Disturbing news about herbal and dietary supplements: Part II

Disturbing news about herbal and dietary supplements: Part II

Earlier this week, we began a discussion about herbal and dietary supplements sold in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration does not have pre-market approval authority over products sold as supplements, which means that dangerous products can only be removed from store shelves after they have caused problems. The sheer number of supplements sold in the U.S. makes it especially difficult for consumers to know which are safe and which are not.

It has long been known that the lax standards regulating supplements sometimes results in mislabeled products that are missing key ingredients, contain unlisted filler ingredients or both. Until recently, this was thought to be a somewhat rare problem - at least as far as dietary and herbal supplements were concerned.

Unfortunately, some of the nation's largest retailers appear to be selling store-brand supplements that do not hold up to scrutiny. Over the past couple years, the New York state attorney general's office has been conducting tests on herbal supplements sold by Target, Walmart, Walgreens and GNC.

According to the test results, about 80 percent of herbal supplement products did not contain detectable amounts of the herbs specifically advertised on their labels. For instance, the store-brand ginseng pills sold by Walgreens allegedly contained no ginseng whatsoever.

Additionally, a significant number of the supplements contained cheap filler ingredients not listed on the labels, despite the fact that some of these ingredients could be dangerous to individuals with allergies. Some products advertised that they were "wheat and gluten-free," but tests showed that they were made with wheat as a filler ingredient. Other common fillers included powdered rice, asparagus and house plants.

The tests were conducted in New York by products purchased in New York-based stores. But because these four retailers are nationwide chains, it is fairly safe to assume that the products they sell here in California are of equally poor quality and efficacy.

At best, this could be a widespread case of false advertising. If that's the case, consumers are not endangering their health but are paying for products that do not work as advertised. At worst, however, this could be endangering the health of an unknown number of consumers by major retailers more concerned with profit than with product quality.


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