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What's In Your Herbal Supplements?


Here’s some disturbing news from the world of herbal supplements - according to a recent study conducted by Canadian researchers using DNA-sequencing technology, several herbal supplements are not what they claim to be, with many containing none of the active ingredient they claim to sell, while several contain fillers that may be harmful to health.

According to The New York Times, researchers selected popular medicinal herbs and then bought, at random, different brands claiming to sell those herbs from various stores. The results were surprising - among their findings were echinacea supplements, often used to stave off the flu, colds and coughs. The supplements were found to contain ground up bitter weed, a plant found in India and Australia that has been linked to rashes, nausea and flatulence. One product that was advertised as black cohosh, a herb that is used as a remedy for hot flashes and other menopause symptoms, contained an Asian plant that was not mentioned on the list of ingredients and can be toxic to humans. Meanwhile, two bottles labeled as St. John’s Wort, a herb used to treat depression, contained nothing but rice, while another contained a herb that is a known laxative.

Of the 44 herbal supplements that were tested, about one-third showed out and out substitution, which means that there was no actual trace of the plant that was advertised, but another plant in its place. All supplements tested were bought in America and Canada, where the FDA or Food and Drug Administration requires all medicines to be tested for safety before they go on sale - however, the herbal supplement industry works largely on the honour code, and supplements are generally considered safe until proven otherwise. 

The issue isn’t that the herbs have been proven not to work - there has been evidence that  many do - but that often there’s no way to tell whether you’re getting what you think you are, or something else entirely.

While the study doesn’t name the offending brands, products from several American herbal companies often make their way to India; meanwhile, there is no known system of regulating herbal supplements which are manufactured in India, including those closely guarded recipes for pills and powders which are handed out by homeopathy doctors and consumed by their patients in good faith. So the next time you reach for an herbal remedy, proceed with caution!


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