According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN)'s 2014 Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements, 68 percent of U.S. adults report taking dietary supplements — with more than 50 percent being regular users. And 83 percent of the population express overall confidence in the safety, quality and effectiveness of dietary supplements. (CRN Consumer Survey).

Unfortunately, it looks like the confidence is misplaced, and some of the people taking supplements are not only not getting what they're paying for, but they're getting things they don't need, and ingredients that may even be harmful.

The New York Attorney General's office has just reported that they have told popular retailers Target, GNC, Walgreens and Walmart to immediately stop selling a variety of their store-brand herbal supplements.

Those supplements were not effective, because they didn't contain the herbal ingredients labelled. In fact, only 21 percent of store brand herbal supplements contained plants listed on the labels!

But some were potentially also dangerous, with fillers including powdered rice, houseplants, asparagus, wheat, beans, pine, citrus, asparagus, primrose, wild carrot, and and other potential allergens and contaminants. Some of the supplements contained only these contaminants, and no actual herbs.

Among the products that were deemed fraudulent were store brands of echinacea, ginseng, St. John's wort, garlic, ginkgo biloba and saw palmetto.

The attorney general's office had taken 78 bottles of supplements from a dozen Walmart, Target, Walgreens and GNC locations across New York state, and chemically and genetically analyzed the products. They found so many of the supplements that had none of the actual herbs on the labels, but did include unlisted ingredients and contaminants.

According to ConsumerLab, these are the particular brands at the stores:

  • GNC - "Herbal Plus" brand herbal supplements: Gingko Biloba, St. John's Wort, Ginseng, Garlic, Echinacea, and Saw Palmetto. (Only the Garlic consistently had garlic in it.)
  • Target - "Up & Up" brand herbal supplements: Gingko Biloba, St. John's Wort, Valerian Root, Garlic, Echinacea, and Saw Palmetto. (Only the echinacea, garlic and saw palmetto had some of the labelled herb.)
  • Walgreens - "Finest Nutrition" brand herbal supplements: Gingko Biloba, St. John's Wort, Ginseng, Garlic, Echinacea, and Saw Palmetto.(Only the Saw Palmetto had the actual ingredient in it.)
  • Walmart- "Spring Valley" brand herbal supplements: Gingko Biloba, St. John's Wort, Ginseng, Garlic, Echinacea, and Saw Palmetto. (None of the supplements had actual herbs in them.)

What Should Patients Do?

At minimum, it's probably a good idea to avoid buying any of the store-brand supplements from these retailers. And if you have any of the above listed products, you may want to return them to the store to request a refund.

Frankly, any store-brand herbal supplement should be considered suspect at this point, given how widespread this problem was with these major national retailers.

If you want to use only tested and vetted products, consider becoming a member of ConsumerLab, which runs independent tests of a number of brand-name supplements, and names the actual tested brands that are legitimate/safe, and the ones that do not contain active ingredients, or that contain contaminants.

We've also developed our Holtraceuticals line of supplements, with strict quality-control procedures in place, to ensure that patients have access to high quality vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements.

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