Herbals and Vitamins Can be Helpful But “Buyer Beware” by: Tim Culbert, MD

Apr 13, 2015 by Timothy P. Culbert, MD, FAAP

A recent news release from the Associated Press (February 3rd, 2015 ) described a study done by the Attorney General of New York, which found that 4 out 5 bottles of nutritional supplements found at popular stores (Target, Walmart, GNC, Walgreens), did NOT contain the amount of the herb/nutraceutical stated on the label based on DNA testing.  In fact some contained none at all. Furthermore, some bottles were adulterated with substances not listed on the label such as rice, wheat, beans and garlic.

Estimates of annual sales of herbal supplements top $6 billion in the USA alone, with over 65,000 dietary supplements on the market. Although the FDA requires companies to verify their products are safe and properly labeled, they do not have adequate resources as an agency, to enforce these guidelines rigorously. Buyers must beware and generally may be better off purchasing supplements from a reputable specialty supplier such as Whole Foods or local natural food coops,  where they are more likely to only stock quality brands.

It is important not to confuse the fact many herbals, botanicals, vitamins and supplements  have safe and proven benefits in certain psychiatric conditions. The lesson from this study is not that all natural products are ineffective or “snake oil”, but that when purchasing supplements of any kind, it is important for consumers to use —and for health care professionals to recommend —reputable brands that follow “good manufacturing process” and that are tested to assure that they are pure and actually contain the dose that is reflected on the label.  There are many brands that are of very high quality that can be sold only through medical offices such as Xymogen, Thorne, and Designs for Health, that are well made and that undergo rigorous quality testing.

References to consider looking at that review the evidence-based used of “nutraceuticals” in psychiatry, written by psychiatrist include:

Textbook of Integrative Mental Health Care;  James Lake, MD (2007, Thieme)

Mental Health For The Whole Child ; Scott Shannon, MD (2014, Norton)

Integrative Psychiatry Second Edition ;  Drs. Monti and Beitman (2013 Oxford)

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