Saturday, December 19, 2009

Beware of Contaminated Supplements

Ginger is a good herb, right?  Good for many things including helping prevent motion sickness and improving digestion.  Where do we get our ginger from?  Nearly 78% of the ginger imported to the U.S. comes from China.  In 2006, 53.8 million pounds of ginger was imported from China.

Investigators in California found that ginger, imported from China, was contaminated with a dangerous pesticide—aldicarb sulfoxide.  Symptoms of adicarb poisoning include nausea, headaches, blurred vision, muscle spasms and difficulty breathing.  High doses of the chemical can be fatal.[i]  The U.S. EPA has not approved the use of aldicarb sulfoxide for use on ginger.  After discovering the contaminated ginger, California Department of Public Health ordered a recall of the tainted product. 

If that were the end of the story, it would not be so bad.  However, ginger is used in many products including soups and frozen meals.  Companies may unknowingly buy the tainted ginger and use it in the manufacturing of their products. 

So, should we just avoid ginger?  No, ginger, properly grown and used is a healthy and safe product.  The problem is the quality control of items made/grown in China.  There have been a slew of reports of contaminated items from China including kitchenware, children’s toys and lunchboxes.  

Approximately one month ago,  a sales representative from a vitamin company came to our office.  She wanted me (and my partners) to use her supplements.   The supplements she was detailing were mostly Chinese herbs, from China.   Due to all the negative articles about items made/grown in China, I was skeptical. I asked her if the items were pure.  She said, “Our Company would not sell anything that was not pure.  We have checked these products. “  I was not reassured by her statements when we received her company’s analysis of the different products.  The analysis showed no variation in the different products.  In other words, all of the toxicity reports were exactly the same—essentially zero. 

I had my nurse send out samples of many of the products to a lab that does heavy metal testing.  Our results showed that many of these products were contaminated with lead and other heavy metals.    When we called the company to report our findings, they were not happy with the results.  They questioned our testing and said they would do further testing.   To date, we have not received any of their testing results.

The take home message is to beware of what you are purchasing.  You should only use companies that have a reliable track record.  These companies should be able to provide certificates demonstrating that their products are safe.  I have been testing nutritional supplements for years.  I am continually amazed by the results.  Many items contain toxic elements.  We have not tested all of the supplements that we use in our office, but, we have tested a substantial number of them.  If a product tests for a contaminated substance or does not meet the amounts of nutrients stated on the label, I will not use that product or any products from that company.    

Due to all the bad press out there, at the present time, I would suggest not using any supplements derived from China unless the product has been analyzed.    Unfortunately, sometimes it is hard to find out where the raw ingredients come from.  The best results are to rely on a reputable company that will provide you with an analysis of a product when you request one.   There are many good supplement companies out there.  However, there are many that are not the best. 

The take home message is to get the best result, work with a health care provider knowledgeable about natural therapies.  Ask where the ingredients come from.  Ask if the company will provide certificates of analysis.  If you don’t get the answers to these questions that you would like, then it may be time to search for a new supplement company.

[i] WSJ.  11.19.07


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