Thursday, May 27, 2010

Study Finds Heavy Metals And Pesticides In Most Supplements Tested

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) today released a report on herbal supplements:
Herbal Dietary Supplements: Examples of Deceptive or Questionable Marketing Practices and Potentially Dangerous Advice

They went undercover posing as elderly consumers. Here are some clips of their conversations with sales staff:

They tested 40 herbal supplements from 40 different manufacturers and found:
"GAO found trace amounts of at least one potentially hazardous contaminant in 37 of the 40 herbal dietary supplement products tested."

"All 37 supplements tested positive for trace amounts of lead; of those, 32 also contained mercury, 28 cadmium, 21 arsenic, and 18 residues from at least one pesticide."

More in GAO Report (pdf)

From the New York Times:1
"Steve Mister, president of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade association representing the dietary supplement industry, said it was not surprising that herbal supplements contained trace amounts of heavy metals, because these are routinely found in soil and plants. “I don’t think this should be of concern to consumers,” Mr. Mister said."
It sounded like he said heavy metals should not be a concern in herbs because they are routinely found in herbs, which is wanting for logic. But he knew that.

He also said, "supplement sellers tested ingredients before using them." How can you give your blessing to the sale of products with known contaminants?

Some say government should not engage in public health activities. That government should not monitor foods and supplements for pesticides, heavy metals, petroleum derivatives, pathogenic organisms, and other harmful substances. That businesses should be able to sell anything they please with no inspections, no accountability, and freedom from being sued. That man's innate sense of good will ultimately prevail.

I'm willing to pay taxes, especially when the dollars are spent on reports such as this.
1Study Finds Supplements Contain Contaminants, NYTs, Tuesday May 25

Thanks to BL.


julie said...

If you found out that the produce, fish, meat, grains, everything you eat contains contaminants from soil, air and water, would you recommend that none of it be sold, eaten? Herbs may not be higher than background, this study you refer to should mention if this is the case or not. Of course it's possible that since these supplements are concentrated, like fish oil, they would be higher. It's also true that as our measurement abilities get more sophisticated, the level n/d, not detected, gets lower and lower.

I looked at the article, and they don't mention the details I would be interested in. I don't waste my money of supplements anyway, so probably won't bother to find the studies themselves.

E. Stone said...

They should have named brands.

The 1994 DSHEA let the supplement industry off the hook.

Bix said...

Yes, if a food is contaminated, I would recommend it not be eaten.

The EPA defines contamination. But they have a backlog at the moment:

"However, 16 of the 40 supplements tested contained pesticide residues that appeared to exceed legal limits, the investigators found. In some cases, the government has not set allowable levels of these pesticides because of a paucity of scientific research."

It is the amount of something that makes it toxic.

Bix said...

Boy, wouldn't that have been nice ... naming brands.

I see herbals differently than vitamins. Vitamins are essential. Herbs are therapeutic, such as taking peppermint tea to soothe the GI tract. We don't need them but they make us feel better. That's where herb marketers walk a fine line. They cannot even suggest on the label that an herb treats, prevents, or cures a specific condition (unless they get FDA permission). But who doesn't take an herb to treat a condition? They are therapeutic after all. The answer is not removing access to herbs, the answer is in conducting efficacy studies. Germany can do it, why can't we? (We should also make the label match what's inside the bottle.)

Angela and Melinda said...

Virtually everything is contaminated nowadays, even mothers' breast milk. And I doubt the herbal supplements carry greater risks than the prescription drugs they're sometimes used to replace. Given that the side effects of those scrips include death. I know a man who's dying of the side effects of Nexium, the "little purple pill."
So it strikes me it's a question of choosing your poison. Everything is contaminated--meats, fish, veggies, fruit, grains, nuts--you name it. And as you've pointed out over the years, being organic doesn't necessarily exempt food from contaminants.