Adulterated + Mislabeled Herbal Supplements May Endanger Consumers’ Health

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According to a cease and desist letter sent to 4 major national retailers and reported on by the New York Times and the Washington Post, popular herbal supplements may not contain what the bottle’s label claims. Tests performed targeted popular supplements including garlic, Ginseng, Echinacea, and St. John’s Wort sold at Target, Walmart, GNC and Walgreens. What the testing uncovered is bound to make health-conscious individuals looking for an herbal boost to their mental or physical capabilities think twice before performing their daily constitutional routine. If individuals have food allergies or other sensitivities, it may be prudent to review the testing results fully, to avoid injury because of medical complications or death due to anaphylactic shock.

The New York Attorney General alleges that these produce are defective because they are adulterated and mislabeled. A cease and desist letter demanding that the retailers stop selling the affected supplements has been sent to each of the four retailers.

What Was Tested for in the Supplements?

The herbal supplements were tested using a scientific procedure known as “genetic barcoding.” The process is useful in characterizing organisms by using defined short sequences of DNA from segments of the genome. The DNA barcoding process typically occurs in 3 stages.

First, the specimens are collected. In this study the specimens were gathered from 4 different locations for each and every retailer. Second, the tests were performed using a laboratory analysis. In tis study, the tests were repeated for each and every specimen 5 times. The results of the laboratory tests are then compared to the DNA samples contained within one of two main DNA databases: The International Nucleotide Sequence Database Collection or the Barcode of Life Database (BOLD). The results from the laboratory testing are identified by matching them with the closest reference record, if any, contained within the database.

This DNA barcoding process can be utilized to determine the composition of a variety of organisms including the types of plants used in herbal supplements.

What Did the Tests Find the Supplements to Contain?

The full testing regimen saw the New York Attorney General’s office submit up to seven different types of herbs from 4 major retailers for testing. In all, 28 different supplements were tested. The testing results revealed that all but 5 products had a defect of some type in that they contained unknown substances or contaminated DNA. What this means is that 19 of 24 supplements that were tested had a defect of some kind. Many substances contained DNA from oryza (rice), a tropical houseplant, mustard and wheat. Of particular note are two supplements that contained DNA from beans without disclosing this common allergen on the label.

These recent tests are not out of line with past results. The cease and desist letter sent by the Attorney General to each retailer specifically notes a similar Canadian study conducted on 44 different supplements in 2013. That study found that approximately 1 in 3 of these supplements contained no trace of the advertised product. This means that any expected health benefits from the supplement will not be experienced. However, this is only the beginnings of the problems. Other findings from the Canadian study include:

  • The Canadian study found traces of Parthenium hysterophorus in Echinacea supplements. Parthenium hysterophorus has been associated with nausea, rashes and excessive flatulence.
  • In two bottles labeled as St. John’s Wort, one bottle contained only rice. Another bottle contained only DNA from Alexandrian Senna which is a laxative.
  • Gingko biloba supplements were found to contain DNA from black walnuts. The presence of nuts in this product were not disclosed and posed a serious risk to those with a nut allergy.

Other studies have also detected problems with herbal supplements. A 2012 study conducted by Dr. Pieter A. Cohen discovered that recalled supplements were still being sold after being recalled due to containing banned pharmaceuticals. The study found that 66% of samples tested still contained at least one pharmaceutical adulterant. Pharmaceuticals detected in the supplements included Sibutramine; known to increase the risk of serious heart issues, phenolphthalein and aromatase inhibitors; linked to increased cancer risks, Sildenafil; the active ingredient in Viagra; and Fluoxetine; the active ingredient in Prozac, among many other banned substances.

If you have been injured by a potentially defective or mislabeled product, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. Call the Kieklak Law Offices today at (479) 251-7767 or contact us online.

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