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   Jun 25

Two in five health supplements may not contain what they claim on the label

Two in five health supplements may not contain what they claim on the label, research suggests.

Scientists who analysed milk thistle and echinacea supplements sold in British health food shops, pharmacies and supermarkets discovered between 30 and 40 per cent of products did not contain the active ingredient as described on the label.

The early results from the British Herbal Medicine Association study suggest some supplements could be ineffective or have different health benefits to those claimed.

The study is due to be published next year but early findings were presented by BHMA chair Dr Chris Etheridge at the College of Medicine’s Plant Medicine Conference in London this week.

Scientists have analysed the content of around 40 milk thistle and 50 echinacea supplements at the CAMAG laboratory in Switzerland. Milk thistle is traditionally used as a natural treatment for liver problems, while echinacea is taken to prevent colds and infections.

Dr Etheridge said some of the milk thistle pills contained no trace of the plant at all, while some others contained traces of leaves – even though it is only the seed which contains the active ingredient. Several of the echinacea pills contained a different species of echinacea plant to the one advertised on the label, which would not have the same effect.

The study follows on from 2015 research by University College London which found a quarter of 30 Gingko supplements tested contained little or no Gingko extract. Dr Etheridge said the earlier study suggested “adulteration was commonplace in the marketplace”.

Some products contained alternative herbs which did not have the same effects as those on the label, while others were “contaminated” with food dyes. “That is a major concern because that suggests companies are marketing substandard products as being good as they look nice in colour,” he added.

He said price was no guarantee of quality, as one of the most expensive Gingko supplements analysed contained no Gingko extract and instead tested positive for an anti-depressant chemical.

Traditional herbal medicines on sale in the UK which claim to help minor health problems, such as colds, must be registered and are subject to strict quality checks to ensure they contain the active ingredients they state on the label.

They should also carry the Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) mark to show they have been registered. But supplements which make no medical claims are classed as foods and are not subject to the same strict rules.

Dr Michael Dixon, GP and chair of the College of Medicine, said substandard unregulated supplements were giving registered complementary medicines “a bad name”.

“It is a great pity to see quality, registered products sat side-by-side on the shop shelves with fly-by-nights containing something that is no better than sawdust,” he said.

“People often don’t understand the difference so they may take one supplement and think it doesn’t work and write off all herbal products as useless or unpredictable, which is a real shame as quality products can be very beneficial.

“The important thing to remember is that unless a product has the THR mark on it is not quality controlled.”

There is no suggestion any of the supplements contained harmful substances and none of the products tested have been named.

A spokesman for the Health Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA) said: “While it is difficult to comment on the validity of unpublished findings, and therefore which products were tested and the test methods used, the HFMA does work closely with both the MHRA and the BHMA to ensure manufacturers retain the highest standards of safety and efficacy.

“Botanical food supplements are subject to rigorous food law regulations surrounding the safety and accuracy of both ingredients and product labelling.”

Dr Emma Derbyshire, adviser to the Health and Food Supplements Information Service, added: “Any product with the THR mark will have undergone testing to ensure that it contains what it claims to contain and has not been contaminated by any other plant, or adulterated with pharmaceutical medicines.

“If consumers are uncertain about the quality of herbal products, they should purchase them from reputable health food stores or pharmacies where advice on appropriate usage can also be obtained.” ENDS

Source: Telegraph

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