Are Herbal Supplements Bogus?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Uncategorized

How Can You Be Sure You Are Getting What You Paid For?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

herbal supplementsTwo weeks ago the headlines claimed that most supplements containing grape seed extract were bogus. Just last week the New York Attorney General claimed that four of the largest retailers in the state were selling bogus herbal supplements.

We already knew that it is “buyer beware” in the food supplement industry. Is it really this bad? Are most herbal supplements a waste of money? How can we be sure that we are getting our money’s worth when we buy herbal supplements?

Do Herbal Supplements Work?

Supplements Containing Grape Seed Extract

grape seed supplementThe headlines about supplements containing grape seed extract were based on a recent study by botanical and medicinal chemistry experts at Rutgers University (Villani et al, Food Chemistry, 170, 271-280, 2015). They obtained 21 commercially available supplements containing grape seed extract from vitamin supplement retailers, supermarkets and online vendors.

The scientists used HPLC/UV/MS to analyze the supplements for the polyphenols that should be found in authentic grape seed extracts. (HPLC/UV/MS is an analytic method that is the gold standard for identifying and quantifying the chemical composition of the final product. However, it is a very expensive procedure, and many manufacturers do not use it.)

The results of their analysis were quite alarming.

  • Only 6 of the 21 products tested had the specific polyphenols found in authentic grape seed extract.
  • 9 of the samples had less than 15% of the polyphenols found in grape seed extract.
  • 5 of the samples had less than 3% of the polyphenols found in grape seed extract.
  • One of the samples had no detectable grape seed extract
  • 9 of the samples contained polyphenols that were characteristic of peanut skin extracts rather than grape seed extract. Peanut skin extract is a much cheaper source of polyphenols than grape seed extract. Substitution of peanut skin extract for grape seed extract is a concern because:
    • While polyphenols from peanut skin extract have health benefits, they have not been tested. There is currently no clinical evidence that they are beneficial.
    • There is no label information on the products indicating that peanuts were used in their manufacture. This could be a concern for people with peanut allergies.
  • 3 of the samples contained polyphenols that were more characteristic of pine bark extract than grape seed extract. Again this is a concern because that particular blend of polyphenols has not been shown to provide the same health benefits as grape seed extract.

The authors concluded that “adulteration of grape seed extract in commercial preparations is a significant problem.” They suggested that substitution of much cheaper polyphenol sources such as peanut skin extract or pine bark extract offered significant “economic gain” to the manufacturers.

They went on to say “due to reliance of inferior…assays [or complete lack of quality control assays in some cases] across the value chain, adulteration can go undetected by others in the distribution chain, such as those involved in distribution, packaging, wholesale and retail sales.”

To put that in lay terms it means that suppliers and manufacturers often cheat by substituting cheaper polyphenol sources, primarily for financial gain. Furthermore, because most companies don’t use high cost quality control assays such as HPLC/UV/MS they actually have no idea whether their products actually contain grape seed extract or not.

Supplements Containing Ginko Biloba, St. John’s Wort, Ginseng & Echinacea

The recent headlines about ginko biloba, St. John’s wort, ginseng, echinacea and other herbal products arose from an announcement by the New York Attorney General the he had just ordered GNC, Target, Walmart and Walgreens to take a number of herbal supplements off their shelves because almost 80% of them didn’t contain the ingredients listed on the label or contained non-listed ingredients.

Specifically, the Attorney General claimed that:

  • The ginko biloba and St. John’s wort supplements that they tested from those stores did not test positive for active ingredients.
  • Ginseng and Echinacea supplements also failed their tests.
  • In some cases the supplements contained no organic material. They contained sand instead of active ingredients.

new york attorney generalThe Attorney General claimed that these and other herbal supplements they tested were bogus. Even worse, they were deceptive and could endanger people’s health. For example, people generally use St. John’s wort to relieve depression. If the supplement is bogus, they are not just wasting money. Their mental health is also being compromised.

While the Attorney General’s announcement is alarming, it is also a bit misleading. It is based on an analytic method called “DNA barcoding”. In simple terms, DNA barcoding means that DNA is extracted from the sample and the genetic information in that DNA is compared with the genetic information characteristic of the herbal ingredient.

DNA barcoding is an important analytic test that every manufacturer should use to validate the identity of their herbal raw ingredients. However, DNA is often removed in the process of preparing an herbal extract, so DNA barcoding is an inappropriate assay to use for validating the quality of the finished product. Assays such as the HPLC/UV/MS are more appropriate or the final product.

In short, the Attorney General identified a potential problem with the herbal supplement industry, but further tests are required before we know how significant the problem actually is. The most troubling aspect of the whole incident is that some of the retailers had not run their own quality controls on the products, so they actually had no idea whether the products they were selling were bogus or not.

How Can you Make Sure the Supplements you Buy Aren’t Bogus?

Now that you know that many herbal supplements may be bogus, how do you protect yourself? How do you make sure that you are not wasting your money and jeopardizing your health?

The answer is actually pretty simply.

  • Ignore the slick marketing.
  • Don’t base your decision on price alone.
  • Do your research. Only choose reputable companies that do quality controls on both the raw ingredients and the finished product.

The Bottom Line

Herbal supplements have been in the headlines lately, and the news isn’t good.

