Dietary supplements should be labeled with “?”

Herbal Menopause Supplement Often Contains Other Species, DNA Bar Coding Reveals
Genetic analyses found herbs similar to black cohosh were being sold in commercial preparations of the popular remedy, possibly explaining mixed results and casting doubt on supplement label accuracy

When hormone replacement therapy was found to put some menopausal women at increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, many went in search of safer treatments to decrease their symptoms. In the ensuing decade black cohosh has won out as an overwhelming consumer favorite, now reaping millions of dollars in sales each year.

But controlled trials of this supplement have seen mixed results, sometimes showing it to be effective in relieving hot flashes, sleep disruptions, mood swings and other symptoms whereas other times revealing it to be ineffective. And some case reports even suggest that it can be toxic, damaging the liver.

Using this technology, which locates and sequences specific areas of a plant’s genome (specifically, two matK gene nucleotides), [researchers] were able to determine that one quarter of commercially available “black cohosh” pills were not the herb at all. Their findings were published this July in the Journal of AOAC International.

Tip: r/skeptic

It’s not that 1/4 these treatments didn’t contain the right black cohosh, they didn’t contain it at all, but something else!

We get story after story on how dietary supplement are not what they appear to be: either there is no evidence for their health claims or, through this new technology, it is determined that they contain other substances, some of which may be harmful. How can this be?

Well, the U.S law allows for this. You can thank Orrin Hatch. Unlike drugs, supplements are not required to be tested for safety or efficacy by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before they hit the market. And testing to make sure the contents match the label are much more lax as well.

Here is a piece by Joe Schwarcz that describes what happened and ANOTHER problem created by the bad law.

Is it natural or is it synthetic? Paradoxically, that’s the pertinent question when it comes to the legality of marketing dimethylamylamine (DMAA) as a dietary supplement in the U.S. And it all has to do with a piece of legislation passed in 1994 known as the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). This bizarre act has little to do with the relationship between dietary supplements and health, and nothing at all to do with education. It is a scientific travesty.

The DSHEA was in large part the handiwork of Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, a state populated by numerous supplement manufacturers that felt threatened by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s attempts to combat the mushrooming cases of health fraud. The supplement industry went to work and whipped the public into a frenzy by falsely claiming that the government intended to take away their freedom to choose dietary supplements, including vitamins. This was utter nonsense, but the “freedom-to-choose” argument mustered enough traction to allow the passage of the DSHEA by a Congress more interested in appeasing the electorate than in championing science.

The bottom line is, you are fooling yourself or BEING fooled by thinking that dietary supplements are worth your money. And, they could be creating new health issues for you. Odds are, they aren’t worth it.

  2 comments for “Dietary supplements should be labeled with “?”

  1. oldebabe
    September 21, 2012 at 4:20 PM

    While II can’t speak authoritatively on dietary supplements or the alt. med industry, I can share this anecdote about the needs of a VERY post-menapausal person. I do now nor ever have taken any `supplements, et al.’, and in fact even stopped taking the doc-prescribed estrogen drug at 70, to date (I am 82 now) I still have the terrible heat surges daily (to call them `hot flashes’ describes nothing). One thing that has helped reduce the frequency of these surges for me has been my eating about a tablespoon of soy beans at least every other day. Helped, somewhat diminished, but NOT gone. It is very understandable to me that a woman would be willing to try almost anything, scam or not, dangerous or not… just in case… and, therefore, becomes the perfect foil for health fraudsters.

  2. September 22, 2012 at 12:41 PM

    I love this quote from comedian Jim Gaffigan:

    “I don’t even know who herbal supplements are for…it’s like ‘Hey…if you’re not wasting enough money on vitamins that don’t work you should check out this stuff that’s kind of the horoscope of vitamins.'”

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