Home » Diet and Nutrition News & Advice » How Safe Are your Supplements?

How Safe Are your Supplements?

Recently, the news headlines have been pretty rough on herbs. From accusations of mislabeling to questions about concentrations, herbal supplements have been bearing the brunt of hostility from the public, investigations from Health Canada, and recalls from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

However, according to leading health experts, the herbal criticism isn’t completely unfounded. With Americans spending roughly $5 billion per year on herbal products to fight everything from aging to colds, a new onslaught of “buyer beware” headlines and safety tips concerning herbal supplements have emerged…

1. Supplements with Unlisted Ingredients

This week an investigation by Health Canada revealed that several Herbal Plus supplements, sold by GNC stores in the U.S. and Canada might not be exactly what they claim to be. The findings led to a cease-and-desist letters issued to four New York-based retailers—including Walmart, GNC, Target, and Walgreens.

Further DNA barcoding studies conducted by the New York Attorney General’s Office discovered that the Herbal Plus-branded Echinacea, ginkgo biloba, saw palmetto, ginseng, and St. John’s wort didn’t contain the as advertised ingredients while many actually included unlisted ingredients. GNC claims total compliance with U.S. and Canadian regulations as investigations continue.

2. Herbal Labeling Fraud

Biologists at the University of Guelph’s Biodiversity Institute of Ontario conducted DNA barcoding tests (or genetic fingerprinting) on 44 bottles of popular supplements, such as Echinacea and St. John’s wort, manufactured by a dozen large health companies.

Shocking test results revealed that a large majority of the 44 herbal products tested were either diluted or entirely fraudulent. For example, one-third of the supplements found zero traces of the plant advertised on the bottle. Most used another plant or cheap fillers (i.e., rice, soybean, or wheat).

3. Supplements with Dangerous Interactions

The same 2013 study from the University of Guelph’s Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, detected mislabeling on supplements that could pose harm on its own and when mixed with other medications.

For instance, out of the 44 supplements tested, 2 sample of Echinacea contained unlisted parthenium hysterophorus, a bitter weed that’s been linked to painful gas, rashes, and nausea. Additional research from the National Institutes of Health found that prolonged exposure to parthenium hysterophorus could cause eczema, hay fever, skin inflammation, asthma, burning eyes, allergic rhinitis, black spotting vision, and blisters around eye area.

4. Supplements with Potentially Deadly Substitutions

Several small research studies, published in the reputed journal, BMC Medicine, uncovered some shocking findings concerning supplements and food allergies.

For instance, ginkgo biloba, often taken to improve memory, is often infused with unlisted black walnut—an obvious danger to those with nut allergies. Further investigations of supplements labeled as St. John’s wort found an outright substitution for the herb in place of wheat and soybean—again a health concern for people with soy and gluten allergies.

5. Snake Oil vs. Herbal Remedy

There has long been a debate over whether herbal “fat burners” cause liver damage. In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pulled OxyElite herbal supplement from consumer retail outlets after it was connected to multiple cases of liver failure. The manufacturer was later jailed for selling the “magical” weight loss cure.

According to this research study, published by the National Institutes of Health, despite patient perceptions, many herbal remedies that tout “fat burning” benefits contain potentially toxic usnic acid, green tea and guggul tree extracts, which can lead to severe hepatotoxicity—including liver failure and need for emergency transplant.

6. Questioning DNA Barcoding of Supplements

You’re not alone, I scratched my head over what exactly DNA barcoding was as well. This form of genetic fingerprinting—meant to pinpoint a plant species by pulling a tiny segment of DNA—is a process surrounded by its own share of controversy.

For example, supplement providers claim that for DNA barcoding to be reliable, a complete database of pre-identified DNA samples must be in place for comparison, and this is currently not the case.  Scientists from the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health also assert that DNA barcoding is not an adequate test for fully potent supplements that contain plant extracts, which many do.

