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Turns out that many of the tested tablets contained potential allergens that weren’t listed in the ingredients, while others didn’t contain the supposed active ingredient at all. Image by: Freedigitalphotos.net

Most people think that herbal supplements are always safe to use. They’re natural, so how harmful can they be? That’s usually true, if you know what you’re taking. But what if someone tried to sell you pure gold, while it is actually gold painted bricks?

The New York State attorney general’s office claimed to have tested store-brand supplements from Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens, and GNC. Turns out that many of the tested tablets contained potential allergens that weren’t listed in the ingredients, while others didn’t contain the supposed active ingredient at all [1].

So in actual fact, people with allergies to those hidden ingredients are at risk. As a result, the retailers were accused for selling potentially dangerous herbal supplements, and were demanded to remove the tested products from their shelves.

Such a case is not pleasant, although somewhat expected, since supplements aren’t minded as drugs, and therefore aren’t put through the same FDA strict requirements that drugs are.

So the main question is, how can we make sure that the natural remedies we purchase really contain what it says on the bottle?
Well, there are several ways. First, various companies and scientists conduct clinical studies on natural remedies. For instance, a study showed that yerba maté (a plant originally from the subtropical region of South America) beverages and supplements may be helpful in fighting obesity [2]. A different study examined how an antiviral natural remedy decreased viral symptoms in individuals infected with the Human Papilomavirus, Herpes, Epstein Barr virus, Cytomegalovirus, and Hepatitis C virus [3].
Secondly, there are few non profit groups, such as NSF and USP that certify various supplements in terms of their ingredients, methods of manufacture, etc. The companies whose supplements meet the group’s standards are allowed to carry the official group’s seal on their labels. Therefore searching for those labels is a fairly good indication for the supplements quality. However, note that one cannot count solely on third party supplement certification, since there are other factors that should be taken into consideration. For instance, this certification procedure is very expensive, therefore new companies, with excellent efficient supplements, and low budget, can’t yet afford such a procedure.

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Even though supplements are OTC (over the counter), they can negatively interact with other medication you are taking. Image by: Freedigitalphotos.net

And lastly, you must always consult your physician before administering a natural supplement. Even though supplements are OTC (over the counter), they can negatively interact with other medication you are taking. In addition, physicians are usually familiar with different brands in terms of efficiency and safety.

This recent event which occurred isn’t very encouraging, however, just because it occurred, doesn’t mean supplements are bad for you. Basically, it means you must be extra careful while purchasing supplements. Saying that, it is important you follow the three methods outlined above in order to ensure the quality of your supplements, and your health.
References:

1. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/03/new-york-attorney-general-targets-supplements-at-major-retailers/
2. Gambero, Alessandra, and Marcelo L. Ribeiro. “The Positive Effects of Yerba Maté (Ilex paraguariensis) in Obesity.” Nutrients 7.2 (2015): 730-750.
3. Polansky, H. Itzkovitz, E. Gene-Eden-VIR Is Antiviral: Results of a Post Marketing Clinical Study. Published in September 2013.

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