Renegade Health Radio: 38 Know Your Supplements

Saturday Feb 7 | BY |
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In this episode:

  • Learn what a recent New York City investigation found out about many of the popular supplements sold at big-name box stores means for the supplement industry.
  • How the recent investigations may change the future of supplements and their availability
  • Why you can’t always trust what the labels on your herbs and supplements.
  • How to decipher for yourself what companies you can put your trust in and which companies to avoid.
  • Hear step-by-step how you can figure out what is really going into the supplements that you’re paying for.
  • Understand how to interpret scientific studies to truly understand how to use the information.
  • Why it’s so important for your health to know what’s in the supplements you’re taking.



Frederic: This is Renegade Health Radio, with Frederic Patenaude and Kevin Gianni. Kevin, what’s new?

Kevin: What’s new Fred? I’m reading this article from The New York Times about how the New York Attorney General started to target supplements at major retailers. This is from the Well Blog on The New York Times if any of you guys read that. But essentially what happened is that the authorities from New York State they went into some of these stores, these big box stores that you see all the time including GNC, Target, Walgreens, Wal-Mart and what they found was shocking. So they tested the supplements. And they found that four out of five of the products that they tested did not contain any of the herbs on their labels. And here says the test showed the pills labeled medicinal herbs often contained a little more than cheap fillers like powdered rice, asparagus and house plants, and in some case substances that could be dangerous to those with allergies including wheat, gluten, as well as yeast. This is pretty intense man.

Frederic: So you’re saying essentially that people are buying placebos or worse.

Kevin: Or worse. I mean placebo is just a sugar pill. I mean this could – particularly if someone has an allergy to soy or beans or peanuts, there could be allergens in these supplements that could actually cause a very serious reaction for some of these people. So one other thing here too is that three out of six herbal products of Target, ginkgo biloba, St. John’s wort and valerian, tested negative for the herbs on their labels. They did contain powdered rice, beans, peas and wild carrots. Imagine buying valerian root as a sleep aid and finding out that you’re actually just taking wild carrot, peas and powdered rice. I mean you might as well eat a bowl of rice and peas and carrots before bed, probably cheaper. This is really scary stuff. I mean what it comes down to for me is that, one, if you’re going to these box stores and trying to buy supplements and you’re getting them cheap, what do you have? You have a one out of five chance that it might actually, at least based on this article, you might have a one in five chance that the product you get might actually have the herb in it.

Frederic: I wonder if this applies to Costco… I mean I know that Costco kind of has a reputation of sourcing higher quality products. But it’d be interesting I mean. But this is truly shocking like you said because people are buying these herbs. And that probably explains why it’s not working for a lot of you listening. You tried some of those and you’re like well I don’t feel anything because you just ate powdered beans and wild carrots. That’s crazy.

Kevin: Look I mean I guess asparagus and wild carrots, I mean I guess there’re some nutritional benefits to that. But I mean you might as well just go and eat a carrot and have some grilled asparagus or something like that. You know what else is interesting to me, Fred, is like I want to know where in the supply chain this is happening because someone knows. You know what I mean? Someone knows that they’re doing something wrong. And who is it? Is it the manufacturer? Is it the supplier? Is it the farmer? Someone, the middle man who’s like brokering the farmer and the suppliers, I want to know where this is going horribly, horribly wrong because this is kind of criminal. I mean it kind of – it is criminal.

Frederic: Well, it is false advertising. I mean someone has been making money for a while selling you placebos for supplements, calling them supplements and superfoods.

Kevin: It’s also one of these things where unfortunately this is the time where regulation of these supplements becomes a hot button. And I’m sure that’s what New York State is looking to do, trying to regulate the supplement industry. And the problem is that, and I hope that this won’t happen but it may, is that this makes it more difficult for good people to make good quality supplements to actually get into the marketplace because the FDA will almost – at least New York State and then probably the FDA will start to set up these benchmarks where almost just like the pharmaceutical industry where you have to pay millions of dollars to even just get your supplement approved. My hope is that it doesn’t go along the same route as the medicines do for the pharmaceutical companies. My hope is that maybe there’s at least some barrier to entry, at least a DNA test, on the product to see if it actually has that herb and then kind of work from there because I think people should have the right to just buy herbs. If I want to buy holy basil, let me buy holy basil. Let me take it as a capsule or do whatever. Let me grow it in my backyard whatever. But I hope that there’s not some sort of regulation that makes it extremely difficult for companies to get good products out there.

Frederic: I think it also brings up the point of the old adage that you get what you pay for.

Kevin: Yeah.

