Supplement Safety: Not All Supplements Are Created Equal
The issue of supplement safety and quality needs to be acknowledged. With so many people seeking alternate solutions to medications for health problems, herbal supplements are increasing in sales tremendously. In 2013 the American Botanical Council reported herbal supplement sales were up 7.9%. That’s up from $32 billion dollars in revenue according to Davis Lariviere at Forbes.com in 2012.
What’s In Those Supplements, Anyway?
Please be aware that there is no federal regulation over supplement purity. This means that any company can label their product however they want, and the capsules are never checked to ensure they are, in fact, what is on the ingredients list. For example, a company could make capsules labeled “ginseng” and list the ingredients as “ginseng” when, in reality, the capsules could contain oregano and caffeine. This is not only dishonest, it is potentially dangerous. This could also be part of the problem when people think that herbal supplements do not ‘work,’ because in fact, they are not taking what they think they are taking. Below are two recent examples when supplements were actually checked for content and purity and found to be incorrectly labeled.
In June 2015, G&C Natural Nutrition recalled their joint pain and support supplement of Pyrola for containing undeclared diclofenac and chlorpheniramine. Pyrola is the latin name of the herb you might know as wintergreen. It is an astringent, diuretic, tonic and antispasmodic. Diclofenac is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (commonly referred to as NSAIDs). NSAIDs may cause increased risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke, as well as serious gastrointestinal damage, including bleeding, ulceration, and fatal perforation of the stomach and intestines. Chlorpheniramine is an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine used for allergies. Antihistamines may cause drowsiness and affect mental alertness. This means that what people were buying as an herbal remedy for their joint pain, actually contained two different types of drugs. This is dangerous for possible medication interactions, never mind a direct blow to a person buying the supplement trying to go “all natural.”
The largest scandal to bring this issue out in the news was in February 2015. The New York attorney general sent cease and desist letters to Walmart, Target, Walgreens, and GNC to stop selling their store brands because “79 percent of them either didn’t contain the stated ingredient(s), or were contaminated by other filler materials, such as rice and wheat to which some people might be allergic.” The tests were done on the following store-brand supplements: Ginkgo Biloba, St. John’s Wort, Ginseng, Echinacea, Valerian Root, Garlic and Saw Palmetto.
NY Attorney General Schneiderman said that only 4% of Walmart’s supplements (“Spring Valley” brand) actually contained the ingredients listed on the label, while 18% did at Walgreens (“Finest Nutrition” brand), 22% at GNC (“Herbal Plus” brand), and 41% at Target stores (“Up & Up” brand). Only the GNC garlic consistently tested as advertised.
Where You Buy Your Supplements Matters
You probably do buy your supplements from the largest retailers in the country listed above. However, you might want to rethink that. What might seem economical, may not be the safest nor most effective way to go.
So, how do you know what’s safe? Enter the Licensed Naturopathic Doctor. Naturopaths understand that the quality of a supplement ensures not only the supplement’s safety in terms of potential allergens or interactions, but also the efficacy. Instead of searching the internet for a supplement to alleviate your health concern and self prescribing, get a licensed naturopathic doctor on your health team. We are trained and licensed to use the vitamin and herbal supplements that you are just guessing at. We use only professional brands that do third party testing on their products to ensure quality and purity. These professional brands use the latest research (often doing their own) on the ingredients to ensure potency, absorbability, and dosage efficacy. These products at face value are more expensive than the brands you could purchase at a retail store, but when you add in absorbability, interaction safety, and overall effectiveness, the long-term value is there. If you’re using a supplement that you are not absorbing, or that you are not taking the proper effective dose for, you could buy bottle after bottle with no results; and isn’t the whole point to get the results and feel better? Ask your naturopath about your supplements and what they recommend.