DNA Tests on Herbal Supplements Prompt Safety Warnings to Consumers

Source: NJ Spotlight
Concerns about…herbal supplements — including those supposedly containing St. John’s wort, echinacea and ginseng — were raised this week after N.Y. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman demanded that four major retailers stop selling the products.
Only 21 percent of tested products had the DNA from the listed herbal ingredients.

“This investigation makes one thing abundantly clear: The old adage ‘buyer beware’ may be especially true for consumers of herbal supplements,” Schneiderman said in a statement…

Bruce Ruck of the New Jersey Poison Information & Education System — which is also known as the New Jersey poison control center and is a division of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark — said he is concerned that supplements don’t get the same level of safety oversight as drugs.
“One of the concerns is they (consumers) are not getting what they think they are getting,” Ruck said, adding that the DNA tests raised questions about “what is in there, if it’s not listed on the label. It could be things that cause side effects or allergens, so that is also a concern to the consumer.”
…Some products at GNC included DNA from powdered legumes, the class of plants that includes peanuts and soybeans, which can trigger serious allergic reactions in some people. In addition, Walmart sold a “ginkgo biloba” supplement that contained wheat DNA, despite a label claiming it was “wheat free,” but with no ginkgo biloba DNA.
But representatives of the herbal-supplement industry rejected Schneiderman’s use of DNA testing — which is known as barcoding — saying that the processing of herbal extracts can destroy the DNA and leave it untraceable…
Beth Lambert, CEO of Herbalist & Alchemist, said…that the herbal-supplement products have a long history of being used safely. Her company, based in Washington in Warren County, makes liquid herbal extracts…(and) sells its products through…doctors, nurses, chiropractors and acupuncturists, as well as through health-food stores in and near New Jersey…She said her company uses independent, third-party laboratories to test its products, including Rutgers University and commercial testing labs. They use chromatography, a chemical process that separates the substances in mixtures…
She added that the number of serious adverse reactions to the use of herbal supplements is far smaller than for drugs. She said her company’s customers haven’t had one in the 34 years since it was founded.
Schneiderman ordered the retailers to provide a variety of information (this week) including: the name and location of the products’ manufacturers; a listing of the DNA or other testing of the products’ content and quality; a listing of the ingredients, including the measurements; the standards used to authenticate the contents; and any serious “adverse event” reports…
Walgreens and Target announced that they would stop selling the products nationally. Walmart officials said they’d stop selling them in New York and would be reaching out to suppliers for more information. GNC representatives said they stood behind their products.

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