I am writing in response to the scandalous NY Attorney General’s investigation of herbal supplements sold at major retailers including GNC, Target, Walmart and Walgreens because clearly these are not good quality supplements. The gist of the investigation is that when the house brands (meaning Target brand or Walmart brand) of different herbal products were tested, the majority of them didn’t contain any of the herb listed on the label. Instead they contained food or filler ingredients designed to mimic that herb like mustard, powdered rice, wheat or radish or powdered house plants. Obviously some of these fillers could be dangerous to those with allergies or sensitivities and they did not appear anywhere on the label. The New York Attorney General’s office issued a cease and desist order to these retailers, demanding that they fix the problem. The quote below was taken from the cease and desist letters reprinted in the NY Times.
“Contamination, substitution and falsely labeling herbal products constitute deceptive business practices and, more importantly, present considerable health risks for consumers,”
There is some question as to the methods the Attorney General’s office used to test the supplements, as it is not a well-established way of testing herbal products. The American Botanical Council issued a response to this test stating:
“The action by the New York Attorney General is highly problematic,” added Blumenthal. “We here at ABC are sympathetic with the AG’s obvious concern about the reported problems associated with adulteration of herbal ingredients in dietary supplements. After all, ABC is the international leader in educating the industry, researchers, and health professionals about the problems associated with adulterated botanical ingredients through our leadership of the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Program. However, everything we are doing in our Program is based on scientific research, including evaluation of appropriate testing methods, and full peer review. We respectfully must question whether an appropriate level of scientific rigor has been applied in this case.”
As this particular case unfolds we will learn the truth – which I believe is a mix of both sides of the story. It could be that there is some of the active ingredient in the products that the DNA testing failed to detect, but if DNA testing detected ingredients that aren’t on the label, then that’s an equally big problem. The supplement industry is full of sad cases like this in which customers are buying products in good faith to help themselves based on their own research and investigation, but not getting what they pay for, and in some cases getting dangerous substitutes.
Finding Good Quality Supplements:
It is important to buy supplements from trusted sources, most frequently from health care practitioners themselves, or from a retailer who can carry professional grade products like Peoples Rx . The problems within the industry are readily apparent. Complex regulations that are hugely expensive to follow, with nobody to actually enforce those regulations leads to a lot of companies bending the rules. Especially herbal and supplement companies that are trying to be the cheapest product out there – which is mostly what large retailers carry.
Don’t look for the cheapest supplements. Higher price doesn’t always mean better quality, but lower price always means that the company has cut some corners somewhere to deliver a cheaper product. There are several things to look for when choosing good quality supplements – and some of it comes down to brand knowledge. Research the products you buy before you buy them, or better yet take them under the advisement of a well trained professional. If you’re looking for products on your own look for:
- GMP certified – All supplement companies should meet the Good Manufacturing Practice guidelines set out by the FDA and should be inspected regularly to make sure they are still in compliance. Products should state that they are GMP certified on the label.
- Professional-only – Most supplement companies sell to anyone, anywhere. But those typically don’t go through the level of testing and verification that professional-only lines do. These are companies that only sell through health professionals because their products are strong and effective enough that it is important for customer safety that they be used correctly. Some retail outfits, like Peoples Rx are able to stock products like this because their wellness staff is composed of trained health professionals. For the most part these products will be found in your practitioner’s office.
- Independently tested – Professional lines are all independently tested to verify that the ingredients listed on the label are actually in the bottle, and that there isn’t anything extra in there that shouldn’t be. This is a big deal because the products tested by the Attorney General’s office largely didn’t have any of the herb they claimed to have – meaning those capsules were filled with something else. Don’t risk your health on “something else.”
- 800 Number – Companies who stand by their product quality will make it easy for you to contact them to ask them about the products, the verification that they go through, and the quality standards that are in place. Look for an 800 number on the product label and feel free to call them to ask all of your questions.
Companies Who Manufacture Good Quality Supplements:
The supplement industry is both under-regulated and easy to mis-use. In spite of that there are still companies that are out there doing it right. They are spending their own money to make sure that their products are batch-tested and that everything that’s on the label is in the bottle. The companies that I trust and have personally looked into include:
- Pure Encapsulations
- Thorne Research
- Integrative Therapeutics Inc (ITI)
- Standard Process
This is not a complete list, but these are companies that I use most frequently and have researched extensively. I would urge you to always look for good quality supplements and skip the bargain bin – there are some things you don’t want to compromise. Also, by buying high quality supplements and skipping the bargain bin, you are reinforcing the message to the makers of these supplements that we want the real thing. As consumers we don’t want to be deceived, we are willing to do the research to find the best products.