By James J. Gormley
Courtesy of NOW Foods
Although specters of Halloween fright masks and ghouls in “trick or treat” garb are seemingly now just behind us, we were recently “treated” (or is it tricked?) to a PBS NewsHour segment entitled, “What’s Really in Herbal Supplements.”
Of 26 random samples of black cohosh from Internet e-tailers and unnamed brick-and-mortar retailers, the anonymous lab used by researchers found that 30 percent of the samples (7 or 8) did not contain black cohosh according to the genetic botanical marker compound looked for in the testing.
One of the researchers interviewed is working on DNA bar-coding for plants that focuses on single genes rather than trying to map an herb’s whole DNA structure.
The “report” includes, but is not limited to, the following inaccurate statements, which I call myths, followed by … the facts:
MYTHS: “[Herbal supplements] are one of America’s […] least regulated industries, medicinal herbs […]”. “This is a[n] […] industry […] famous for loose regulation.”
THE FACTS: Although the category of herbal supplements is a supplement category, not a category of medicinal herbs, that aside
“As a point of clarification, dietary supplements are fully regulated, not as a drug, but as a unique category of food […] The FDA regulates the safety, manufacturing and labeling of all supplements, while the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has primary responsibility for regulating the [marketing and] advertising of these products.”
MYTH: “[…] what you see may not be what you get.”
In fact, the federal dietary supplement Current Good Manufacturing Practices (or CGMPs) requires that proper controls are in place for dietary supplements so that they are processed in a consistent manner, and meet quality standards.
The CGMPs apply to all domestic and foreign companies that manufacture, package, label or hold dietary supplements, including those involved with the activities of testing, quality control, packaging and labeling, and distributing them in the U.S.
According to the FDA: “The rule establishes CGMPs for industry-wide use that are necessary to require that dietary supplements are manufactured consistently as to identity, purity, strength, and composition.”
Translation: the FDA’s own requirements make it mandatory that what’s in the label is in the bottle.
No one form of ginseng is more or less effective overall, but each supports different health areas. For example, North American ginseng appears to be especially helpful for body support when we experience colds and stress and to support healthy hormone levels in women while Asian ginseng appears to particularly supportive in the areas of blood sugar support, cardiovascular health, mental health and immunity.
MYTH: “[…] dietary supplements are the Wild West of self-medication.”
THE FACTS: Dietary supplements are foods and have nothing to do with the medication, or drug, categories. Far from being a Wild West industry or class of products, dietary supplements are hyper-regulated. In fact, attorney Peter Barton Hutt notes that the “safety provisions under the FD&C [Food Drug and Cosmetic] Act applicable to dietary supplements would appear to be stronger than those applicable to conventional food.”
There has been a great deal of good work that has been done at the New York Botanical Garden, including a 2005 study from Columbia University’s Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine, which used a high-performance liquid chromatography-photodiode array detector (HPLC-PDA) and liquid chromatography-mass spectrophotometry (LC-MS) to look at the whole range of four main triterpene glycosides (sugary compounds) and major phenolic (natural food color) compounds.
Who’s to know or say that the labs hired by the Barcode of Life-funded researchers were even looking for the right compounds to begin with, or were using the right test method, or the right plant part, or the correct solvent, or a whole host of other questions to which we do not know the answers.
In addition, as consumers we can rest assured that the only Wild West out there today is in the mass media with the poorly researched anti-supplement stories that are published or broadcast, time and again.
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