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DNA Test Reveals Bargain Supplements Highly Adulterated

Why pay $50 for a supplement when you can get the same thing for $5 at a big chain store? It's a bargain, right? According to new scientific research, these bargain prices come at a cost. Read more below!
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The supplement industry is a huge industry that brings in billions of dollars in revenue each year.

According to a Canadian government study from 2013, over 150 million Americans take some form of supplements.

Data from the nonprofit American Botanical Council stated that in 2013, herbal supplement sales topped $6 billion.

With such a huge market, it is no surprise that everyone wants a slice of the supplement income. But some manufacturers are willing to take shortcuts to boost their profits.

A new study conducted on supplements from four popular store-brand supplements found that the level of each ingredient in the supplement was drastically exaggerated. In a few store brands, the levels of the herb listed on the bottle were undetectable. This recent study confirms data from previous studies conducted in 2013. Read more about these studies and their implications below.

Herbal Supplement Study

Details The first study was conducted in 2013 and published in BMC Medicine. The researchers tested 44 herbal supplements from 12 companies with 30 different herbs. The researchers compared the DNA barcoding of these supplements with 42 varieties of leaf samples from the original herbs.

The researchers were able to find DNA barcodes from 91 percent of the supplements tested.

Study Results
  • 59 percent of the supplements tested had DNA from plants that were not listed on the label.
  • 48 percent of these non-listed ingredients were other herbal compounds, but one third of the tested supplements also contained unlisted fillers and contaminants.
  • 30 out of 44 of the products tested used product substitutions.
  • Just 2 of the 12 companies had no substitutions, fillers, or contamination.

In 2014, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that many supplements promising bodybuilding, weight loss, and increase in sexual function actually contained drug compounds. The study examined supplements that had previously been recalled for containing drug compounds.

The researchers found that out of 27 previously-recalled products tested, 18 contained products not approved for over-the-counter use and 17 contained the same drug that prompted the original recall. As a result of this study, the FDA sent hundreds of consumer alerts warning consumers about these dangerous supplements.

The 2015 study was commissioned by the York Attorney General’s office and conducted by DNA expert James Schulte II of Clarkson University. In this study store-brand supplements from Target, Walmart, Walgreens, and GNC were tested to determine how much of the listed supplement was contained in the bottle. 390 tests were conducted on 78 samples from these four companies.

This test found that only 4 to 41 percent of the supplements contained the listed ingredients at all. All of the store-brand supplements contained a high level of filler, including wheat, beans, rice, wild carrot, asparagus, primrose, walnuts, and unidentified non-plant filler. None of these filler ingredients were listed on the product’s labels. According to this test, Walmart was the worst offender with only 4 percent of the products tested showing any DNA markers containing the listed ingredients.

Are These Tests Accurate?

Since both of these studies are relatively small, it is important to take their findings with a grain of salt. Some critics have called the testing method used into question. According to a spokesperson for GNC, the method used to test the supplements “has not been approved by the United States Pharmacopeia and may not be appropriate for the testing of these herbal products.”

GNC also stated that it uses product testing methods approved by the United States Pharmacopeia and the British Pharmacopeia. According to an article in The New York Times, DNA testing may not be able to identify chemical compounds, which would skew the data against supplements.

The article states that DNA barcoding “can identify the substances in a supplement, but it cannot determine their potency. And because the technology relies on the detection of DNA, it may not be able to identify concentrated chemical extracts that do not contain genetic material, or products in which the material has been destroyed by heat and processing.”

Additionally, only powder and pill supplements were tested- not any extracts or liquid supplements. These tests did not examine the effectiveness of the supplements.

However, the high percentage of filler and low percentage of “active” ingredients shows that it is important to take care when choosing supplements. Not every supplement company manufacturers high-quality supplements and ingredients.

