Ask the Pharmacist – Supplements
Over 150 million people use herbal or dietary supplements in the United States but New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman demanded last week that Target, Walmart, Walgreens, and GNC stop selling store brand herbal supplements in their stat
They analyzed the store brands of Ginkgo Biloba, St John’s Wort, Ginseng, Garlic, Echinacea, and Saw Palmetto and after DNA analysis could not find the herb written on the bottle in the tables or capsules 80% of the time. They found herbal like material from French bean, asparagus, pea shoot, wild carrot, daisy, and wheatgrass instead. The contention is that the manufacturers of the products were fraudulently selling products devoid of the herb they were charging money for and substituting cheap and easy to find ingredients to make it look herb like.
It means that a majority of the store brand products sold here in Connecticut are likely missing the active ingredients as well. People like to purchase the store brands of products because they provide the benefits of the brand name drugs with a much lower cost. There are rules and requirements for over the counter drugs like acetaminophen but very lax oversight on herbal products and this is the result. The FDA classifies herbal products as foods and states that “In that FDA has limited resources to analyze the composition of food products, including dietary supplements, it focuses these resources first on public health emergencies and products that may have caused injury or illness.” So the FDA is most interested in harm from contamination or overdosing than they are with preventing fraud from herbal manufacturers.
People should be skeptical when dealing with natural products. You can have the most confidence in products which have an independent group’s certification for purity and content. The main certifying groups include the United States Pharmacopeia and ConsumerLab.com and the bottles of these products will contain a seal which says USP verified or ConsumerLab.com certified. If the bottles say GMP for good manufacturing practices, the factory has been shown to be clean and the process for making tablets and capsules are safe but it does not mean that are putting the labeled herb in the bottle.
Michael White; Dept. Of Pharmacy Practice, UConn School Of Pharmacy