Ok, so I don’t know how I missed this, but in February the New York State Attorney General’s office issued cease-and-desist letters to Target, GNC, Walmart and Walgreens for allegedly selling their store brand health supplements with little or none of the advertised ingredients. (When I worked at a nutritional supplement store some years ago, I must confess, I always wondered about those herbal supplement bottles in our front aisle.)
Anyway, so just how bad were the findings? In the case of all four retailers, none of their gingko biloba or their ginseng supplements contained any trace of those substances. That's right--ZERO gingo biloba or ginseng found in "gingo biloba and ginseng supplements." So what did they find in these retailers' supplements then? Though there were minor differences between the four retailers, the following was the case for all GNC-Herbal Plus, Target-Up & Up, Walmart-Spring Valley and Walgreens Finest Nutrition brands:
Gingko Biloba: No gingko biloba found, but did detect allium (garlic), rice, spruce and asparagus.
St. John’s Wort: No St. John’s Wort found. Detected allium (garlic), rice and dracaena (a tropical houseplant).
Ginseng: No ginseng found. Detected rice, dracaena, pine, wheat/grass and citrus.
Garlic: Contained garlic.
Echinacea: No echinacea found, except in Target’s brand. Detected rice in some samples.
Saw Palmetto: Some samples contained small amounts. Other samples contained a variety of ingredients, including asparagus, garlic, rice, and primrose.
Click here for a guide to common medicinal herbs.
These results are, of course, sad and frustrating. Now to be fair, we should always read the fine print, in this case, the bottles of all of those health supplements contain the standard, “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” But c’mon, when the bottle says “ginkgo biloba” and there’s not a trace of the stuff in there, you just got robbed. The national brands may be different, I’m not sure. Regardless, this is all a reminder that the health supplement industry is not sufficiently regulated and as such consumers must strive to be as informed as they possibly can.