ConsumerLab.com finds many of the dietary supplements ingredients they tested to be below the sufficient healing levels the supplement lists on their labels.
Not according to ConsumerLab.com, an online consumer watchdog company that has undertaken quality testing of some of the more popular dietary supplements. Late last year, the company released the first of its findings: of 30 ginkgo biloba brands analyzed, seven — or roughly 25% — did not contain sufficient levels of the chemicals known to give the herb its healing powers.
And ginkgo, apparently, is not alone. The Boston Globe recently reported that of seven St. John's wort brands tested by an independent laboratory only one contained the .3% of hypericin (the presumed active ingredient) promised on the label.
Such findings of dietary supplements ingredients inevitably give rise to cries for more regulation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But the FDA already requires supplement manufacturers to provide label information that is "truthful and not misleading." What it doesn't require is that manufacturers obtain FDA approval before producing dietary supplements, nor does it routinely analyze supplements before they are sold to consumers. Rather, manufacturers are trusted to provide safe products and accurate ingredient lists, while Uncle Sam steps in only if consumer complaints raise a red flag.
"There is a tremendous need for the industry to standardize supplements so people at least know that they are getting a specific ingredient," says Dr. Richard Firshein, author of The Nutraceutical Revolution and an authority on nutritional medicine. "I know that there are many, many supplements that claim to contain a specific ingredient that actually don't."
For now, the onus is on the consumer, says Firshein, to select a supplement that lives up to its http://www.consumerlab.com label. Before choosing a brand, call the manufacturer and ask for information showing specifically what a given supplement contains and in what amount "Companies should be able to provide documentation from independent laboratories," says Firshein. "If they can't or won't . . . then I would choose another supplement."
ConsumerLab.com may make the search for a suitable supplement simpler. In the coming year, it plans to test a range of dietary supplements, including echinacea, ginseng, garlic, St. John's wort and SAM-e. Results will be posted monthly on the company's Web site, www.consumerlab.com.