Every few years, a new fad arises in herbal products. Echinacea, ginseng, St. John’s wort, guarana, Acai berries and other “remedies” have been sold to the public as cures for depression, excess weight, high blood pressure and countless other medical conditions. These products are sold as herbal supplements because those products do not have to go through the same testing standards as real medications. They do not have be proven effective to be packaged like a medicine and sold to the public. As dubious as the benefits of these supplements are, the Food and Drug Administration has little authority to police them until after they prove dangerous.
A simpler problem appeared this week as officials in New York found that many herbal supplements don’t even contain the ingredients they claim on the labels. Even if ginseng has health benefits, you won’t get them if there is no ginseng in your ginseng supplement. An investigation into the store brand supplements at GNC, Wal-Mart, Target and Walgreens showed that 80 percent of the products do not contain the ingredients listed on the label. Consumers who have been buying these products have likely ingested ingredients not listed on the labels and have not received the ingredients they were promised.
A store brand supplement does not mean that the store manufactured the product. Stores reach agreements with herbal supplement companies and simply repackage the supplements as their own. Manufacturing quality control measures are virtually nonexistent in the herbal supplement industry. It has been described as the Wild West. Products and manufacturers appear and disappear overnight. A company might fold when safety regulators close in only to re-form under a new name selling the same supplement with the same unsafe practices. Unlike in the pharmaceutical industry, herbal supplement manufacturers are not required to register with the FDA.
The truth is, in terms of herbal supplements, there is no product or manufacturer that can be relied upon to deliver a safe, effective product. Herbal supplements are not properly regulated. There is virtually no oversight, so consumers take their lives in their hands in trusting the makers of these products to behave safely.
Source: PBS, “Store-bought herbal supplements may not be what they advertise,” 3 February 2015