In other news, herbal supplements are truly placebos

My favorite news story of the week, herbal supplements don't contain anything at all apparently. Why should we be surprised that big placebo is selling placebos?

The authorities said they had conducted tests on top-selling store brands of herbal supplements at four national retailers — GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart — and found that four out of five of the products did not contain any of the herbs on their labels. The tests showed that pills labeled medicinal herbs often contained little more than cheap fillers like powdered rice, asparagus and houseplants, and in some cases substances that could be dangerous to those with allergies.
Industry representatives have argued that any problems are caused by a handful of companies on the fringe of the industry. But New York’s investigation specifically targeted store brands at the nation’s drugstore and retail giants, which suggests that the problems are widespread.


More like this

Now that's what I'm talking about! Yesterday, the Justice Department announced criminal charges and lawsuits against the sellers of several supplements! This is the ort of thing that is long overdue—incredibly so, in fact. Before I get to this specific case, let's discuss a little background. One…
Via Terra Sigilatta (who beat me to this one, as I saw the press release yesterday but never got around to blogging about it), we find yet another case of heavy metal contamination of a popular supplement, this time herbal kelp supplements. This discovery was prompted by the investigation of a case…
If there's one thing I've been consistent about, it's that, however ridiculous all the other woo I routinely discuss here is—homeopathy, reiki, reflexology, I'm talking to you and your friends—herbal medicine and supplements might have value because they might have a physiological effect that is…
An interesting question arose the other day when we discussed the Key West acupuncturist who was diverting prescription drugs for personal use as well as in her practice. While we are not certain that the defendant put the cited muscle relaxants and anxiolytics in remedies doled out at her…

Similar thing with antidepressants, apparently. Psych MDs readily admit it’s a crapshoot. But what’s more surprising is that when they DO work, it’s almost invariably due to the placebo effect. No less than CBS’ “60 Minutes” did a segment on this finding a year or two ago. Leslie Stahl was shocked.

By See Noevo (not verified) on 07 Feb 2015 #permalink

Whoa there, careful about that overextension of conclusions.

Yes, there are plenty of supplements being sold that contain none of the label ingredients and some unlabeled harmful ingredients. Agreed, the companies involved should be exposed and shredded.

But that says nothing about the run-of-the-mill supplements such as plain vitamins and minerals. Over-generalizing about "supplements" accuses the innocent along with the guilty. Whether people need to take those vitamins and minerals at all, is another issue that can and should be debated on its own merits.

But if you go in for overkill, then you will lose with all the families that give their kids One-A-Day at breakfast, all the geeks who take B-complex during long coding sessions, all the oldsters who take calcium pills, all the college kids who take vitamin C by the gram to fend off colds during finals week, and so on. Whether they gain any benefit at all, remains to be seen. But by and large those kinds of usages are harmless at worst, and a culture in which lotteries are legal has no basis to complain about people throwing their money away.

Key strategic point: draw your circle of allies and supporters as wide as possible, and isolate your enemies to as small a group of their own supporters as possible. If we want to tackle quack supplements that are mislabeled and potentially dangerous, we should isolate them and their makers, rather than alienating everyone who pops vitamin pills.

If a food or drug company was shown to be counterfeiting, tainting and lying on labels even occasionally, it would be front-page news for days. The entire nation would be howling for their heads.

For herbal supplements, apparently we as a society think "caveat emptor" is good enough.

I personally think herbal supplements aren't the best idea overall, that if the herbs have value they should be tested as drugs, but I still believe that if you choose to take a supplement, the ingredient list should be protected at least as well as a bottle of aspirin, or a box of cookies.

By Young CC Prof (not verified) on 08 Feb 2015 #permalink

Yeah.. About the phsych meds.. When dealing with the brain, you have a real mess. Heck, even pain is. With other things, either it gets better, or it doesn't, but, the brain's own state is malleable, and if can "create" or "reduce" pain, for example, but.. it can also amplify, or decrease, its own.. malfunctions. So, give someone a med, and they are convinced it works, the belief could amplify the effect. By the same token... disbelief in he medication, might almost totally negate the effects, in some cases. Especially if the medication is... shall we say, marginal, and its effects, when they do work, not well understood.

Or, at least that would be my theory anyway.