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Nutrition and You!

What’s Lurking in Your Herbal Supplement?

dietary_supplements.jpgYou may be surprised to find out exactly what's in the supplement you may be taking, or in this case, what isn't in it. Recently, the office of New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman conducted an investigation of herbal supplements that mimicked a television episode right out of Crime Scene Investigation (CSI).

The investigators examined snippets of herbs from various store brand supplements being sold in 13 regions in New York. According to a press release posted by the attorney general's office and based on the results of DNA testing, they discovered that 79 percent of some store brand herbal supplements failed to contain the plant herbs that were stated on the label or contained other plant-based fillers, such as rice, wheat, and pine. These undisclosed fillers, which are considered contaminates, could be problematic for individuals who have allergies and need to avoid them.

For example, at GNC, the “Herbal Plus” brand supplements of gingko biloba, St. John’s wort, ginseng, garlic, echinacea, and saw palmetto were tested, and surprisingly, the contents matched what was stated on the label only 22 percent of the time. Contaminates such as spruce, houseplant, and allium were also found in the tested bottles. Click here for a complete list of the findings. Based on this report, letters from the Attorney General’s Office were sent to GNC, Target, Walmart, and Walgreens instructing them to stop the sale of the supplements determined to be incorrectly labelled. Americans spend over $5 million on herbal products annually.

“This investigation makes one thing abundantly clear: the old adage ‘buyer beware’ may be especially true for consumers of herbal supplements,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. "The DNA test results seem to confirm long-standing questions about the herbal supplement industry. Mislabeling, contamination, and false advertising are illegal.”

Many folks mistakenly think that since herbs are natural, they are all safe to consume. This isn’t necessarily true. Consuming the plant ephedra, a supplement ingredient which was sometimes used in weight loss supplements before being banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can cause anxiety, high blood pressure, irregular heart bets, and kidney stones. Ephedra, as well as other herbs, may also interact with medications that you may be taking causing these medications to be less effective or even dangerous. Click here for a free resource that can help educate you about the pros and cons of consuming specific herbal supplements.

The National Institutes of Health recommends that if you are considering taking a supplement, get it from a reliable source and check with your health care provider before consuming it. It is important to be aware of what may be lurking in your herbal supplement.

Be well,

Joan

Twitter: @JoanSalgeBlake

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