You’ve probably seen the headlines…
The New York Post went with “Most Herbal Supplements Aren’t What You Think They Are.” Mysterious…
Forbes decided on “Herbal Supplements are a Ticking Time Bomb…And the Ticking is Getting Louder.” Menacing…
Then there’s The Washington Post…
They ran “Americans are Ignoring the Science and Spending Billions on Dietary Supplements.”
And they’re partially right. Americans are ignoring the science. Just not in the way the mainstream is claiming. You’ll be shocked at what we uncovered about their assault on supplements… And how it could be putting you and your family’s health at risk.
This all started a little over a week ago… That’s when New York attorney general (AG) Eric Schneiderman’s office sent cease and desist letters to some of the biggest supplement retailers in the state. GNC… Target… Walmart… Even Walgreens.
He accuses them of selling fraudulent—even dangerous—herbal supplements. And he demanded they pull them off the shelves…or else.1
The letters come after an investigator hired by the AG’s office examined echinacea, garlic, ginseng, gingko biloba, saw palmetto, St. John’s wort, and valerian root supplements. Samples came from stores across New York…from Brooklyn to Syracuse.
Testing revealed about 80% of these samples didn’t contain any of the herbs on their label. Not one. In fact, they found 35% of these products were made of things not listed on the label. Mostly cheap fillers. Everything from powdered rice to common houseplants. Even allergens like wheat.
It seems like a homerun for the anti-supplement crowd.
The AG’s office certainly thought so. Mr. Schneiderman wasted no time on weighing in…even before these retailers had time to respond:
“The old adage ‘buyer beware’ may be especially true for consumers of herbals supplements . . . Results seem to confirm long-standing questions about the herbal supplement industry. Mislabeling, contamination, and false advertising are illegal. They also pose unacceptable risks to New York families—especially those with allergies to hidden ingredients.”2
They sound like the words of someone with your best interest in mind. Someone you can trust to do the right thing. Too bad that’s not the case… And there are a few reasons why.
First, you have to look at who conducted the study… And how he got his results.
The AG hired Dr. James A. Schlute. He’s an associate professor of biology at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. And he’s an expert in DNA. Reptile DNA. He works with lizards.3
It’s an odd choice of experts for an herbal supplement study.
That’s not to pick on Dr. Schlute. He does work with DNA barcoding technology. It’s what they used to analyze the products. But that’s another problem…
According to the American Botanical Council (ABC), it’s a limited technology. It can’t identify complex herbal extracts. And even if it could, little or no DNA is preserved in the extraction process. Their results are premature at best.4
For example… This test will identify garlic. But it won’t identify garlic extract. That’s because processing changes the DNA makeup of plant matter. It gets crushed, heated, dried, filtered… That one tiny fragment of DNA they’re looking for may be broken. Or gone.
But it doesn’t mean the product is mislabeled.5 It doesn’t even make the product less potent. Extracts are more concentrated than whole herbs. And they provide you with guaranteed amounts of active ingredients.6 A missing DNA fragment does not mean a missing herb. Or health benefit.
At least that’s what Dr. Pieter Cohen says. He’s a researcher at Harvard Medical School. Supplements are his area of expertise. He says the results are hard to accept… Calls them “too extreme.” He believes the testing method—not manufacturing practices—is to blame.7
It makes sense when you consider its limitations. But there’s another problem here… The AG’s investigation only used one testing method. From just one laboratory. There has to be additional testing…ideally with the correct tests. Like microscopic analysis and chromatography. And they should both done by an independent lab.
Only one method used…and not the best one. By one man…and not the right one. In one laboratory…and no outside testing. But there’s still another question we had…
Why go after these supplements in the first place?
Well, the AG cites a Canadian study from 2013. One that raises what he calls “serious public health and safety concerns.” Researchers looked at 44 different herbal products from 12 different companies. They found 48% of all supplement samples didn’t contain the herbs they claimed to. Worse yet, about a third of the products tested contained contaminants and fillers not on the label.9
And there’s a familiar problem with this test. Just like the AG’s little experiment, this study also used DNA barcode testing. No wonder they got the results they did. And the ABC pointed out the flaws in this study as well. The critique came from a true expert in the field.
Her name is Dr. Danica Reynaud. She’s a geneticist and botanical taxonomist. She knows DNA. And she definitely knows plants. And for her, this study just didn’t cut it.
She says DNA barcoding is reliable. But only on the appropriate material. Like when DNA is present. And we agree… If you’re going to use DNA testing, do it right.10
Yes. Americans are ignoring the science. But it’s the bad science behind this “exposé” of the supplement industry. Not the science behind making herbal supplements. And speaking of…
The accused companies are starting to fire back. But they’re not getting anywhere near the same amount of media coverage. Just look at GNC…
They released their test results from when they first started carrying the supplements in question. They even retested the products. And that was ahead of the deadline set by the Attorney General’s office just for a response. But what they found is even more impressive.
GNC used testing methods accepted by some of the biggest standard-setting bodies in the industry. The Association of Agricultural Chemists (AOAC). The United States Pharmacopeia (USP). The European Pharmacopeia (EP). And the results came with a statement from GNC CEO, Michael Archbold:
“When industry-wide standards are used to authenticate the ingredients in our products, the results demonstrate they are pure, safe, and fully compliant . . . We acted expeditiously in response to the Attorney General’s concerns. And we look forward to the Attorney General’s equally expeditious response to the information we have provided.”11
They also passed their results along to Robert Fish. He’s an expert on the FDA’s good manufacturing practices. Here’s what he had to say about the results:
“The products at issue were each manufactured in compliance with the federal FDA requirements . . . the products contain the ingredients stated on the labels at the levels indicated . . . are not contaminated . . . the products are therefore not adulterated.”12
The Attorney General said it best himself, “At the end of the day, American corporations must step up to the plate and ensure their customers are getting what they pay for. Especially when it involves the promise of good health.”13
It’s good advice. But he should try following it. His office is using shoddy science and scare tactics to pave the way for more regulation. And the resulting mainstream frenzy keeps people from using natural supplements as a tool to help take control of their health.
Your best bet isn’t to avoid supplements. Find a brand you can trust instead. One that puts quality, results, and purity before profits. And there are some simple things to keep in mind when looking for one:
Consider the price. You don’t need to blow your life’s savings… But the cheapest brand is likely the least reputable—and least beneficial to your health.
Look for a money-back guarantee. If a company isn’t confident in their product… You shouldn’t be either.
Skip the fluff. If a supplement has more inactive ingredients than active ones, you’re paying for filler. Plain and simple.
Do Your Homework. But don’t do it for the company. If they won’t tell you the benefits of the ingredients they use…and provide the proof behind it… Don’t give them your business.
Don’t let the government—or their “experts”—keep you from your best health. Look at the facts. And find a supplement company you can trust.