Numerous store-brand herbal supplements sold by leading retailers do not contain the ingredients listed on their labels or contain undeclared ingredients, posing serious heath risks for people with allergies or those who take certain medications, according to an ongoing investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office.
Dietary supplements sold by stores such as GNC, Target, Walmart and Walgreen Co. were subjected to DNA testing during which researchers found discrepancies such as Walmart-brand Echinacea to help protect against colds contain no Echinacea at all, and GNC-brand St. John’s wort used to treat depression contained traces of a tropical plant but no trace of St. John’s wort.
Researchers said that only one out of every five supplements tested actually contained the herbs listed on the bottle, and many were packed with fillers such as wheat, rice, beans and everyday houseplants.
Herbal supplements tested included store brands of Echinacea, ginseng, ginkgo biloba, saw palmetto, garlic and St. John’s wort. The retail chain that scored lowest on authenticity of ingredients of its herbal supplements was Walmart, where only 4 percent of the supplements tested actually contained DNA from the plants listed on the labels.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent letters to GNC, Target, Walmart and Walgreens demanding they immediately stop selling the products because they were adulterated or mislabeled and could cause serious risks to consumers.
Herbal supplements claim to treat everything from memory loss to prostate problems, and are consumed by more than 150 million Americans, with sales topping $6 billion. Since these products are not considered drugs, herbal supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as rigorously as prescription drugs. Furthermore, the agency will not verify their safety and efficacy.
The tests show that the industry is in urgent need of regulation, says nutritionist David Schardt of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. He also said the tests should convince consumers not to waste money on dietary supplements.