In the age of paleo diets and juice detoxes, people also turn to herbal supplements in hopes of natural remedies to add to their all-natural lifestyles. If there is a medical issue we can fix with an herbal treatment, it has to be better than pharmaceutical treatments, right? Not so fast.
As with any scientific research, studies have found that certain herbal medicines are effective while others produce no significant results. Of course it depends on the herb and benefit scientists are testing, but now there is a bigger issue surrounding supplements.
The supplement industry has always been accused of potentially mislabeling or misleading customers. The most recent investigation of herbal supplements only validates accusations and will be a huge disappointment for anyone looking for natural remedies. A couple of weeks ago, the New York State Attorney General investigated herbal supplements at Walgreens, Target, Walmart and GNC—all major companies that mass produce supplements.
Four out of five supplements did not have the herbs that were labeled. Instead, tests showed traces of powdered rice, asparagus, houseplants and other fillers. The investigation might be shocking at first, but in reality, the Food and Drug Administration has virtually no regulatory power with these products. The trust is placed into the hands of the companies, which are required to accurately label their products.
The herbs that were tested were Gingko biloba, St. John’s wort, ginseng, garlic, Echinacea, saw palmetto, and valerian root. These herbs are used for a variety of health issues, like Gingko biloba for improving brain function or ginseng for boosting the immune system. A quick web search can give you lengthy lists of what health benefits these herbs potentially have, but scientific evidence of their effectiveness is not as clear.
Whether or not herbal medicines are effective is up for discussion and more research, but as for the accuracy of what is in those magical pills? Consumers want to know what they are buying, and they want labels that aren’t misleading. With all of this speculation, the answer seems to be to steer clear of supplements altogether. Either the FDA will need to have more control over the supplement industry or the companies themselves are going to have to regain the trust of their consumers by proving what is in those supplements.