New York’s Attorney General (AG), Eric Schneiderman, recently ordered GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart to immediately stop selling six popular herbal supplements. The DNA tests commissioned by his office found that four out of five of the hundreds of bottles tested contained none of the herbs listed on the labels. The popular media predictably jumped on this bandwagon claiming this to be just one more example of what appears to be widespread fraud in the dietary supplement industry.
We at Natural Health Advisory Institute strongly disagree with critics’ assertions about the general poor quality and ineffectiveness of dietary supplements. We research and publish insight from hundreds of high-quality, peer-reviewed, clinical studies that confirm the effectiveness and safety of specific dietary supplements in improving health outcomes in specific conditions when a high quality supplement is used at the right dosage for the right condition for the right duration.
Consumers should get most of their nutrients from healthy food choices, but supplements can play an important role in almost everyone’s healthy living routine. We take a look at where to get the best ones in our separate blog “4 Tips – Where to Buy Supplements of Highest Quality.”
What the AG’s test results really mean
To conduct the herbal supplement testing, the New York AG’s contracted researcher used DNA barcoding to identify the ingredients of each bottle. However, the herbal products tested were nearly all in the form of herbal extracts—most experts in pharmacognosy agree that the manufacturing process of producing an extract of the herb would likely disrupt or destroy the DNA. Therefore, the testing method used can’t properly identity ingredients in herbal supplements. In a study in 2013, the FDA publically called DNA barcoding invalid for herbal supplements.
The medical director here at Natural Health Advisory Institute, Dr. Kathleen Jade, has clearly identified the main issues with this inappropriate testing in her excellent post Scared About What’s In Your Supplements After Reading The Latest Headlines? The United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA) is collecting large quantities of the supplements cited in the AG’s investigation and submitting them to certified botanical testing labs for analysis. Group President Loren Israelsen notes that they will use “universally accepted methods and procedures” to test these products and will report their results to the public. This will provide more accurate and relevant data.
The dietary supplement industry is regulated by the FDA
Some journalists have incorrectly reported that the supplement industry is unregulated, which is absolutely false. All supplements, including vitamins, minerals, herbs and specialty products, must conform to federal regulations that control manufacturing, labeling, and advertising practices. The actual products themselves are not regulated in the way prescription or over-the-counter drugs are, because dietary supplements are foods – not drugs. But the FDA has the power to ensure the safety of all dietary supplements on the market.
Under the law, manufacturers of vitamins, minerals, and other supplements are required to test the identity and quality of ingredients that go into their products. If they do not, the FDA will issue warning letters to companies caught not complying. In fiscal year 2014, not a single warning or injunction was issued by the FDA to the larger supplement manufacturing firms (those with 500 employees or more), according to Cara Welch, dietary supplement regulations implementations team lead, FDA’s Division of Dietary Supplement Programs. For an overview of supplement industry regulations, see the Council for Responsible Nutrition: Dietary Supplements: Safe, Beneficial and Regulated.
Supplement quality can be trusted
The bottom line from our standpoint here at Natural Health Advisory Institute is that supplement quality can be trusted – if you know where to look. The key is to identify supplement brands that have earned favorable ratings from independent third-party testing services. Learn exactly how to do that in “4 Tips – Where to Buy Supplements of Highest Quality.”