New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman may have shocked most of the supplement buying public on Tuesday when his office announced that many popular herbal remedies sold at major retailers failed laboratory testing and often didn’t even contain their purported active ingredients.
The results likely didn’t come as a great surprise to independent companies that regularly conduct their own lab testing of vitamins and herbal supplements. Rafael Ferreira of LabDoor.com says that the investigation is a great start, but the supplement market needs better enforcement of purity and label accuracy. The company said in a statement that millions of consumers use their supplement reports every year, and “we as consumers cannot afford to wait for the FDA or an Attorney General’s office to investigate this industry.”
LabDoor offers free basic consumer access via its website and smartphone apps to its reports on creatine, energy supplements, fish oil, probiotics, protein drinks and vitamin D. The company sells premium access for $150 a year and markets it to professional trainers, clinicians, nutritionists and athletes. Companies can’t buy their way out of negative rankings on LabDoor, and their scientists retest supplements yearly.
Lab testing commissioned by the New York Attorney General’s office found that some pills labeled as containing Ginseng, St. John’s Wort, Echinacea and other common herbal remedies didn’t actually contain those ingredients. Schneiderman sent letters to Target, Walmart, Walgreens and GNC accusing the retailers of selling fake supplements in the state, and asked the companies to immediately remove the products from New York store shelves. The letters also requested information from the retailers on the production, processing and testing of the supplements they sell and to explain their quality control procedures.
Investigators purchased herbal supplements at major retail stores in cities across New York state and hired scientists to perform DNA testing on them. Not only did just 21 percent of the tested supplements overall contain what they were supposed to contain, but many contained contaminants and fillers not listed on the label, presenting a potential allergy risk for certain individuals.
Undeclared contaminants included rice, wheat, palm, daisy, allium, French bean and wild carrot. Walmart’s store brand, Spring Valley, performed worst in supplement testing, with only 4 percent showing DNA that the product label claimed it contained.
According to the New York Attorney General office’s statement, more than half of the Food and Drug Administration’s class I drug recalls from 2004 to 2012 involved dietary supplements. The FDA issues class I recalls for the most serious cases of possible health risks associated with a dangerous drug or supplement.
In addition to LabDoor, 16-year-old ConsumerLab also tests vitamins and supplements, plus mainstream drugs, providing complete reports on an exhaustive list of products to consumers for a $36 yearly fee. ConsumerLab offers reports on vitamins, minerals, herbal products, prescription medicines, sports and energy products, food, beverages, personal care products and “functional foods.” The company retests each category at least once every two to three years.
In a statement, ConsumerLab says that they’ve contacted the New York Attorney General’s office to request further information on the specific products evaluated. ConsumerLab suggests some doubts about the DNA testing methodology scientists employed to conduct the supplement research.
The organization expresses less concern for what the supplements allegedly don’t contain than they do for the undisclosed fillers and contaminants the products apparently do contain. “If the producers of herbal supplements fail to identify all the ingredients on a product’s label,” ConsumerLab declares, “a consumer with food allergies, or who is taking medication for an unrelated illness, is taking a potentially serious health risk every time a contaminated herbal supplement is ingested.”