One recent, groundbreaking study may make you think twice about treating your next ailment by going to the drug store and picking up an herbal supplement—you might actually be buying nothing more than ground-up rice and plants. The New York State attorney general’s office released information a couple of weeks ago exposing several popular stores and companies that have been selling herbal supplements—but without the herbs!
As part of their expose, New York authorities purchased 78 bottles of the leading brands of herbal supplements from various Walmart, Target, Walgreens, and GNC locations across the state. What they found was hard to digest, to say the least. “False advertising” would be an understatement when it comes to describing what these retailors have been passing off to the public. Four out of Five of the tested products did not contain any traceable DNA of the herbs they were advertised to contain. More often then not, they contained only cheap fillers, like powdered rice, asparagus, houseplants, and even legumes (like Soybeans)—a hazard to those with allergies.
In one case, the attorney general tested a big-selling brand of ginseng capsules at Walgreens and found that the capsules contained nothing more than powdered garlic and rice. Over at Target, three out of six supplements from the popular “Up & Up” brand tested negative for the herbs listed on their labels. At GNC, the agency found supplements with unlisted ingredients, like powdered soybeans. This could present a real danger to those with related allergies. Finally, at Walmart, the agency discovered supplements that contained wheat, despite labels that read “gluten-free.”
The attorney general’s findings may come as a shock to the public—but healthcare professionals have long been weary of the quality of supplements that come across the shelves these days, especially considering the fact that supplement manufacturers are actually not held to the strict FDA regulations that prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines are subject to. Rather, the FDA puts the burden of verification on the supplement manufacturers themselves, and then takes their word on faith. If you look up supplement regulations on the FDA’s website, you can see this for yourself in writing:
"Manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements and dietary ingredients are prohibited from marketing products that are adulterated or misbranded. That means that these firms are responsible for evaluating the safety and labeling of their products before marketing to ensure that they meet all the requirements of DSHEA and FDA regulations."
So, essentially, if manufacturers claim that the labels on their products are accurate, the FDA takes their word for it. Unlike the protocol for drugs, the FDA conducts no premarket review or effectiveness tests on these supplements before they hit the shelves. Rather, they are permitted to be sold in mass until something tragic happens. For example, in 2013 a supplement was finally taken off the shelves only after it caused a hepatitis outbreak, infecting 72 people, one whom lost her life.
Now, all that being said, I didn’t write this newsletter to damn every supplement on the market. They do have the capacity to cause harm, but usually only when they are taken incorrectly, or when one or two companies put out false products and damage the reputation of the entire industry. In light of these new findings, we need keep things in perspective. Aspirin, for example, which is subject to strict regulation, has caused more deaths then all supplements combined in the last ten years.
What I really want to get across is that when it comes to supplements, 1) cheaper DOES NOT mean better, and 2) taking a DIY approach to a health problem by picking a bottle off the shelf is usually not the answer. Ultimately, supplements are best purchased by trained, licensed healthcare practitioners, such as acupuncturists, functional medicine practitioners, nutritionists, chiropractors, and other related providers. All in all, this study highlights the fact the seeking professional opinions is more often worth your worthwhile then not, given the amount of companies these days whose only concern is exploiting the public to make a profit.
Quality supplements can really have a positive effect on your health when taken the right way. But before this can happen, you have to do something equally important: be a responsible, informed consumer. While this study took place in New York, you can be sure that the chains tested in this study are not only selling sham supplements in this one area of the country. So the next time you are tempted to pluck a bottle off the shelf, I urge you to consume responsibly, which usually requires getting a professional opinion. In the end, it can you help you save a lot of time, money and frustration.
Please call 734-726-0153 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.