Many herbal supplements are fake, diluted, or inaccurately labeled
, according to a recent Canadian study.
The New York Times reported that more than one-third of 44 popular medicinal herbal supplements
tested by researchers at the University of Guelph's Biodiversity Institute of Ontario did not include the ingredients on their label.
The herbal supplement market in the U.S. is valued at approximately $5 billion, according to the Times, which noted that the 44 products selected for the study were produced by 12 separate companies and promised users a variety of outcomes including improved memory, a reduction of hot flashes, and fighting off the common cold.
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The researchers employed a DNA barcoding system to test the products, which has in the past been used by other researchers to test if the commercial seafood industry was mislabeling its fish. They refused to disclose the product names, reportedly out of concern that their study could be perceived as targeting certain products over others.
The Times reported that among their findings, the researchers found that capsules said to be containing echinacea supplements, which millions of Americans turn to for common cold prevention, were in fact packed with the ground up bitter weed – parthenium hysterophorus.
An invasive plant found throughout Australia and India, parthenium hysterophorus has been shown to cause nausea, rashes, and flatulence.
Another example of a mislabeled product was at least two bottles of St. John’s wort.
Having been shown to help treat mild forms of depression, St. John’s wort was in fact omitted entirely from the herbal supplement that was supposed to contain it, the Times said. In its place, researchers found powdered rice in one bottle and the Egyptian yellow shrub Alexandrian senna, a laxative, in the other.
And if you think ingesting two capsules of Gingko biloba supplements on a daily basis will help improve your memory, think again if you happen to select the brand that in place of the promised herbal supplement substituted a mixture of "fillers and black walnut, a potentially deadly hazard for people with nut allergies," the Times noted.
"This suggests that the problems are widespread and that quality control for many companies, whether through ignorance, incompetence, or dishonesty, is unacceptable," David Schardt, a senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, told The Times. "Given these results, it’s hard to recommend any herbal supplements to consumers."
Not everyone however was as concerned by the study's results as Schardt.
"Overall, I would agree that quality control is an issue in the herbal industry, but I think that what’s represented here is overblown," Stefan Gafner, chief science officer at the American Botanical Council, told the Times.
"I don’t think it’s as bad as it looks according to this study," Gafner added.
The American Botanical Council is a nonprofit that promotes the use of herbal supplements.
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