Store brand supplements found to contain unlisted contaminants
By Shane Nicholson
New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced last week that his office asked four major retailers to cease the sale of various herbal supplements.
DNA testing carried out on store brand supplements from GNC, Target, Walmart and Walgreens locations showed that just 21 percent verified plants listed on the products’ labels.
Walmart products matched in only four percent of products tested.
“This investigation makes one thing abundantly clear: the old adage ‘buyer beware’ may be especially true for consumers of herbal supplements,” said Attorney General Schneiderman.
“The DNA test results seem to confirm long-standing questions about the herbal supplement industry.”
Popular products such as Echinacea, Ginseng and St. John’s Wort were targets of the investigation carried out in partnership with Clarkson University. Dr. James A. Schulte, an expert in DNA barcoding technology, was hired by the Attorney General’s office to perform the testing.
“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.
Thirty-five percent of products tested identified DNA barcodes from plant species not listed on labels indicating use of contaminants and fillers, and many tests did not reveal any DNA from a botanical substance of any kind.
In some cases unlisted contaminants were the only plant material found in the product samples.
“I applaud the New York Attorney General for taking the additional step of seeking to remove these products from the marketplace as they can cause serious harm to consumers unaware of the actual ingredients in the pills and capsules they ingest,” said Grollman.
“Hopefully, this action can prompt other states to follow New York’s example and lead to the reform of federal laws that, in their current form, are doing little to protect the public.”
A 2013 study by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research estimated that more than 150 million Americans use dietary supplements.
The study also showed that more than half of Food and Drug Administration Class I recalls, reserved for drugs or supplements determined to “cause serious health consequences or death,” issued between 2004 and 2012 were for dietary supplements.
“The evidence for these herbs’ effectiveness is sketchy to begin with,” said David Schardt, Senior Nutritionist of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
“Attorney General Schneiderman has done what federal regulators should have done a long time ago.”