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Beware of Phony Supplements

Beware of Phony Supplements

Leonardo Di Caprio’s Frank Abagnale Jr. in Catch Me If You Can, and Freddy Benson (Steve Martin) in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels prove just how much folks love a conman -- movie-goers laid out over $200,000,000 to see these tricksters. But that’s nothing compared to the $15 BILLION spent in one year (2007) on “alternative” supplements -- many herbal -- that are phonier than Abagnale’s medical degree and Freddy’s disability. 

A study looked at 44 herbal products from 12 companies, 30 species of herbs and 50 leaf samples to see if their contents were related IN ANY WAY to what their labels stated.

  • 59% of the products contained material from plants NOT listed on the label.
  • Just 48% contained what they claimed as the active ingredient. Of those, 1/3 were contaminated with ingredients and fillers; some that pose health risks.
  • Only 2 of 12 companies delivered what they promised on the label without any substitutions.

The FDA itself says store shelves contain over 300 “adulterated” supplements -- some with unidentified prescription medications, others with heavy metals that up the risk of heart attack, stroke and death.

What can you do?

  • Rely on an ingredients certification seal from the United States Pharmacopeial Convention. Five companies (go to usp.org) have earned them.
  • Remember, even reliable supplements are just that! They’re meant to supplement, not substitute, for a healthy life style.

Related: Find out the best play to store vitamins and supplements.

Medically reviewed in April 2020.

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