Herbal Supplement Scams
Over the years I've shared some disturbing information about diet and exercise supplements that are killing people. Frequently I get emails and phone calls from people that say, "I know that's true about DIET supplements, but I only take HERBAL supplements. They're safe, right?"
I've been looking into herbal supplements for a little over three years now and what I found is disturbing.
Let's play a game. Pretend I own a restaurant and you're a customer coming in for lunch. You look at the menu, read about all the tempting things I have and decide to order. You tell the waitperson that you'd like my chicken special that comes with roasted broccoli, potato salad and a whole-wheat roll.
A little later the waitperson brings out your meal. But instead of chicken, it's rat meat. There's no roasted broccoli or potato salad, just chopped up poison ivy. And instead of a wheat roll, you get a burnt and moldy crouton. Would you eat it? Probably not.
But now let's pretend I have a magic machine in my kitchen. That machine allows me to change the look of any food I sell and make things like rat meat, look and taste like chicken. It can't change the rat meat INTO chicken, it can just make it SEEM like chicken. If you saw that plate of changed food, you would eat it, because you didn't know any better.
That's what's happening when you buy many herbal supplements. Companies buy raw ingredients and process them into pills, powders and capsules. They know that you, the consumer, can't look at a pill and see what they've put inside, so they take shortcuts. They don't buy the expensive ingredients the label promises, instead they put in whatever cheap filler is at hand.
A research team decided to look into some of the more popular medicinal herbs. They purchased random samples from several brands at stores in both Canada and the United States. When they did a DNA analysis of the ingredients, they found 1/3 of the "herbal supplements" they had purchased, didn't have any of the advertised ingredients in the bottle.
Product substitution was revealed in 30 of the 44 products tested. Researchers had purchased the herbal version of rat meat instead of chicken.
The problem wasn't isolated to a few off-brands. Researchers purchased "44 herbal products representing 12 companies and 30 different species of herbs." Only two of the twelve companies had products without any substitution, contamination or fillers.
There were more problems. Ginkgo biloba supplements had black walnut, a potentially deadly ingredient for anyone with nut allergies. Echinacea supplements were full of a ground-up bitter weed called parthenium hysterophorus that's been linked to nausea and rashes. One bottle of St. John's wort had nothing but rice in it and another bottle was full of Alexandrian senna, a laxative. Wheat was one of the products use as a filler, without any warning for people with gluten sensitivity.
This isn't an isolated problem. In 2011 a study was done on herbal teas and researchers found similar issues. Mark Y. Stoeckle and his team found that, "About 1/3 of herbal teas generated DNA identifications not found on labels." They concluded that "unlisted ingredients are common in herbal teas."
That was followed up by a study published in 2012 that looked at black cohosh herbal dietary supplements. The researchers found that a full 25% of the samples, nine of the 36 they tested, did NOT contain black cohosh.
Three different studies on herbal products had researchers randomly test what's being sold. In all three, about 1/3 failed to include any of the ingredients promised on the bottle label.
In every case, the researchers made similar recommendations. Companies that sell herbal products, should use DNA barcoding to authenticate their products, in testing of both raw materials and again on the finished product.
So why does this happen?
Supplements are NOT tested like drugs. No government agency checks to make sure they work. Dosages are not verified. Ingredients are not confirmed. Claims on the label are left entirely up to the supplement company.
Supplement companies are NOT regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are NOT regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The government only steps in once they start hearing complaints of injury or death.
If you're taking, or thinking about taking supplements, herbal or otherwise, make an appointment with a doctor and get their professional opinion.
You should also read my article, The Four Point Reality Check that'll give you specific things to look for when evaluating supplements. Quit eating rat meat disguised as chicken.
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beginning any diet or exercise program.