Herbal supplements filled with contaminants, substitutes and fillers

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As I noted before, when it comes to pharmaceuticals, through testing and regulatory requirements, “when you get such a drug you usually know what you are getting”. Turns out, when you throw in a handful of herbal supplements, you could swallow anything from plain old rice to weeds that give you gas, according to one. recent study examine the content of certain products. Summarizing the results, The New York Times used the title, “Herbal supplements are often not what they seem.” To put it mildly, unless you think of rice as just not looking like St. John’s Wort, a concoction believed to improve depression.

Indeed, the study authors found that of the 12 companies whose 44 products were included in the study, only two had no products containing contaminants, substitutions or ingredients not listed on the label. Using terms such as “contamination” and “fillers,” the researchers make it clear that herbal supplements, in their most harmless state, may contain only rice, but at worst they do contain rice. unlisted ingredients, such as nuts and herbs, which can cause mild to severe reactions. For example, they identified black walnut contamination in a ginkgo product and the contamination of many products by Parthenium hysterophore L., or Santa Maria feverfew. This particular herb can trigger respiratory and skin reactions in humans.

Other unlisted fillers that might end up in unwitting consumers include allergenic plants like soybeans and wheat. Surprise!

This study does not represent the first time that the supplement industry, which largely unregulated in the United States, was called for the content. Almost a decade ago, the experts were talking about how these supplements often contained “only a fraction of the ingredient on their labels, if at all,” as well as contamination from pesticides and heavy metals. This year alone, reports have emerged that dietary supplements are at the top of drug recalls because they contain ingredients that pose a risk of “serious adverse health consequences or death.” One of the largest pediatric hospitals in the United States, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, banned the sale of supplements at its pharmacy in October over concerns that pills and potions could hit shelves unregulated. And barely out of a scientific conference this week are reports indicating that liver damage from supplements is on the increase.

For a full list of what the researchers, based at the University of Guelph, Canada, tested, you can take a look at their table here. It shows what each sample said on the box and what it actually found inside, based on a technique using DNA “barcodes” to identify each compound present and trace it back to the species. original. Any place you see and “a” or “b” added after a term indicates that the authors have found a contaminant, substitute, or filler that has not been disclosed to consumers.

Of course, the industry is unhappy. In one declaration, the American Botanical Council requests that the article be retracted, rewritten and peer reviewed. In the parlance of a bygone era, they provided a list of critiques of the study here in their “HerbalGram.” I will leave it up to the reader to determine their incisiveness and their real relevance to the overall results (example: they criticize the authors of the article for having misnamed a plant, then suggest that the authors could have meant another contaminant known as “adulterating or unintentional substitute … for over 100 years”; uh … isn’t that a contaminant yet?). But the industry reviewers go on to note that:

… we are sensitive to the possibility that some manufacturers add various unlabelled, inexpensive and possibly inert fillers to herbal products to reduce their costs – thus producing a product of questionable activity and benefits -.

And that’s something that more regulation and standardization could control. But the industry has fought vigorously against such regulation, as reported by Paul Offit. in his book Do you believe in magic?. After all, $ 34 billion a year does a lot of (pocket) charges that are worth protecting.


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