classified as food or drugs. So how can we be certain that these supplements contain what the advertise?
That’s what was revealed by a new study that used a type of DNA testing that recently has helped detect fraudulent labeling of seafood.
Canadian researchers gathered 44 bottles of supplements sold by 12 companies and representing 30 different species of herbs sold in the U.S. and Canada.
Using DNA bar coding to identify the genes in the ingredients, they found that one-third of the supplements contained contaminants or fillers with no trace of the herb indicated on the label. Fillers included ingredients like powdered rice, soybean and wheat, and some of the contaminants “pose serious health risks to consumers,” the researchers wrote.
Thirty of the 44 bottles had substituted unlisted ingredients, while only two of the 12 companies had products without contamination, substitution or fillers, according to the study.
For example, one bottle labeled as St. John’s wort, which is taken for mild depression, contained only Alexandrian senna, a powerful herbal laxative that can cause chronic diarrhea and liver damage if taken for a prolonged time, the researchers wrote. Gingko biloba and echinacea supplements were found to be contaminated with black walnut, a serious health hazard for people with nut allergies.
Scientists and consumer advocates agree that this is compounding evidence that the herbal supplement industry is riddled with questionable practices, while industry representatives downplayed the problem. as reported by the New York Times.
“Overall, I would agree that quality control is an issue in the herbal industry,” Stefan Gafner, the chief science officer at the American Botanical Council, a nonprofit group that promotes the use of herbal supplements, told the Times, adding, “I don’t think it’s as bad as it looks according to this study.”
Not surprisingly, David Schardt, a senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, had a different take: “Given these results, it’s hard to recommend any herbal supplements to consumers.”
So which brands should consumers avoid? Unfortunately, the researchers wanted to avoid singling out the culprits by name, so no product names were revealed in the study. Probably the best advice is remain highly skeptical and take all those herbal health claims with a giant grain of salt.