  • One study (Villani et al, Food Chemistry, 170, 271-280, 2015) reported that only 6 out of 21 supplements listing grape seed extract on their label actually contained pure grape seed extract. The rest were adulterated with less expensive polyphenol sources which may not provide the same health benefits, such as peanut skin extracts and pine bark extracts. That report was based on HPL/UV/MS, which is the gold standard of quality controls assays for herbal supplements.
  • Two weeks later the New York Attorney General ordered GNC, Target, Walmart and Walgreens to stop selling herbal supplements containing ginko biloba, St. John’s wort, ginseng, echinacea and other herbal ingredients. He claimed that 80% of the supplements tested didn’t contain the ingredients on the label and some contained sand instead of any active ingredients. His claim was based on DNA barcoding, an assay that is appropriate for identifying the herbs used in manufacturing the supplements, but is not valid for determining whether the finished product contains extracts prepared from those herbs. In short the Attorney General’s report identified a potential problem with those supplements, but further tests will be required to determine how significant that problem is.
  • Both reports serve to remind us that many supplement manufacturers fail to run adequate quality control tests on their products. Neither they nor you know whether their products actually contain any active ingredients. Your best bet is to choose food supplement companies that run appropriate quality controls on both their raw ingredients and on their final products.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Latest Article

How to Choose the Right Pillow

Posted April 17, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Wake Up Each Morning Pain Free

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT – The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney

 

how to choose the right pillow without headachesThe way you sleep is often a key to discovering the cause of headaches and more. If you wake up with neck pain, a headache, or you suffer from ringing in your ears, dizziness, or ear pain, there is a good possibility that it may be caused by the way you are sleeping. Your pillow may be the culprit.  But if you need to know how to choose the right pillow for you, it’s easy.   It just takes a little “investigation.”

 

How to Choose the Right Pillow if You Sleep On Your Side

Your head, neck, and spine need to always stay in a nice straight line, just as it is when you are standing up, but that takes a little thought and understanding of the way you sleep.  So, get comfy in your bed and then notice how your head is resting.

how to choose the right pillow to sleep painfreeIf you sleep on your side, your pillow needs to be just the right size, so your head doesn’t point down toward the mattress (your pillow is too soft) or up to the ceiling (your pillow is too thick). Either of these positions will make the muscles on the side of your neck stay in the contracted position for hours and pull your vertebrae in that direction, especially when you try to turn over to your other side.

Your SCM Muscle May Cause Serious Problems

You also need to notice if you turn your head a bit, especially if you are turning into your pillow or turning your head up toward away from your pillow. In either of these two cases you will be causing your sternocleidomastoid (SCM for short) to be held shortened for hours.

Your SCM originates on your collarbone and inserts into the bone behind your ear.  When it contracts you turn your head to the opposite side. However, if the muscle is tight (for example, when you’ve held your head turned toward one side for an extended period of time) and then you bring your head back so you are facing forward, the tight muscle will pull on the bone behind your ear and cause havoc.

The symptoms for a tight SCM are tinnitus (ringing in the ear), dizziness, loss of equilibrium, ear pain, headaches, pain in the eye and around the skull, pain at the top of the head, and even pain in the throat. Amazing! What’s even more amazing is that it’s rare that this muscle is considered when a medical professional is searching for the cause of your symptoms.

These are the things to know when considering how to choose the right pillow if you sleep on your side.

How To Choose The Right Pillow If You Sleep On Your Back

how to choose the right pillow for sleeping on your backIf you sleep on your back, your head should be on the mattress (not propped up with a pillow) and you should have a tiny support (like a folded washcloth) under your neck.  Or, you can have a wedge pillow that starts at your mid-back and gently raises your entire trunk and head up while still allowing your head and back to be in a straight line.

It’s always a challenge for people who toss and turn during the night, sometimes on their side and sometimes on their back.  The best thing I’ve found for this situation is to have the pillow below shoulder level so when you turn on your side your shoulder will automatically slide to the edge of the pillow while still supporting your head properly, and when you turn onto your back, the pillow will start at shoulder level so your head and neck are supported, but your head is being pushed in a way that causes your chin to move down to your chest.

hip pain causes and treatment pain freeIt’s tricky, but I can personally attest to the fact that it will work.  I can always tell when I’ve had my head tilted (I toss and turn during the night) because I will wake with a headache. When that happens I’m grateful that I know how to self-treat the muscles of my neck and shoulders so the headache is eliminated quickly.  If you already have Treat Yourself to Pain Free Living,  you can self-treat all your neck and shoulder muscles to release the tension.

How To Choose The Right Pillow If You Sleep On Your Stomach

If you sleep on your stomach, this is the one position that is so bad that it behooves you to force yourself to change your position. Your head is turned to the side and held still for hours, putting a severe strain on all your cervical and upper thoracic vertebrae. Not only will this cause headaches, tinnitus, and a list of other pains, but it can cause problems down your entire spine. It can also impinge on the nerves that pass through the vertebrae on their way to your organs.

If you do sleep that way, let me know and I’ll give you some suggestions that work to change your habit of sleeping. It takes time and energy, but the results are worth the effort.

In every case, the way you sleep may cause neck pain that won’t go away until the pillow situation is resolved.

Now you should know how to choose the right pillow for the way you sleep.

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly

About The Author

julie donnelly

Julie Donnelly is a Deep Muscle Massage Therapist with 20 years of experience specializing in the treatment of chronic joint pain and sports injuries. She has worked extensively with elite athletes and patients who have been unsuccessful at finding relief through the more conventional therapies.

She has been widely published, both on – and off – line, in magazines, newsletters, and newspapers around the country. She is also often chosen to speak at national conventions, medical schools, and health facilities nationwide.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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