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6 Commonly Adulterated Supplements

Think the supplement labels contain all the information you need to know about what you’re putting into your body? 

Think again.

Between 2004 and 2012 the FDA recalled 237 supplements because they contained unlisted drugs in their ingredients. Adulteration and mislabelling have always been a problem and these are 6 commonly adulterated supplements.

When in doubt, always buy from reputable brands!

Think you’re getting -

Ginkgo Biloba

  • Used for memory boosting, blood circulation in the brain. 
  • Often replaced with black walnut, mustard, radish, allium, rice, and wheat.
  • Caution! Harmful for consumers with nut allergies and gluten sensitivity.

St. John’s wort

  • Used for depression and related conditions such as anxiety, tiredness, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping.  
  • Often replaced with Senna Alexandrina, dracaena, rice, and allium.
  • Caution! Senna Alexandrina is a herbal laxative. Prolong usage causes chronic diarrhea, cathartic colon, liver damage and abdominal pain.


  • A general tonic and stimulant that boosts the immune system.
  • Often replaced with rice, dracaena, pine, wheat, grass, citrus.
  • Caution! Harmful for consumers with gluten sensitivity.


  • Used for conditions related to the heart and blood system, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and atherosclerosis.
  • Often replaced with rice, dracaena, wheat.
  • Caution! Harmful for consumers with gluten sensitivity.


  • Used for fighting infections, especially the common cold and upper respiratory infections.
  • Often replaced with Parthenium Hysterophorus (feverfew), rice, pine or Ranunculaceae.
  • Caution! Parthenium Hysterophorus is traditionally used to treat fever, migraine, and arthritis. Side effects include swelling and numbness of the mouth, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and dermatitis.

Saw Palmetto

  • Used for decreasing symptoms of an enlarged prostate.
  • Often replaced with palm oil, olive oil.
  • Caution! You’re just getting edible oils!


Harel, Z et al (2013) JAMA Internal Medicine; The frequency and characteristics of dietary supplement recalls in the United States. Published 15 April 2013. http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1678813

MedlinePlus US National Library of Medicine (2014) Gingko. Last reviewed on 21 October 2014. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/333.html

MedlinePlus US National Library of Medicine (2014) St. John Wort. Last reviewed on 14 October 2014. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/329.html

MedlinePlus US National Library of Medicine (2014) Ginseng, American. Last reviewed on 16 July 2014. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/967.html 

MedlinePlus US National Library of Medicine (2014) Garlic. Last reviewed on 14 October 2014. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/300.html

MedlinePlus US National Library of Medicine (2014) Echinacea. Last reviewed on 7 July 2014. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/981.html  

MedlinePlus US National Library of Medicine (2014) Saw Palmetto. Last reviewed on 10 October 2014. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/971.html

Myers, S (2009) Natural Products Insider; Saw Palmetto Quality Issues. Published 11 September 2009. http://www.naturalproductsinsider.com/articles/2009/09/saw-palmetto-quality-issues.aspx

Newmaster, S. G. et al (2013) BMC Medicine Research article; DNA barcoding detects contamination and substitution in North American herbal products. Published 11 October 2013. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/11/222  

O’Connor, A (2013) The New York Times; Herbal Supplements Are Often Not What They Seem. Published 3 November 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/05/science/herbal-supplements-are-often-not-what-they-seem.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0  

O’Connor, A (2015) The New York Times; New York Attorney General Targets Supplements at Major Retailers. Published 3 February 2015. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/03/new-york-attorney-general-targets-supplements-at-major-retailers/ 

Office of New York State Attorney General (2015) A.G. Schneiderman Asks Major Retailers To Halt Sales Of Certain Herbal Supplements As DNA Tests Fail To Detect Plant Materials Listed On Majority Of Products Tested. Published 3 February 2015. http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-asks-major-retailers-halt-sales-certain-herbal-supplements-dna-tests  

All references accessed on 17 February 2015.