The supplement industry, with its lack of regulation, is a bit like the Wild West. A bottle may say it contains a certain herb, but how do you know if that is actually true? This problem was brought home for me by some recent news from New York.
On Monday the New York State Attorney General’s office accused four major retailers — GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart — of selling fraudulent and potentially dangerous herbal supplements. They made this accusation after performing tests on top-selling store brands of herbal supplements at these stores, and finding that four out of five did not contain any of the herbs listed on the labels. Instead, they contained cheap fillers like powdered rice and houseplants, and in some instances, substances that could be dangerous to those with allergies.
News like this can make you want to crawl into a hole. You want to feel better, and you know you need a little bit of help with that. You’d rather not take pharmaceuticals, and you know (or have heard) how effective herbs can be. But how do you know what to trust?
Call the company
If you have an herbal supplement you are interested in taking, give the company a call and ask them about their quality control measures. They should be able to easily provide you with documentation showing that what they say is in their supplements is actually what is in them. They should also have data showing that it is not contaminated with harmful things like heavy metals and pesticides. If they cannot provide this for you, or give you the run around, don’t take their products.
Ask your doctor
I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking into different herbal supplement companies, and only recommend those who have quality control measures that I trust. Other naturopathic physicians will likely have done this as well. We are at your service to help you navigate the sometimes complicated world of herbal and nutritional supplements. If you are curious about a new herbal supplement, please don’t hesitate to ask!
The Bottom Line
In a perfect world, you would get all the medicine that you need from food. However, sometimes you need a little extra support for your health, and herbs are a wonderful way to get that. When taken responsibly, they are safe and effective. If you are interested in taking herbal medicine, it is best to consult with a naturopathic physician or other qualified health care provider. If you are more of a DIY’er, call the herbal supplement companies you are considering to check on their quality control.