Herbal Supplements Often Contain Unlisted Ingredients

People who consume herbal products such as supplements may be getting more, or less, than they bargained for. Many of these products contain ingredients not listed on the label, a new study finds.

In the study, nearly 60 percent ofherbal products tested contained plant substances not listed on the label. In nearly a third of products, the main ingredient was substituted with a different product. More than 20 percent of products contained fillers such as rice, wheat and soybeans, in addition to the main ingredient.

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Overall, out of the 12 companies that produce herbal supplements included in the study, just two had products with no substitutions, fillers or contaminants, the researchers say.

Such unlisted ingredients may pose health hazards for consumers, the researchers said. For example, one produced was labeled as St. John’s wort, but actually contained the laxative plant Senna alexandrina. The laxative is not recommended for long turn use, and can cause serious side effects, such as chronic diarrhea and liver damage.

Other products contaminated with walnut leaves, wheat, soybeans and rice might pose problems for people with allergies or those seeking gluten-free products, said study researcher Steven Newmaster, an integrative biology professor and botanical director of the University of Guelph’s Biodiversity Institute of Ontario.

“A consumer has a right to see all of the plant species used in producing a natural product on the list of ingredients,” Newmaster said.

The researchers analyzed 44 herbal products sold in the United States and Canada, using a gene sequencing technique called DNA barcodingto identify the plant species present in the products. (DNA barcodes are short gene sequences that are indicative of a particular species.)

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