What you want might not be in there but what you don’t want just may be

A study to be published Friday in the journal BMC Medicine concludes that people taking herbals and dietary supplements are not always getting what they pay for.

Herbal remedies study: Natural products often mislabelled | Toronto Star.

[W]hen scientists from the University of Guelph scoured the DNA in a number of herbal products, they found that many times the labels on the merchandise didn’t accurately reflect what was in the container.

Some products contained fillers like wheat or rice that were not listed on the label. Some were contaminated with other plant species that could have caused toxicity or triggered allergic reactions. And still others contained no trace of the substance the bottle purported to contain.

“It says ginkgo biloba . . . and we didn’t find any ginkgo DNA at all in the bottle,” said Steve Newmaster, an integrative biology professor at the university who was the first author on the paper.

The researchers tested 44 products sold by 12 different companies. Nearly 60% of the products contained DNA from at least one plant species that wasn’t listed on the product label.

Harmful substances may be in them without disclosure. And the so called active ingredient may be missing. How does this happen? Easy. Dietary supplements are basically unregulated for what’s in them and if they work. In fact, nothing is checked regarding safety until complaints are made.

Clearly quality controls are missing. A larger study needs to be done but this is indicative of a serious problem that is not news to those of us that follow the circus of alt med and OTC stuff like this.

Tip: Steve Port

Addition: Commentary on Neurologica Blog.

  6 comments for “What you want might not be in there but what you don’t want just may be

  1. neko
    October 14, 2013 at 2:18 PM

    I have officially given up in despair on this. People I tell taking supplements don’t listen, they just get insulted and stare at me in chagrin when I describe that supplements are not regulated by the FDA, etc, in the US. Why? Cause, of course, “that can’t be right.”

    And, even worse, most MDs don’t bother to argue with them. I’m not sure if some are quacks, or if they don’t want to bother fighting with their patients, but they don’t try to talk them out of supplements and everyone I know takes that as medical approval.

    In fact, no one believes me because none of their doctors object and some, supposedly, even encourage use of supplements. I’ve been able to convince most of my circle of friends that chiropractors and osteopaths are not actually doctors anymore than bus drivers are, unless they happen to also have an MD.

    Or well, I hope I have. At least, they’ve stopped arguing with me. Is It a bad sign when the injury goes numb, and people stop condescending to you?

  2. Chris Howard
    October 14, 2013 at 3:00 PM

    That doesn’t even take into account when alt. med and supplement providers adulterate their products with actual medicine.

    Apparently Chinese herbalists get caught regularly adding Viagra to their virility “treatments” without informing their patients, and that’s just one example.

    It makes you wonder how many illnesses, and deaths, are caused by reactions to ingredients that aren’t listed? Of course it’s as easy to solve as adequate testing, and regulation, but then the alt med crowd would have to prove that their concoctions actually worked.

    They realize that they have everything to lose, and nothing to gain by submitting their products for proper testing.

    Shame on them.

  3. October 14, 2013 at 7:54 PM

    Although this is an excellent addition to the body of evidence that Big Alt Phama is not to be trusted, what’s really needed is a good control study of non-alt over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. There’s no point in indicting Alt Pharma if your local drugstore is selling otherwise reputable, tested pharmaceuticals with similarly mislabeled or fraudulent ingredients.

    In other words, for the alt med story to have real impact, we have to show that mainstream meds are what they say they are.

  4. BobM
    October 14, 2013 at 10:19 PM

    This sort of thing is very common, in fact so common I thought it was well known? I once heard a scientist (years ago) who was researching shark cartilage, say the actual percentage of the product in the bottle range from 5% upwards. So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised?

  5. October 15, 2013 at 2:26 AM

    I have found the occasion to take a very short list of herbal supplements that are backed up by robust studies. One source of info on quality is consumerlab.com. They test multiple brands of the same supplement for content and contamination. They also offer some review of studies regarding the efficacy of the tested supplements. Sometimes they seem to accept studies at face value, without evaluating their quality, but I think it is a good resource when used as one part of a decision making process.

    Consumer Lab requires a membership to access their results and reviews online, but the price seems reasonable if you are considering spending money on what might be a questionable healthcare product.

  6. One Eyed Jack
    October 15, 2013 at 10:06 PM

    People really need to understand that they is virtually NO FDA REGULATION of supplements. As they fall under the category of GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) they are allowed to produce products with very little oversight. A little paperwork saying they put what they say they did in it is about all that’s required.

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