Herbal Supplements: Actually Rice, Weeds

DNA tests reveal dilution, substitution

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 4, 2013 3:04 AM CST | Updated Nov 9, 2013 6:59 AM CST
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(Newser) – Tests to determine what's really in popular herbal supplements found a key ingredient is often missing: herbs. Researchers conducted DNA tests on 44 bottles of the remedies sold by 12 companies and found that around a third contained no trace at all of the healing herb they were supposed to contain, reports the New York Times. Instead, the supplements were made of powdered weeds or fillers like rice and soybean, which were used to dilute other supplements that did contain some of the plant listed on the label.

Some widely used remedies including St. John’s wort and echinacea were diluted or replaced with plants that had side effects including nausea and flatulence, or that could be deadly to people with nut allergies, the researchers found. Consumer advocates—and even groups representing the $5 billion-a-year supplement industry—say it's time for tighter regulation. "If you had a child who was sick and 3 out of 10 penicillin pills were fake, everybody would be up in arms," complains a researcher whose study last year uncovered similar levels of fakery. "But it’s OK to buy a supplement where 3 out of 10 pills are fake. I don’t understand it. Why does this industry get away with that?"

Herbal remedies line the shelves at a store in Houston.
Herbal remedies line the shelves at a store in Houston.   (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Warning: May not contain herbs.
Warning: May not contain herbs.   (Shutterstock)
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Given these results, it’s hard to recommend any herbal supplements to consumers. - David Schardt, a senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest

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