Supplements Lie, And The FDA’s Hands Are Tied


12 of 15 GNC Saw Palmetto tests found no saw palmetto in the bottle. Of the 3 that did, it wasn’t much: “did not predominate.” Four tests were unable to identify any plant material at all. Similar instances of audacious contamination and fraud were discovered in 7 supplements from 4 major retailers.

Even though I’ve written about this for years, even though I’m aware that what the label says is in the bottle is not always – actually not often – what is in the bottle, findings like this next one still surprise me. I guess I keep thinking that no business would risk selling rice powder for St. John’s wort or grass clippings for Ginseng, which is what the New York Attorney General’s team found when they tested some supplements:

State of New York, Office of the Attorney General: Retailers Are Warned Over Herbal Supplements

A.G. Schneiderman Asks Major Retailers To Halt Sales Of Certain Herbal Supplements As DNA Tests Fail To Detect Plant Materials Listed On Majority Of Products Tested

The supplements were private label brands from GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart. The products that were contaminated – most contained none of the specified herb – were echinacea, ginseng, St. John’s wort, garlic, ginkgo biloba, saw palmetto, and valerian.

Pretty much all of Walmart’s herbs were lies:

“Only 4% of the Walmart products tested showed DNA from the plants listed on the products’ labels.”

It gets worse. The stuff in the pills (some of which wasn’t even identifiable as plant material, “no plant DNA whatsoever” and “no plant genetic material of any sort was identified in the product” … what was it?) sometimes contained known allergens, toxins, and irritants that weren’t listed on the label, e.g. wheat gluten, beans, tree nuts, garlic, mustard, cassava, rice (arsenic), pine, citrus, and the laxative senna.

“This study undertaken by Attorney General Schneiderman’s office is a well-controlled, scientifically-based documentation of the outrageous degree of adulteration in the herbal supplement industry,” said Arthur P. Grollman, M.D., Professor of Pharmacological Sciences at Stony Brook University.

The FDA doesn’t have the authority or the manpower to test supplements for things like contamination, mislabeling, safety, or if the herb does what the manufacturer claims it does (efficacy). The blame here, to me, lies certainly with the people who knowingly put ground-up houseplants into pills and labeled them as St. John’s wort or ginkgo biloba (no exaggeration). But it also lies with American voters who have for at least 20 years (since The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 that ensured supplements remained unregulated, without proof of effectiveness or safety) put people in office who work hard to keep supplements unregulated and the supplement industry enormously profitable (“the dietary supplement industry contributes $61 billion dollars to the national economy“). Apparently, the public’s outcry to “Just Label It” in reference to GMOs doesn’t apply to dietary supplements. We have been fighting to keep ourselves in the dark. It’s our own fault.

6 thoughts on “Supplements Lie, And The FDA’s Hands Are Tied

  1. Pingback: 40% Of Tested Multivitamins Don’t Contain What Their Labels Say They Contain | Fanatic Cook

  2. Pingback: People Who Take Supplements Are Not Stupid | Fanatic Cook

  3. Pingback: Vox Creates Searchable Database Of Supplements Containing Hidden Drugs | Fanatic Cook

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