Are Your Supplements Contaminated? : Exclusive Renegade Health Article

Monday Sep 10 | BY |
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Are you sure your supplements aren’t contaminated with lead?

In 2009, conducted an independent study on natural supplements. They found lead in at least one brand of zinc, black cohosh, and ginkgo products. A fungal toxin was found in four red yeast rice products. And ayurvedic solutions often contained hazardous metals, with one in five having potentially harmful levels of lead, mercury, or arsenic.

In May 2010, a Congressional investigation found that nearly all of the herbal dietary supplements they tested contained trace amounts of lead and other contaminants. Sixteen of the 40 supplements tested had pesticide residues that appeared to exceed legal limits.

In a more recent July 2012 article, ESPN reports that the FDA, who put in manufacturing standards for supplement companies in 2010, now sends a warning letter to one in every four supplement makers for manufacturing violations.

What’s going on? How can you raise the odds that the ingredients in your supplements won’t hurt you more than help you?

FDA Woefully Inadequate
In the 1990s, Congress passed a law that allowed supplements to go straight to market without FDA approval. Under the Dietary Supplement Heath and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), the dietary supplement or dietary ingredient manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that the product is safe before its marketed. The agency can act, therefore, only after consumers get sick or a safety issue comes to light. “It was really like closing the barn door after all the animals left,” said William Obermeyer, who left the FDA to found

The law did say, however, that the FDA could write quality control rules for products sold in the U.S. The agency took its time setting these up. The finally released them in July 2011. Under the new rules, companies can’t sell any new variety of supplement without first notifying the FDA.

Other than that? Not much. The FDA still doesn’t set any limits on toxins such as lead. They don’t say what tests companies must do to prove what is in their products. And they don’t require companies to report anything but “serious” problems related to the use of their products.

In a written statement, FDA spokeswoman Susan Cruzan said the products that contain contaminants or whose labels do not honestly describe their contents are considered subject to “further action,” but she conceded the agency is spread thin. In other words, they don’t have the funding or the staff to go checking up on all these companies. Fortunately, they have made some strides in the right direction.

Warning Letters and Recalls Happening
In July 2012, a company called “Ingredion” recalled nearly 40,000 pounds of a dietary ingredient called “Purimune,” a brand name for galactooligosaccharides. The ingredient is added to supplements that are marketed to aid the immune system and digestive health. Several lots of the ingredient had tested positive for salmonella. The recall affected supplements that contained the suspect material, including “Wellesse Digestive 3-in-1 Health Supplements” sold by Botanical Laboratories.

That same month, the Chicago Tribune reported that inspectors from the FDA had found violations of its rules on good manufacturing practices in half of the nearly 450 supplement companies they had inspected since 2008. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) recently sent letters to three supplement trade organizations seeking explanations.

Another recent recall: On August 17, 2012, Protica Inc. issued a voluntary recall of Protein Wave gelatin, ProBalance Protein to Go French Vanilla Latte, and Protein to Go Milk Chocolate Shake after an investigation revealed the products could be contaminated with the bacterium that causes botulism.

The FDA has issued several warning letters in 2012 to companies alerting them that they are selling products without going through the proper channels. Most failed to apply for notification with the FDA under the new 2011 rules. Several recalls have also been implemented.

How is one to protect oneself amidst all this?

How to Minimize the Risk of Taking Supplements
Beyond setting up your own laboratory in your house to test your supplements, there’s really no way to be 100 percent positive that they’re free of all contaminants. There are things you can do, however, to minimize your risk.

  • Look for the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) seal of approval. The USP is a reputable organization that tests vitamins and supplements to be sure that they contain what they say they do, and don’t contain harmful contaminants. They also certify that the manufacturer uses good quality control practices.
  • Look for the seal of approval from Consumer Labs, an independent lab used to test supplements.
  • Choose reputable brands that you trust. Don’t just go for the cheapest option.
  • Read the label. Most will list the ingredients, the percent of daily value, how much of a nutrient is in each serving, etc. Stay away from products that don’t list ingredients or percentages of daily value (DV) and recommended dietary allowance (RDA).
  • Have the raw ingredients been sourced with care? Check the label and the product website, and consider calling the company to see where they are getting their raw ingredients. If you can verify the product was derived form organic resources, it’s less likely to be contaminated.
  • Ask the company what tests they use to be sure the products are not contaminated with metals or other health hazards.
  • Look for the expiration date. Newer supplements are more likely to be more effective.
  • Be wary of multi-vitamins. Usually it’s better to choose the separate nutrients you need rather than to take a multi-vitamin. Multis don’t always meet the standards for what they say on the label, and are likely to give you too much of some nutrients, and not enough of others.
  • Check with your dietician or naturopath—these experts can help guide you to which supplements are more effective and safer. A naturopath, for example, can tell you that if a B vitamin has “thiamin hydrochloride” or “thiamin mononitrate” in parentheses, it’s synthetically made from a petrochemical source. If it says, “derived from rice bran,” or “derived from yeast,” it’s from a natural source.
  • Watch for preservatives, fillers, and binders, as these may indicate the supplement was more cheaply made, and may be more likely to have contaminants. Avoid “propyl” (such as hydroxypropyl-) and ethyl (as in polyethylene-) and methyl derivatives.
  • Consider becoming a member of, as they have regular reviews of supplements and will post those that tested best.

How do you lower risks when choosing supplements? Do you have favorite brands?

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SourcesGardiner Harris, “Study Finds Supplements Contain Contaminants,” The New York Times, May 25, 2010,

Marilynn Marchione, “Many ‘Natural” Supplements Are Contaminated,” Huffington Post, June 9, 2009,

Joe Astrouski, “FDA issues new diet supplement rules,” WTHI TV, July 7, 2011,

Food and Drug Administration, “Dietary Supplements,”

Trine Tsouderos, “Westchester firm recalls salmonella-contaminated supplement ingredient,” Chicago Tribune, July 19, 2012,, “Recalls and Warnings,” August 24, 2012,

Linda Melos, ND, “How to Choose Quality Supplements for Better Health and Natural Healing,” Linda Melos, ND, Naturopathic Physician,

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.


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  1. LIKE THE DRUGS, the supplements also are contaminated processed wrongly recklessly caring less for ethics, be it MainStream Nutritional Supplement or Ayurvedic Or Other types. Because their attitude has changed to one of unconcern. Ayurveda is killing people by using in all its preparations White Sugar, White Salt which do not fit the type of science that Ayurveda is.

  2. IdaFish says:

    Sounds real shifty.

    I use Garden of Life, as recommended by Mike Adams I think .. SO thinking they might be secure! 🙂

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