President of ConsumerLab.com, Tod Cooperman, MD shares expert advice on how to get the most for your money when you shop for supplements.
“Whether it’s St. John’s Wort, Echinacea or other herbal supplements (such as Valerian, Ginkgo Biloba, Garcinia Combination or Bilberry), here are a few key points to remember to help you choose the best herbal supplements based on ConsumerLab.com’s extensive testing.
Beware of Junk Herbs – If you were to brew a cup of coffee, would you try to pass off the left over coffee grinds as “coffee” to someone else? Of course not.
Some unscrupulous supplement manufacturers do this. They purchase the material left over after the key phytochemicals (plant compounds) have already been removed and sold as high quality extract. To this leftover material, they typically add a synthetic compound similar to one that naturally occurs in the plant in order to fool simple chemical tests, but you are not going to get the full spectrum of compounds you want. This is called “economic adulteration” and it’s not uncommon. The only way to avoid supplements that have been adulterated this way is to chemically analyze them, as ConsumerLab.com has been doing for 15 years in its product reviews.
It is important that you know the full scientific name of the herb you want. This will appear in italicized letters and is usually two words, which includes the species. Labels are required to be specific to help ensure that you don’t get the wrong herb.
The part of the herb – The compounds found in the root are very different from what’s in the leaves or other parts of the herb. Be sure you know which part you want.
The amount of herb – While suggested serving sizes on labels typically reflect what has been used in clinical trials, this is not always the case. We’ve come across products that suggest a dose 10 times smaller than what’s been shown to work or a dose that is much larger than you need or want. Beware of herbs containing “proprietary blends” as the actual amount of the herb will typically not be listed. Don’t rely solely on the manufacturer to determine what you need, find out ahead of time what dose you should use. You can find this in our reports.
Look Out for Unwanted Fillers – Often much of what’s in an herbal supplement is not the herb, but fillers, binders and flow agents. This can include soy, wheat and lactose. While typically not dangerous, you may want to avoid certain ingredients due to allergies, sensitivities or personal preferences. Again, be sure to read the label carefully, this time looking at the bottom of the Supplement Facts panel where “Other ingredients” are listed.
Heavy Metal Contamination – While growing, herbs absorb particular metals from the environment. The more contaminated the environment, the more the plant may take in. For example, if a plant is grown in a field near a highway, there still may be lead in the ground from the time when leaded gasoline was used. Over the past 15 years, our tests at ConsumerLab.com have found high levels of lead in many herbal products, from turmeric to valerian. Recently, we even found high levels of cadmium in cocoa powders. Nothing on the label will tell you how contaminated or clean a product is. The FDA requires manufacturers to test their products for heavy metals, but has not established limits and allows each manufacturer determine its own reasonable limits.
Finding Quality – As mentioned, there is a lot to check before you purchase and swallow an herbal supplement and you can’t tell from looking at a product if it is high quality or not. Tests in recent years by ConsumerLab.com have found that more than 30% of herbal supplements don’t meet strict criteria for quality.”
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For more information Contact:
Karen Olerich, Herb Specialist
Phone: (719) 495-4930