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Are Popular Herbal Supplements Dangerous to Your Health?

April 2, 2016
Plain English Version

HerbalHerbal supplements are an annual $5 billion dollar business.

There are questions about how pure these products are. Questions have been raised about whether they contain the supplements they list on their labels.

An investigation by the New York Attorney General (NYAG) showed most of the products tested do not contain what they say they do.

The NYAG pulled bottles from the shelves of Walmart, Target, Walgreens and GNC – all national retailers. They sent the bottles to a lab for testing.

The results showed that four out of five of the products did not contain any of the herbs listed on their labels. A popular store brand of ginseng pills at Walgreens contained only powdered garlic and rice. The ginkgo biloba at Walmart contained contaminants such as powered radish, houseplants and wheat.

Three out of six herbal products at Target tested negative for the herbs on their labels. But they did contain powdered rice, beans, peas and wild carrots. The NYAG agency found pills with unlisted ingredients used as fillers at GNC

A scientist said, “If this data is accurate, then it is an unbelievably devastating indictment of the industry. We are talking about products at mainstream retailers like Walmart and Walgreens that are expected to be the absolute highest quality.”

The Food and Drug Administration makes every company certify their herbal supplement products. However, most of the testing is done by an honor code.

Three of the companies took action right away. GNC said it “stood behind the quality and purity of its store brand supplements.” It is reviewing its stock.

People are questioning the accuracy of the lab tests. However, the industry is not very regulated. Critics say it is easy for dangerous supplements to reach the market. For example, an infant in a hospital died after taking a popular probiotic. The probiotic was contaminated with yeast.

A NY  official said, “The burden is now with the industry to prove what is in these supplements.”

Source: The New York Times February 3, 2015

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