7. Reading Through the Headlines

Largely, experts agree that even if an herbal supplement is mislabeled and totally ineffective—it’s typically safe (unless you have a food allergy). The biggest danger remains with quick fix supplements that promote higher metabolism, better performance, and quick weight loss.

According to medical doctors at the University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill, there are no quick fixes and most of these weight loss pills will land you in ER with serious liver damage, or worse, potentially fatal liver failure. This is why representatives from the FDA’s Division of Dietary Supplements urges consumers to read the claims and avoid taking products that sound to good to be true.


We Recommend

More on ActiveBeat
  • 12 Foods That Can Cause Blood Sugar Levels to Spike
    Being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes can present an individual with a number of significant health challenges that require substantial lifestyle changes.
    Diet and Nutrition News & Advice
  • Fibromyalgia Diet: 4 Foods to Eat and 8 to Avoid
    Pain, fatigue, and tenderness are all common symptoms of fibromyalgia, a chronic disease that affects approximately 5 million people in the United States alone—most of whom are...
    Diet and Nutrition News & Advice
  • 12 Simple Remedies for Upset Stomach and Indigestion
    There's nothing fun about upset stomach and indigestion -- when it's bad, it can make carrying out even the most simple activities, like driving to work or looking after the kids,...
    Diet and Nutrition News & Advice
  • 12 Natural Remedies for Sleep Apnea
    Getting a good night's sleep -- which for most people will mean around seven to eight hours in a night -- is an important part of being alert and effective in both your...
    Diet and Nutrition News & Advice
  • 12 Differences and Similarities of Ministroke And Ischemic Stroke
    A stroke is always just a stroke, right? Not always. There are the classic strokes that cause all the telltale signs such as slurred speech and numbness in the limbs on one side,...
    Diet and Nutrition News & Advice
  • Eyeing the 12 Early Warning Signs of Glaucoma
    Glaucoma is a degenerative eye disease (of which there are several different forms) that can completely rob you of your vision.
    Diet and Nutrition News & Advice
  • 12 Important Medical Facts to Know About Liver Cirrhosis
    Liver cirrhosis is a serious condition in which healthy liver cells are replaced by scar tissue. According to MedicalNewsToday.
    Diet and Nutrition News & Advice
  • Top 15 Inflammatory Foods
    Inflammation is the body's natural response to safeguard against foreign bacteria, viruses, and infection.
    Diet and Nutrition News & Advice
  • Don't Be Shortsighted With These 12 Facts About Children's Vision
    We tend to worry more about eye problems and deteriorating vision as we age, but the truth is that children can have a variety of eye ailments that can threaten their eyesight as...
    Diet and Nutrition News & Advice
  • 12 Reasons to Try Bodyweight Exercises
    Many people looking to lose weight, gain muscle strength, or simply feel better physically and mentally through physical exercise make the decision to join a gym.
    Diet and Nutrition News & Advice
  • 15 Indications of an Under-Active Thyroid
    According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), roughly 5-percent of U.S. adults suffer from hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, making it the most prevalent immune...
    Diet and Nutrition News & Advice
  • 14 Healthy Foods Your Liver Will Thank You For
    Your liver – it's a very important organ in your body, but it's also one of the most neglected and abused.
    Diet and Nutrition News & Advice
  • 15 Warning Signs of Magnesium Deficiency
    The signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency are vast. Some are subtle, while others can cause serious health problems.
    Diet and Nutrition News & Advice
  • 15 Symptoms of a Gallbladder Attack
    Gallbladder attacks are downright scary! Often mistaken for a heart attack, when the gallbladder is unhealthy, this small digestive organ is unable to properly aid the digestive...
    Diet and Nutrition News & Advice
  • 12 Probiotic Foods That Can Help with Digestion
    The idea that you have live microorganisms called "probiotics" living in your stomach and intestines might sound a little creepy at first, until you understand that these organisms...
    Diet and Nutrition News & Advice