Current Supplement Regulations

The FDA has some regulations in place for supplements- although not nearly as many for prescription drugs. The FDA does not allow manufacturers to market products that are misbranded or adulterated. Most supplement manufacturers are self-regulated and must have testing procedures in place to ensure that they meet FDA and DSHEA (The dietary supplement health and education act of 1994) guidelines.

The FDA can take action against misbranded and adulterated products after they reach market. Because of this, the FDA has required many supplement manufacturers to withdraw their product and remove offending ingredients. The DNA test on the store-brand products is too recent for legal action, but it is possible that the FDA will take action against these companies for adulterating their products and mislabeling them.

The FDA requires that all labels must contain a complete list of ingredients and the net contents of the package. The supplements must also identify all dietary ingredients contained in the product. All ingredients must be placed on the label. The test showing that store brands were not following these regulations is concerning.

How to Identify Quality Supplements

This new study has brought new attention to the regulation of supplements, which means that in the future, store brands and other disreputable brands will likely have to follow stricter guidelines, which is only good for you as a consumer. Until then, use the following guidelines to pick brands that contain a higher percentage of beneficial ingredients.

Avoid Bargain Brands and Store Brands

If you see a supplement sold for 1/3 or less of the price of another brand, that should be a red flag. Herbs and supplement ingredients are usually expensive to grow, gather, and store. This means that if you find a bottle for $4 at your local grocery store, it will probably contain few of the ingredients listed and contain mostly fillers, just like the DNA test showed. In general, avoid any supplement that is much cheaper than the competitors.

Study in Advance

Don’t just blindly purchase herbs and supplements. Research your condition and what herbs can benefit it in advance. We have hundreds of science-backed articles stating what herbs and supplements are best for many common health conditions on Progressive Health.

The University of Maryland also has a definitive Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide, which can help you identify what herbs to use for what condition. Self-education can help you maximize the benefits to your health.

Read the Label

In some cases, certain parts of the plant contain different beneficial ingredients. Make sure the supplement you choose states in the ingredient list what part of the plant is used in the supplement mix. Supplements that list the complete ingredient list- including all binders and the scientific name of each ingredient- are more likely to contain a higher concentration of the beneficial ingredients.

Look for supplements that list an expiration date, the scientific names of the plants, and what part of the plant is used in the supplement, and the amount of each ingredient used in the supplement. Never purchase a supplement that does not state the ingredient list on the container or contains drug compounds or drug-like compounds (most common in weight loss, bodybuilding, and sexual performance supplements). You can also research a company to determine if it has been involved in any recalls in the past.

Call the Manufacturer

The presence of some allergens in the tested supplements (like wheat and nuts) is potentially dangerous to individuals with allergies. If you have a serious allergy to a food substance, contact the manufacturer before taking any supplements to ensure their products will not cause an allergic reaction. Additionally, only purchase supplements from trusted manufacturers that are dedicated to providing the highest quality supplements.

Protect Your Health with the Right Supplements

Supplements can be a tool that can help you fill in any nutrient gaps in your diet. Additionally, certain herb compounds have been shown in scientific studies to benefit common health problems- including depression, prostate health, and memory.

However, some manufacturers practice unscrupulous manufacturing practices that fill their supplements with unlisted fillers and alternative plants to what the bottle claims to contain. As a consumer, remember that if a product seems drastically cheaper than the competition, it may not contain what it claims.

The new DNA test from 2015 has brought new light on the shady practices of some store-brand supplement manufacturers. The FDA has yet to respond to these new tests, but according to the DNA test, these companies clearly broke FDA regulations by adding ingredients not listed and falsifying packaging information. Even though the products are currently only banned from sale in New York, consumers in other states should also avoid these store brands until the matter is resolved.

Sources


http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/05/science/herbal-supplements-are-often-not-what-they-seem.html?pagewanted=all

http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidkroll/2015/02/03/cease-and-desist-orders-hit-walmart-walgreens-and-others-for-herbal-supplement-sales/

http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/ny-attorney-general-targets-popular-herbal-supplements-28686772?singlePage=true

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