Tomm McKinney: Be careful when selecting herbal supplements

This information is to help you in making a decision about buying both herbal and non-herbal supplements. In a previous column, I shared some information about a lot of supplements that may not be all that they say they are.
Jan 22, 2014
Tomm McKinney

This information is to help you in making a decision about buying both herbal and non-herbal supplements. In a previous column, I shared some information about a lot of supplements that may not be all that they say they are. 

Just a few weeks ago, there were reports on television and news articles about vitamins not providing what they claimed. I am only providing you with what was written in Men’s Journal and would recommend you always check other similar articles. This information is pretty alarming to me, but you need to make up your own mind. 

So here goes, and I quote Men’s Journal. If you’re taking herbal supplements, a new study shows that what’s on the label may not actually be in the pill. Researchers from the University of Guelph in Ontario analyzed common herbal supplements like echinacea, St. John’s wort, psylium and gingko biloba, and found a third of the sample didn’t contain the main ingredient advertised on the bottle. Another third included fillers, such as rice and wheat, that weren’t listed on the label, and could pose a danger to people with allergies. Others contained plants that weren’t disclosed, which cause nausea in some people. 

Fewer than 20 percent of the companies tested (all the manufacturers were kept anonymous for the study) sold products without ant substitutes, fillers or contaminants. In the past 20 years, the popularity of herbal supplements has exploded, with an estimated 18 percent of Americans taking them and companies earning $5 billion annually. 

Advocates believe supplements can improve health naturally – manufacturers claim that echinacea can shorten the length of a cold, for example, and that St. Johns wort can fight mood disorders. There are many studies on the efficacy of herbal treatments (recent studies from the National Institutes of Health on St. John’s wort, for example, show the supplement works no better than a placebo in relieving depression) but little explores the idea that the supplements actually contain the herbs they claim. 

“At some companies, the ingredients are being neglected, others are just fraudulent,” said Dr. Pieter Cohen, a professor of medicine at Harvard University. ”The combination leaves consumers completely in the dark in terms of knowing what they are buying. There is very little oversight of the herbal supplement industry.” 

In 1994, a law was passed that let manufacturers, rather than the government, account for the safety and accuracy of the products they sell. Herbal supplements like flaxseed oil, wheatgrass, turmeric, aloe vera and spirulina (the top five sellers in 2012) do not require the same kind of scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration as pharmaceutical drugs or food on the shelves of a grocery store . The only oversight the FDA requires is that companies back a single standard that what they claim goes into a bottle, and they have the equipment to test it. But even this rule is not always met. 

Next week we will discuss how to get the herbs you’re looking for.

Tomm McKinney is a health coach in Lebanon. Email him at tmckinneyhealthcoach@hotmail.com.

 

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