Herbal Supplement Shenanigans?
Bottles of Walmart-brand echinacea, an herb said to ward off colds, were found to contain no echinacea at all. GNC-brand bottles of St. John’s wort, touted as a cure for depression, held rice, garlic and a tropical houseplant, but not a trace of the herb. In fact, DNA testing on hundreds of bottles of store-brand herbal supplements sold as treatments for everything from memory loss to prostate trouble found that four out of five contained none of the herbs on the label. Instead, they were packed with cheap fillers such as wheat, rice, beans or houseplants.
Based on the testing commissioned by his office, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Tuesday he has sent letters to the four major store chains involved — GNC, Target, Walmart and Walgreens — demanding that they immediately stop selling adulterated or mislabeled dietary supplements.
Schneiderman said the supplements pose serious risks. People who have allergies or are taking certain medications can suffer dangerous reactions from herbal concoctions that contain substances not listed on the label, he said.
“This investigation makes one thing abundantly clear: The old adage ‘buyer beware’ may be especially true for consumers of herbal supplements,” the attorney general said.
The herbal supplement industry criticized the method used to analyze the samples and raised questions about the reliability of the findings.
Walmart spokesman Brian Nick said the company is reaching out to suppliers and will take appropriate action. Walgreen pledged to cooperate with the attorney general, who asked the store chains for detailed information on production and quality control.
GNC said it, too, will cooperate, but spokeswoman Laura Brophy said: “We stand by the quality, purity and potency of all ingredients listed on the labels of our private-label products.”
Target said it can’t comment without reviewing the full report.
Nutritionist David Schardt of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said the tests show that the supplement industry is in urgent need of reform, and until that happens, consumers should stop wasting their money.
But Arthur Grollman, a physician and pharmacology professor at Stony Brook University, called the study “a well-controlled, scientifically based documentation of the outrageous degree of adulteration in the herbal supplement industry.”