Science Just Determined a Sad Truth About Herbal Supplements

Two bottles and spilled Echinacea pills as Herbal Supplements

Every year, Americans spend roughly $5 billion thinking that unproven herbal supplements will heal them in some magical way that traditional medicine cannot. But the truth is, they are being had.

A group of Canadian researchers recently conducted DNA barcoding tests on 44 bottles of popular supplements from 12 anonymous companies. They found that many bottles contained very diluted versions of the advertised herb, or were replaced entirely by cheap fillers.

Even more disturbing is that one-third of the bottles tested had none of the herb they advertised. These bottles contained fillers like soybean, wheat, and rice, which were not listed on the label. This inaccuracy creates a potentially dangerous situation for unwitting customers who have gluten allergies. 

Who would've thought that there are people taking advantage of a health craze that has very little, if any, medical backing? Companies can slap an herbal supplement label on anything, since the Food and Drug Administration does not conduct testing. (The industry is expected to operate on the honor code.)

Luckily, concerned scientists have taken up the cause to expose herbal supplements, and the perpetual fraud these companies pull on customers. Dr. David A. Baker, who performed a similar study last year with black cohosh supplements, said, "If you had a child who was sick and three out of 10 penicillin pills were fake, everybody would be up in arms. But it's O.K. to buy a supplement where three out of 10 pills are fake. I don't understand it. Why does this industry get away with that?"