Do you take herbal supplements for weight loss? You might not be getting what you pay for and maybe even exposing yourself to potential harm in some cases.
Some fat burners aren’t all they’re cracked up to be
GNC has agreed to pay a $2.25 million fine for selling — albeit unknowingly — a weight-loss supplement that made false representations about what it contained, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Dec. 7.
This case stemmed from 2013 when GNC sold a misbranded dietary supplement made by USP Labs. The supplement in question was Oxy Elite Pro Advanced Formula, a thermogenic fat burner.
USP Labs claimed to use natural plant extracts to make the product, but was actually using synthetic stimulants manufactured in a Chinese chemical factory.
The company was indicted November 2015 and is awaiting trial for an alleged conspiracy to import ingredients from China with false labeling and false documentation.
GNC quickly stopped all sales of USP Lab products after the indictment.
A search of the GNC website reveals that the most popular thermogenic fat burners sell in the $35 to $50 range, with outliers going as low as $8.99 and as high as 109.99. Typical product size is 60 to 120 capsules or tablets.
Supplements at chain pharmacies are suspect too
Last year, the attorney general of New York State tested a variety of herbal remedies at Walmart, Walgreens, Target and GNC. Four out of five products did not contain any of the herbs listed on the labels, according to The New York Times. Instead, they contained other ingredients that could be harmful to some people.
(Each retailer has pledged to cooperate, more or less, with the attorney general in an effort to improve the safety of consumers who take herbal supplements. Walgreens, in particular, was first to remove all the tested products that failed from all stores across the U.S.)
Sadly, these are not isolated results. This is a common problem that’s been detailed again and again. In a 2013 study published in the journal BMC Medicine, Canadian researchers tested 44 bottles of herbal supplements bought in Canada and the United States. A full one-third of the samples tested were adulterated; they did not have any of the key ingredients they promised.
Cheap fillers like rice, soybean, and wheat were used in place of actual ingredients people were paying big money to take, according to The New York Times. That could pose a big threat to someone with a life-threatening allergy to any of those substances! (The study’s authors decided *not* to reveal any product names to avoid singling out a sole company.)
Websites to help steer you right
There’s no foolproof way to protect yourself as a consumer when it comes to this stuff. One thing you can do is buy only USP (United States Pharmacopeia) certified supplements. The USP seal is the mark of the industry’s attempt at self-regulation. Other than that, know it’s buyer beware and you could be buying anything.
Several other websites will also help you sniff out the good from the bad when it comes to herbal supplements:
- ConsumerReportsHealth.org – Compare natural medicines (subscription required). Offers info on optimal doses and safe maximum doses. Also has a list where you can see which of the most popular herbal remedies might have contraindications with traditional meds.
- Nutrition.gov – Info on dietary supplements.
- MayoClinic.com – Herbal supplements: Has a guide titled ‘What to know before you buy.’
Don’t forget to talk to your doctor!
One final word of caution: Be sure to tell your doctor about any dietary supplements you take. That information will help him or her be aware of any possible drug interactions with prescriptions you may be taking.