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Frontline Investigates Herbal Supplement Industry

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New York, NYA Frontline documentary exploring the Herbal Supplement industry suggests herbal supplements may not contain the ingredients consumers think they’re buying. The documentary, which aired on PBS on January 19, is the latest in a string of investigations into how herbal supplements are made and marketed, including lawsuits filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the Justice Department against various herbal supplement makers.

The New York Times (1/19/16) and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) worked together on the Frontline documentary, titled “Supplements and Safety.” In it, researchers looked into vitamins, herbs, fish oil and supplements that claim to burn fat. According to the New York Times, around $1.3 billion is spent on fish oil supplements alone.

For their documentary, the New York Times and the CBC looked into disease outbreaks linked to contaminated vitamins and supplements. They also examined some of the health claims made about herbal supplements and the lack of clinical evidence as to their effectiveness. For example, many people take fish oil believing it can ward off cardiovascular problems, but so far there is little evidence that fish oil has an effect on cardiovascular health.

Although it is tempting to say that the worst-case scenario is that supplements do not have their intended effect, there is also a possibility that contaminated or tainted supplements could cause unintended side effects and significantly impact health.

According to the Times Union (1/21/16), numerous people using OxyELITE Pro, made by USPlabs developed liver failure. USPlabs now faces charges from the Justice Department for using unnatural ingredients. The Justice Department filed 11 charges against USPlabs, alleging the company “engaged in a conspiracy to to import ingredients from China using false certificates of analysis and false labeling and then lied about the source and nature of those ingredients after it put them in its products.”

The Justice Department further alleges that at least some of USPlabs’ products were sold without any evidence they were safe and may have known about studies that suggested its products were linked to liver toxicity.

The charges were filed by the Justice Department in November 2015. In addition to the charges against USPlabs, charges were also filed against more than 100 dietary supplement manufacturers and marketers. Civil actions have been filed against Sunrise Nutraceuticals and Health Nutrition Products by the Federal Trade Commission, alleging the companies made unsubstantiated claims about their supplements.


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Frontline segment on supplement safety is skewed and misleading


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