Latent Quality Problems in Supplements Pose Significant Risks
Millions of Americans take various forms of vitamin, herbal, or other dietary supplements daily. Such supplements make up more than 40,000 products on the market, accounting for annual sales exceeding $23 billion. However, recent studies and reports show that many of these supplements have quality problems, such as containing contaminants or having ingredients not matching what the labels listed. Some of these latent problems can cause serious health risks.
Testing Reveals Quality Problems in Supplements
Over the past decade, testing has revealed that one quarter of supplements tested contain some form of quality problem. Many of these tests were conducted by ConsumerLab.com, an independent company that tests pills for manufacturers that want its seal of approval, and publishes ratings for its subscribers. The company found contaminants in multiple products, such as lead in at least one brand each of zinc, black cohosh and ginkgo products; lead can accumulate in the body and cause many health problems. Zinc in consumer products has also recently been linked to denture cream zinc poisoning. Additionally, a fungal toxin was found in red yeast rice products in March 2008, and cryptosporidium, a waterborne parasite that causes severe diarrhea, was found in a liquid herbal supplement for colic and teething pain.
ConsumerLab.com also discovered potency problems. For example, in testing performed last November, four out of seven supplements tested contained less ginkgo than claimed on their labels. In April 2007, six out of nine chondroitin supplements failed to match their labels’ provisions. One had only 8 percent of what it claimed, while another was labeled “maximum strength” when it actually contained none. One of the 10 vitamin A supplements tested provided twice as much as listed on its label, which could lead to toxic side effects, and out of 23 top-selling vitamin C supplements, many suggested dosages were well beyond recommended safe levels while one contained less than half of the amount of Vitamin C claimed.
Quality Problems in Supplements Can Lead to Health Problems
In 2008, supplements that contained up to 200 times the amount of selenium claimed on their labels caused approximately 200 people to suffer from symptoms such as hair loss, discolored and painful fingernails, muscle cramps, joint pain, diarrhea and fatigue. In other studies, beta-carotene takers had increased rates of lung cancer; men taking vitamin E were more likely to get prostate cancer; and those taking selenium were slightly more likely to develop diabetes. Diet pills are widely-used supplements that also can pose significant risks. In 2004, the FDA banned ephedra, a diet pill that was found to cause heart problems, seizures, and even deaths. More recently, the FDA warned consumers to stop using Hydroxycut diet pills, which have been linked to many adverse side effects, including liver damage, seizures, and cardiovascular disorders.