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Dietary Supplements Frequently Mislabeled

Jun 10, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

So-called "natural" dietary supplements that millions of people take for their health can have serious quality problems.  According to the Associated Press, test of some dietary supplements conducted over  the past decade have found that these  products often contained ingredients far different than what was listed on the label.

Many of the dietary supplement tests detailed by the Associated Press were conducted by, an independent organization that tests pills for makers that want its seal of approval, and publishes ratings for subscribers. According to the Associated Press, over the past decade, tests of dietary supplements have revealed:


  • Lead has been found in zinc, black cohosh and ginkgo products.
  • A fungal toxin was found in four red yeast rice products in March 2008.
  • Last year cryptosporidium, a waterborne parasite that causes severe diarrhea, was found in  a liquid herbal supplement sold for infant colic and teething pain.

Potency Problems

  • Tests on four out of seven gingko supplements found they contained less ginkgo than claimed on their labels, and one failed to break apart properly to release its ingredients.
  • Six out of nine chondroitin supplements  had only 8 percent of what it claimed to contain, and one "maximum strength" product had none.
  • Of 23 top-selling vitamin C pills, one provided less than half the amount promised; the suggested dosages of some others were beyond recommended safe levels.
  • Of 10 vitamin A supplements, one provided twice its stated amount, raising concern about toxic side effects.

Prescription Medications

  • Some red yeast rice products have been found to contain lovastatin, the active ingredient in the drug Mevacor.
  • Some weight-loss supplements have been found to  contain sibutramine, a controlled substance that poses heart risks; rimonabant, a drug not approved in the United States; a seizure medicine, and a diuretic.
  • Supplements that claim to treat Erectile Dysfunction have been found to contain the active ingredient used in drugs like Viagra, which can be dangerous for men with heart conditions.

Problems with the quality of dietary supplements can have serious health consequences,  the Associated Press noted. For example, last year more than 200 people suffered a variety of ailments - including hair loss, discolored and painful fingernails, muscle cramps, joint pain, diarrhea and fatigue - as a result of supplements containing up to 200 times the amount of selenium stated on the label.  

Recently, we  reported that the popular line of Hydroxycut supplements was recalled after being linked to cases of serious liver damage and other ailments. Health officials are still trying to determine what ingredient in Hydroxycut may have caused such problems.

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