Herbal Supplements Bait-And-Switch — Labels Don’t Always Tell The Truth


Herbal supplements are a $5 billion per year industry that promise boundless health benefits. Some health promises are based in scientific research and medical fact. A doctor typically makes a supplements recommendation as part of a complete analysis and treatment program that is backed by evidence of effectiveness.

For example:

  • An anemic person might take iron or vitamin B12 or C that aids in absorption of iron
  • A pregnant woman may be prescribed folic acid to prevent birth defects
  • A vitamin D and calcium combination may protect patients with osteoporosis from suffering weak and fractured bones

Yet, unlike the pharmaceutical industry, the unregulated supplements companies are given very little oversight by the U.S. and Georgia governments. Therefore, even if a certain type of herb is determined to be healthy and effective by such a reputable agency as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the brand of the supplement you are taking may be useless or, in fact, dangerous.

As reported by the New York Times in its November 2013 article Herbal Supplements Are Often Not What They Seem, researchers tested 44 bottles of popular supplements distributed by a dozen companies. Astoundingly, many of the herbs were heavily diluted or replaced entirely by ineffective — and sometimes harmful — fillers. The labels misrepresented the potency of the product and the existence of the fillers.

In some cases, you may be buying a supplement with no health benefits at all, a virtual snake oil. More alarmingly, you may be ingesting a pill that contains substances with known adverse effects. For instance, the researchers noted the addition of Parthenium hysterophorus — which can cause rashes, nausea and flatulence — in the common cold prevention herb echinacea. Also, several supplements contained soy and wheat that can result in serious reactions to people with celiac disease, wheat intolerance or allergies.

Because companies typically distribute their products widely, you may have a nationwide class action claim.