The New York Times published an article yesterday about four major retail stores (Walmart, Walgreens, GNC and Target) and the supplements, or lack thereof, they sell.

Scientists under the direction of the New York attorney general’s office decided to go to these stores, buy select herbal supplements, and run analytical chemistry tests on them to see if they had ANYTHING resembling the listed ingredients of the label. They didn’t!

The common supplements they tested were herbs like valerian, St. John’s wort, saw palmetto, ginkgo, ginseng, garlic (one of the best studied herbs for high blood pressure) and Echinacea. What they found was that powdered rice, beans, carrots, peas, radishes and house plants made up most of the ingredients (a balanced meal, perhaps, but not an herbal supplement!).  It truly saddens me when we have plants in nature with properties and constituents to enhance our own health, but then large corporations place profits over consumer safety.

Also concerning was that supplements sold at GNC were found to contain unlisted ingredients as fillers including powdered legumes (e.g., peanuts and soybeans), which can be hazardous for those with allergies.

RICE! It’s what’s in your GNC/Walgreens/Walmart/Target supplements!

Patients and consumers are always looking for a way to save money on supplements that are prescribed or recommended to them. And who can blame them? Depending on their condition, one might be taking several supplements, and therefore, price can quickly become an issue.

BUT, we know that we get what we pay for.   At Cascade Integrative Medicine, we prescribe and sell only nutraceutical-grade supplements.  These are manufactured according to rigorous standards, are subject to third party quality controls (for example, see Designs for Health), and each manufacturer can provide a Certificate of Analysis (CoA) for any of the products on our shelves.

Supplements should only be taken when evidence exists to support their use to treat or support a given health condition. CoQ10, creatine, L-carnitine, curcumin, and many others have been extensively studied for a variety of health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, or autoimmune disease. Everyday, millions of Americans take nutritional supplements to improve their health or promote well-being.   Supplementation should be individualized, evidence-based, and should be supported by sound biochemical rationale.

Take home message-

  • You get what you pay for.  While nutraceutical-grade supplements may be a little more expensive, you can be assured that the ingredients are tested and the product’s contents are as listed on the label.
  • Consult a knowledgeable clinician about supplements.
    • If you’re not sure if your doctor is knowledgeable, ask them this question: “Have you ever heard of curcumin or L-carnitine? “
    • If not, consider finding a naturopathic doctor (ND), like those at Cascade Integrative Medicine, who are trained in the therapeutic application of nutritional supplementation and their potential contraindications.
  • Buy supplements from companies that conform to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). How do you know?
    1. Are they cGMP?
    2. Do they perform third party quality control testing?
    3. Can they provide a CoA?