For the millions who shop for store-brand herbal supplements at mega retailers like Walmart, you’re in for a big surprise. An investigation by the New York State attorney general’s office into store-brand supplements has found that many herbal supplements not not only contain arguably no herbs, but also don’t contain the main ingredient/herb advertised.
The investigation targeted 4 national retailers — GNC, Target, Walgreens and Wal-Mart, each of which received cease-and-desist letters demanding that a number of their supplements be taken off the market. In addition to containing phony filler and potential unlisted allergens, many of these supplements didn’t even contain the herbs shown on their labels.
“Contamination, substitution and falsely labeling herbal products constitute deceptive business practices and, more importantly, present considerable health risks for consumers,” said the letters.
As reported by the New York Times:
“The tests were conducted using a process called DNA barcoding, which identifies individual ingredients through a kind of ‘genetic fingerprinting.’ The investigators tested 24 products claiming to be seven different types of herb — echinacea, garlic, gingko biloba, ginseng, saw palmetto, St. John’s wort and valerian root. All but five of the products contained DNA that was either unrecognizable or from a plant other than what the product claimed to be.
Additionally, five of the 24 contained wheat and two contained beans without identifying them on the labels — both substances are known to cause allergic reactions in some people.”
- Most of the supplements contained phony fillers.
- Many of the supplements contained unlisted allergens. Five of the 24 products tested contained unlisted wheat, and 2 contained unlisted beans — both of which are known to cause allergic reactions in some people.
- Some of the supplements didn’t even contain the herb advertised. All but 5 of the 24 products tested contained DNA that was either unrecognizable or from a plant other than what the product claimed to be.
- None of Walmart’s 6 supplements tested were found to contain purely the ingredient advertised.
- Tests on 6 of the Target brand’s products resulted in only one unqualified positive.
Harvard Medical School assistant professor Pieter Cohen, who is an expert on supplement safety, said the test results were so extreme he found them hard to accept, and that the ingredients’ DNA must have been destroyed during manufacturing. He also said: “if this data is accurate, then it is an unbelievably devastating indictment of the industry.”
While Walmart and GNC stated they would respond “appropriately” to the findings, it is reported that Walgreens will remove the offending products from its shelves nationwide. Target did not respond to requests for comment.
The investigation is an important reminder to always research supplements before you buy them, as they could contain toxic fillers, GMOs, synthetic vitamins, and – as revealed – not even offer the ingredient advertised. Do some research, trust your sources, and support those who truly care about offering an authentic health-boosting supplement.