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Regulation of Dietary and Herbal Supplements
By: Diane Joswick, L.Ac., MSOM

There's a wide variety of manufacturers for herbal supplements on the market. Make sure you're getting a quality product.

As a consumer, make sure that you are getting your money's worth.

We recommend purchasing your herbs from top quality manufacturers that only distribute their products through healthcare professionals. You can then be confident that the herbs that you put into your body are not only of the highest potency, quality, and safety; they are prescribed by a trained professional to suit your specific needs.

How would you feel if your 4000 sq. feet dream home was actually 2300 sq. feet? Or your 36 inch television was actually 27 inches? That is exactly what is happening when you purchase herbal supplements that do not contain what the label claims.

Until recently, you really had no way of knowing whether you were getting what you paid for. Manufacturers do not need to register with FDA nor get FDA approval before producing or selling dietary supplements. With sales of supplements in the United States alone grossing well over $15 billion a year, concern about product safety has reached an all time high.

Acufinder.com reviewed three independent testing programs that have come to the rescue, putting supplements under the microscope.

And none too soon! One-quarter of the first 571 supplements tested by one program, ConsumerLab.com, did not contain the amount of the product stated on the label, were contaminated, or did not dissolve properly!

Ginseng from 22 companies was tested and only 9 products passed. Eight products contained unacceptable levels of both quintozene and hexachlorobenzene. Hexachlorobenzene is a probable human carcinogen and has been banned from food crops throughout the world. Quintozene is a potential carcinogen that is considered toxic to various organs and is generally not allowed for use on food products in the U.S. Two products contained lead above the acceptable level (3 micrograms per daily serving). Seven products had less than the required concentration of ginsenosides (the active ingredient). Their main ingredient? Sawdust!

We recommend purchasing your herbs from top quality manufacturers that only distribute their products through healthcare professionals. You can then be confident that the herbs that you put into your body are not only of the highest potency, quality, and safety; they are prescribed by a trained professional to suit your specific needs.

Manufacturers such as Evergreen Herbs and Medical Supplies, Ka'an Herbs, Secara Herbs and Standard Process, Inc., only distribute their nutritional and herbal supplements through qualified and licensed health care practitioners and their products must pass the most stringent quality control requirements.

Be aware that many Asian "patented" medicines are contaminated with high levels of heavy metals and adulterated with pharmaceuticals. Raw herbs or herbal products made from raw herb powders may contain high levels of fiber, bacteria, fungus, and mold.

Ask your acupuncturist about the quality of the herbs used in his/her clinic. Reputable herbal manufacturers will provide the practitioner with information about the quality and safety controls enforced by their company.

If you do intend to purchase herbs or vitamins from a health food store, check for a seal of approval from the following programs:

United States Pharmacopeia (USP), a nonprofit organization authorized by Congress to set standards for the drug industry, has launched a Dietary Supplement Verification Program. Manufacturers pay USP to get products tested. They can use a USP mark on the label if the supplement contains the ingredients stated on the label, has the declared amount of ingredients, will disintegrate or dissolve effectively to release nutrients for absorption into your body, has been screened for harmful contaminants such as pesticides, bacteria and heavy metals and has been manufactured using safe, sanitary and well-controlled procedures. Once a company has been approved, USP conducts random product testing and audits to assure consistent quality of the products.

NSF International, also a nonprofit organization, offers the Dietary Supplement Certification Program. Like USP, manufacturers pay a fee to be tested by NSF and can use the NSF mark on supplement labels if products pass for label accuracy, lack of contamination, and good manufacturing practices. Products continue to be monitored.

ConsumerLab.com, my favorite, selects over 20 of the most popular brands of supplements from a single category to test for label accuracy, lack of contamination, and if products dissolve properly. For a $17.95 yearly subscription, to ConsumerLab.com's Web site, you can see the names of over 400 supplements that have passed their tests. Manufacturers can use ConsumerLab.com's seal of approval on their products if the supplement passes an annual analysis and the manufacturer agrees to pull the product from stores if there are any problems.

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