Herbal Supplements: Sorting the good from the bad

Don’t waste your time on worthless supplements. I have warned many of my patients away from the low quality supplements sold at some large discount retailers that I will not name here. A recent investigation in New York indicates that my warnings were right. They found that only 1 out of 5 herbal supplements from these store’s house brands really contained the herb named on the label.

So, let me tell you how the supplement industry works. A vitamin company, whether high or low quality, buys their vitamins and herbs from a supplier and then blends and encapsulates those ingredients. One of the main differences between a good company and a poor one is where they get those raw materials.

I am particularly concerned about the quality of herbal supplements, which were examined in the recent investigation. In addition to the possibility of the herbs being adulterated with random junky ingredients, it matters how the herbs are grown. An herb has to be grown under the right conditions and harvested at the proper time to ensure adequate potency. This is why I particularly want to get my herbal supplements from companies that really care about quality. They often show this concern by testing each batch for the proper chemical markers and/or standardizing the herbal extract to contain a specified amount of the active ingredient. I particularly support companies like Gaia Herbs, which actually grows many of their herbs on their own farm in North Carolina.

Echinacea

Another wonderful company specializing in vitamins is Biotech, located right here in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I have toured Biotech’s facilities and saw their commitment to quality at every step in their process. Biotech again consistently buys their ingredients from high quality suppliers. They do test every shipment they receive to make sure of the strength and purity, but they rarely have to reject a shipment because they are working with suppliers that care about the products as much as they do.

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Other supplements are of concern too. It is hard to mess up a basic vitamin C, but some companies don’t put the amount in capsules that the label claims. I have also encountered rancid fish and flax oil from some of the big box store brands. When oils go rancid, they can develop toxic compounds that damage our DNA and may even contribute to heart disease. If one of my patients brings in fish oil from one of these questionable brands, I actually bite into the capsule and taste the oil. A bitter or excessively fishy taste usually indicates it is rancid and should be tossed. One person that I had shared this advice with found her fish oil to be rancid and tried giving it to her dog. Her dog was too smart and refused to take it. She bought a high quality brand like Nordic Naturals, and her dog approved of that one.

Not all supplement companies are alike. Some take steps to guarantee quality at every step of the manufacturing process and others are just trying to get the cheapest possible pill on the shelf. If you aren’t seeing the benefits you expect from your supplements, switch to a company that really cares.

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3 responses to “Herbal Supplements: Sorting the good from the bad

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this information. This is a wonderful guide for consumers. I was just going to send some information to a relative in North Carolina; and your recommendations are invaluable.

  2. Thank you! I really appreciate your feedback.

  3. My husband was just telling me the other day about a company I used to get supplements from that contained very little of the ingredients it said it did on the label. Every time I’ve gone to the military base or the mall I go in that store. Not any more, now. I’ll have to give Biotech a try, especially since my daughter lives in Rogers. Thanks Sonda!

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