I’ve heard as much bullshit about herbs and alternative medicine from people who should know better as I have from crazy religious nut cases who are Biblical literalists.
By Lynn Stuart Parramore
February 9, 2015
If you’re reading this, I bet you have a favorite herbal remedy. Mine is peppermint oil for stomachaches. Seems to work for me, and there’s a strong body of clinical evidence to support the idea. But in the regulatory Wild West of dietary and herbal supplements, how can you be sure that what you’re buying works the way it is supposed to, contains what the label describes, and most importantly, won’t hurt you? Answer: Increasingly, you can’t.
Big Herba is big business, and when profit is the motive, let the buyer beware.
We often hear about the evils of Big Pharma, and there’s plenty to be concerned about there. But some who promote “alternatives” — the manufacturers, distributors and sellers of supplements, aka Big Herba —take advantage of regulatory loopholes, public distrust of the medical realm, and consumer confusion to push pills and potions that may do absolutely nothing for your health, or worse.
Last week, the New York attorney general’s office told GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart to pull several store-brand supplements when most of them were found to contain things other than what their labels advertised, including allergens like wheat that are potentially dangerous to some consumers. At all the stores investigated, the St. John’s Wort contained absolutely no St. John’s Wort. Likewise, the Gingko Biloba had no Gingko Biloba. Instead, many of the products contained nothing but cheap fillers, including a common houseplant called dracaena.
But that’s just the latest. Reports of misleading and potentially harmful supplements have been piling up for years. In 2012, the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report showing that 20 percent of supplements sold for weight loss and immune system support they bought made illegal claims about their effectiveness in treating and cure ailments. “Sampled supplements,” says the report, “were inconsistent with FDA guidance on competent and reliable scientific evidence.”
In 2013, the New York Times published an article describing numerous problems with common products. Research conducted in Canada on popular supplements like echinacea and St. John’s Wort sold by 12 different companies found that many consumers were getting completely swindled. According to the report: