Are your supplements real? Or are you throwing away money on “snake oil”? Four major national retailers are now accused of selling fake and/or harmful supplements. The New York State attorney general’s office has told the retailers they must remove them from their shelves. An investigation by state authorities found that a number of top-selling store brands of herbal supplements at the four major retailers did not contain any of the herbs listed on their labels. Instead, they contained cheap fillers like powdered vegetables and houseplants.
Some of the findings from the investigation: Walmart’s ginkgo biloba, marketed as a memory booster, contains powdered radish, houseplants and wheat, although it is claimed to be wheat and gluten-free. Walgreen’s store brand of ginseng contains only powdered garlic and rice. Three herbal products at Target — St. John’s wort, ginkgo biloba, and the sleep aid Valerian root – contained only powdered rice, beans, peas and wild carrots. At GNC, pills contained unlisted ingredients such as powdered legumes – including peanuts and soybeans, which can trigger allergic reactions.
Here is a summary of the results:
DNA testing was performed by Dr. James A. Schulte II of Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y. on samples purchased in New York State. The DNA tests were performed on three to four samples of each of the six herbal supplements purchased from the New York stores. Each sample was tested five times. Three hundred and ninety tests involving 78 samples were performed overall.
- Six “Herbal Plus” brand herbal supplements per store were purchased and analyzed: Gingko Biloba, St. John’s Wort, Ginseng, Garlic, Echinacea, and Saw Palmetto. Purchased from four locations with representative stores in Binghamton, Harlem, Plattsburgh & Suffolk.
- Only one supplement consistently tested for its labeled contents: Garlic. One bottle of Saw Palmetto tested positive for containing DNA from the saw palmetto plant, while three others did not. The remaining four supplement types yielded mixed results, but none revealed DNA from the labeled herb.
- Of 120 DNA tests run on 24 bottles of the herbal products purchased, DNA matched label identification 22% of the time.
- Contaminants identified included asparagus, rice, primrose, alfalfa/clover, spruce, ranuncula, houseplant, allium, legume, saw palmetto, and Echinacea.
- Six “Up & Up” brand herbal supplements per store were purchased and analyzed: Gingko Biloba, St. John’s Wort, Valerian Root, Garlic, Echinacea, and Saw Palmetto. Purchased from three locations with representative stores in Nassau County, Poughkeepsie, and Syracuse.
- Three supplements showed nearly consistent presence of the labeled contents: Echinacea (with one sample identifying rice), Garlic, and Saw Palmetto. The remaining three supplements did not reveal any DNA from the labeled herb.
- Of 90 DNA tests run on 18 bottles of the herbal products purchased, DNA matched label identification 41% of the time.
- Contaminants identified included allium, French bean, asparagus, pea, wild carrot and saw palmetto.
- Six “Finest Nutrition” brand herbal supplements per store were purchased and analyzed: Gingko Biloba, St. John’s Wort, Ginseng, Garlic, Echinacea, and Saw Palmetto. Purchased from three locations with representative stores in Brooklyn, Rochester and Watertown.
- Only one supplement consistently tested for its labeled contents: Saw Palmetto. The remaining five supplements yielded mixed results, with one sample of garlic showing appropriate DNA. The other bottles yielded no DNA from the labeled herb.
- Of the 90 DNA test run on 18 bottles of herbal products purchased, DNA matched label representation 18% of the time.
- Contaminants identified included allium, rice, wheat, palm, daisy, and dracaena (houseplant).
- Six “Spring Valley” brand herbal supplements per store were purchased and analyzed: Gingko Biloba, St. John’s Wort, Ginseng, Garlic, Echinacea, and Saw Palmetto. Purchased from three geographic locations with representative stores in Buffalo, Utica and Westchester.
- None of the supplements tested consistently revealed DNA from the labeled herb. One bottle of garlic had a minimal showing of garlic DNA, as did one bottle of Saw Palmetto. All remaining bottles failed to produce DNA verifying the labeled herb.
- Of the 90 DNA test run on 18 bottles of herbal products purchased, DNA matched label representation 4% of the time. Contaminants identified included allium, pine, wheat/grass, rice mustard, citrus, dracaena (houseplant), and cassava (tropical tree root).
Are your Supplements Real?
How can you tell if your supplements are real, or exactly what is in the supplement? Unfortunately, you can’t. This is one reason why we at Get Years Younger don’t put a lot of faith in supplements. We believe that the best way to get all the nutrients you need is from the food you eat. But if you feel that you must have them, follow this advice from Dr. Oz’ website:
1. Prescription “Strength”: Avoid anything that claims to be an alternative to a prescription. If a supplement claims to be an alternative to a FDA-approved drug or have effects similar to a prescription drug, these are red flags. Only take a prescription drug under a doctor’s care – don’t go seeking out potentially dangerous alternatives.
2. Foreign-Language Packaging: Avoid products marked primarily in a foreign language. Pay especially close attention to packaging. If you can’t understand what’s on the label, don’t buy it. Also be on the look out for misspelled words or poor grammar. If you can’t find the company name, a website or a phone number on the package, it’s a huge warning sign.
3. Miracle Claims: Avoid supplements that make miracle claims – or simply seem too good to be true. If it claims to be “long-lasting” or to work “rapidly” – in minutes or hours – that’s a red flag. If it says you can lose weight without changing your diet or exercising, that’s also a red flag. If you only have to pop the pill to get instantaneous results or ones that far exceed any realistic expectations, don’t purchase or use this supplement.
And unless your Doctor recommends something else, the only supplement most people need is a simple daily multivitamin.
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