Earlier this week, according to an investigation by the New York State attorney general’s office into store-brand supplements at four national retailers — GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart, all have received cease-and-desist letters demanding that they stop selling a number of their dietary supplements. A few of these were found to contain the herbs shown on their labels and many of which included potential allergens not identified in the ingredients list.
In other words, those natural supplements you bought, may or may not everything they say they have in them. And even worse, they’ll have a few extras that aren’t on this that could potentially harm you.
“Mislabeling, contamination and false advertising are illegal,” said NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “They also pose unacceptable risks to New York families — especially those with allergies to hidden ingredients.”
The tests were conducted using a process called DNA barcoding, which identifies individual ingredients through a kind of “genetic fingerprinting.” The investigators tested 24 products claiming to be seven different types of herb — echinacea, garlic, gingko biloba, ginseng, saw palmetto, St. John’s wort and valerian root. What’s shocking is that out of the 24, all but five of the products contained DNA that was either unrecognizable or from a plant other than what the product claimed to be.
Harvard Medical School assistant professor Pieter Cohen, who is an expert on supplement safety, told the New York Times that the test results were so extreme he found them hard to accept. He suggested that the manufacturing process may have destroyed some of the ingredients’ DNA, rendering the DNA barcode test ineffective.
On the other hand, he said, “if this data is accurate, then it is an unbelievably devastating indictment of the industry.”