The Herbal Supplements You're Taking Might Not Contain What They Say

Four major retailers have been ordered by the New York State attorney general's office to stop selling a series of supplements that were found not to contain their advertised ingredients.

Investigators examined the DNA of the most popular herbal supplements at GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart, The New York Times reports, only to find that four out of five supplements had none of the ingredients written on their labels.

They were instead filled with food like asparagus, legumes and wheat, making them potentially dangerous for people with allergies.

A total of 24 supplements were tested, according to the Washington Post, all of which claimed to be based on seven different herbs: echinacea, garlic, gingko biloba, ginseng, saw palmetto, St. John's wort and valerian root.

Nineteen of them had zero DNA from their advertised plants.

One ginseng pill sold at Walgreens is labeled as a source of "physical endurance and vitality" but was entirely made up of powdered garlic and rice.

Another sold at Walmart was advertised as a wheat-free memory enhancer but contained mostly powdered radish, houseplants and, most importantly, wheat.

Walmart was deemed the biggest liar since all six of its tested products had no trace of the advertised ingredient.

The four retailers have since been sent cease-and-desist letters requesting an explanation as to how their supplements' ingredients are verified.

Supplements aren't subjected to the same rigorous approval process as drugs thanks to a 1994 federal law.

That law was created by a Republican senator from Utah who has been given hundreds of thousands of dollars from supplement makers.

After the establishment of this law, 72 people were infected with hepatitis in 2013, which proved to be caused by a "tainted supplement."

The New York Times reports that an infant died at a Connecticut hospital last December when it was given a widely used supplement that, contrary to its label, contained yeast.

Harvard Medical School assistant professor Pieter Cohen says the DNA of the tested ingredients may have been erased during the manufacturing process.

But he added,

If this data is accurate, then it is an unbelievably devastating indictment of the industry.

Walgreens has promised to stop selling the fraudulent supplements in all of its American stores, while Walmart told The New York Times it would "take appropriate action."

GNC said it would respond "in all appropriate ways" but insisted it tests its supplements “using validated and widely used testing methods.”

Target has yet to issue a formal response.

Citations: GNC Target WalMart Walgreens accused of selling adulterated herbals (The Washington Post), New York Attorney General Targets Supplements at Major Retailers (The New York Times)