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Can you trust the labels on your herbal supplements?

What does your morning routine look like? Do you eat a healthy breakfast, do a little cardio, spend some time in quiet meditation? For generations, health advocates have recommended these activities as part of a wellness regimen. Finally, before you leave for work, do you pop a ginseng supplement into your mouth, maybe some ginkgo biloba or a garlic supplement?

You may be interested to know that some studies found certain brands of those supplements to be grossly mislabeled. In fact, taking mislabeled supplements may not only do little to improve your health, but it may also make you very sick.

A little bit of nothing

The purpose of one study was to determine how much of the labeled herb the supplements really contained. Using DNA tests on some of the most common herbal supplements, researchers wanted to see if you were getting your money's worth. Apparently, if you purchase herbal supplements consistently, you are among the 150 million Americans who include these supposedly natural alternatives in their healthy lifestyles at the cost of more than $6 billion a year.

Scientists tested hundreds of bottles of six store-brand supplements from four different chain stores. The supplements included:

  • John's wort: Used to relieve depression symptoms
  • Echinacea: Used to boost the immune system
  • Ginseng: Used to increase energy
  • Garlic: Used to prevent heart disease
  • Ginkgo biloba: Used to improve memory function
  • Saw palmetto: Used to treat prostate conditions

Researchers purchased numerous bottles of each supplement from the following major chains:

  • Walmart
  • GNC
  • Target
  • Walgreens

After performing almost 400 DNA tests on the supplements, the researchers announced that only 4 percent of Walmart brand supplements contained the herbs listed on the labels. Walmart's Echinacea contained no plant material at all. If you take GNC's brand of ginseng, you are probably consuming fillers such as rice, wheat, pine and wild carrot since the tests detected no ginseng in the product. The tests of the remaining supplements showed similar results.

No regulations to protect you

You may not realize that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the herbal supplement industry, so there is no government oversight into the accuracy of the labels. If you take prescription medications or have allergies like many in Hawaii, not knowing the exact ingredients of an herbal supplement could cause a dangerous or even deadly reaction.

As a consumer who is cautious about your health, you likely depend on accurate labels to ensure you are making the best choices for your health and your family. When those labels place you at risk by failing to reveal the exact contents of a substance, you have every right to take action.

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