Be careful where you buy your herbal products!

I recommend several supplements to my headache patients. However, the supplement industry is not regulated by the FDA and a few days ago another scandal has erupted. The attorney general of New York ordered Walgreens, WalMart, Target and GNC to stop selling their store brand herbal supplements. His investigation revealed that most of the supplements contained no active ingredients. In case of WalMart, only 4% of their herbal products contained an active ingredient. The tests involved Gingko biloba, St. John’s Wort, Ginseng, Garlic, Echinacea, Saw Palmetto, and Valerian root.

Of the herbal supplements for headaches, I recommend Boswellia and Feverfew made by a high quality manufacturer, Nature’s Way. I do not recommend butterbur, even though I participated in a large study that showed its efficacy in preventing migraine headaches. Butterbur contains several toxic chemicals, which can cause liver damage and other serious problems. Petadolex brand of butterbur claims to be free of these toxic ingredients, but the product is not allowed to be sold in Germany where it is manufactured. Here is my previous post on Petadolex.

Non-herbal supplements such as CoQ10 could also present a problem. For years, I have been recommending WalMart’s brand because it was much less expensive than any other brand and because I assumed that such a large company will have strict quality controls. Now I am thinking that it is possible that the price is so low because there is not much CoQ10 in it. CoQ10 by Nature’s Way costs more than twice as much as WalMart’s ($75 vs $30 for a month supply of 300 mg a day), but it may be worth it.

My most recommended supplement for migraines is magnesium and it is much less likely to present a problem because it is very inexpensive. Most of the cost is in manufacturing, bottling, shipping, etc. and not in the active ingredient.

  1. Parin Stormlaughter says: 02/19/20155:38 pm

    The NY attorney general did not find that the herbal supplements had no active ingredients. They found that nearly all had no DNA from the primary plant listed on the label.

    That is correct for an extract. Extracts are sprayed on a base substance like rice powder or cellulose, quickly dried, sometimes powdered again, then ecapsulated. It’s how to make a liquid into a capsule supplement.

    Herbalists aren’t looking for plant DNA when making extracts. They’re extracting sesquertirpenes, polysaccharides, saponins, alkaloids, and other components. None of those components contain plant DNA.

    Alcohol, one of the most widely used solvents, destroys DNA. If an encapsulated plant extract did contain plant DNA, I’d wonder about the lab technique and possible contamination.

    I would only expect plant DNA in bottles labeled as containing whole plant parts; otherwise, not.

  2. Ellen says: 02/11/201510:55 pm

    Thank you for this warning. I’m often wary of store-brand supplements. It may be wise to stick to established name brands, even if they cost more. Please keep up the helpful posts for those of us who suffer from migraines.

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