Frederic: I mean people you’re trying to save money but the quality is – even if those supplements contain the herbs they’re actually supposed to contain, the quality is highly variable. I mean this is what we found with holy basil for example. When I first met you, Kevin, you were selling the holy basil. And now I’m selling it with you through Renegade Health. But my exposure to holy basil was the stuff that I found in the health food store. And it was completely different than the product you were selling. I mean what you’re selling is very concentrated. It’s very potent. You don’t need to use a lot of it. You can make almost a coffee out of it, it’s so strong. And what they sell at the health food store that I was visiting was very weak by comparison. So the quality of the supplements varies highly. So you get what you pay for. You want to buy supplements at Target I mean it might not be the same thing. In this case, it’s really not at all what it’s supposed to be.

Kevin: I know. And anyone who has friends or family members or maybe even yourself who you just know are taking like GNC supplements or things like that, just point them to this article. I mean you can search for it. It’ll be – they can search New York Attorney General Targets Supplements and that should come up. And Fred, it’s interesting too. When you’re running a business, you mentioned the holy basil. When you’re running a business, you need to make sure that you have inventory of a particular product all the time. What happens is inevitably there’s a time where you either run out of inventory or you have to look around for another supplier. So in case one of your suppliers runs out on a product, you have to find something that’s of equal quality. And we went through that process and we couldn’t find anything. We got maybe a dozen samples of all different types of holy basil. And then number one, there was nothing as good as what we have in the Renegade Health Store. But also, the level of quality was such a huge drop-off. I mean just dried powder. I mean, who knows, it might have been asparagus powder for all I know. You know what I mean? It’s just kind of crazy. And the other thing that this brings up that may be really interesting, and again I don’t know if this is true or not, but think about this. If some of these scientific studies – well first off when you think about a scientific study, they’re generally underfunded right unless they’re funded by an industry that wants the answer to go in their favor, wants the results to go in their favor. Then they’re highly funded because they’re making sure that they get what they want. But with some of this, I’m wondering. When someone’s testing ginkgo biloba supplements right, are they buying them from Target? And then if they’re buying from Target and then they’re doing a scientific study on this, we’re running into a serious problem here because you’re not testing ginkgo right? You’re testing asparagus powder. And asparagus powder has much different health benefits than ginkgo or something like that. So it’s really interesting to see if this is really happening and people are – even if they’re getting the raw material from a company, maybe they’re getting it from one of these companies that actually just fills that raw material and puts it into the capsules. I mean maybe they think it’s ginkgo but it’s not. It’s just this powder. It’s just mixture of powder. It’s really – I don’t know. It’s really kind of fascinating to me. It kind of scares me.

Frederic: Well, the scariest thing is if there’s a new regulation in place that makes it very difficult for honest people to sell really good supplements because it will cost us millions of dollars to go through the regulation process. And then all you’re going to be able to find are going to be these generic supplements by big companies.

Kevin: Yeah.

Frederic: And that’s not cool. Well, hopefully that’s not going to happen. So where should people buy these herbs, Kev? Where do you think these herbs and supplements and so on?

Kevin: That’s where this leads us. It’s like so if you can’t trust some of these retailers, who can you trust? And we’ve been around. I’ve been around the supplement and herb and health kind of industry for a while and there are a couple groups of different people. And I can kind of give you who some of those people are. There’s like the promoters, the health promoters and these are the people who have a message, good or not and they know that they have to sell something that’s connected to their message. And so they go and they’ll go to maybe a supplement company so a white label, a private label supplement company and then they’ll just put their label with their face on it and wrap it around the bottle. And if they find a good supplement company, then they’re doing a good thing for the world. If they find a company that’s not as good, then they’re not doing necessarily a great thing for the world. So they have this name and they’re either attaching it to a supplement company that may not be that great or they’re actually doing their research and finding the supplement companies that are better. So there’s that first kind of space. The second space is kind of like the quality freak. And this is the person who is more supplying people like us for instance. We found the holy basil through one of these quality freaks that I just absolutely love and anything this guy kind of brings up is absolutely amazing. And we’ve actually run tests to make sure that it is legit in terms of – particularly in terms of heavy metal contamination and things like that. And so these are the people who sniff out these kinds of amazing supplements or herbs or products. And so they’re the ones that you kind of almost really want to be looking for the products because they understand. And they understand the products and they understand the questions to ask too. And so those are probably the two groups. And then there’s kind of the hybrid, which is I would say Renegade Health’s in that space. So we know a lot of the people and we’ve sourced some of the things ourselves like the cinnamon, even the muna, and that sort of thing. So we’ve sourced some of these things ourselves. But also we kind of know some of the people who actually make good product too. And then that’s kind of the hybrid model. But ultimately you have to just continue to ask questions. And that’s how you have to do it. I mean it almost doesn’t even make sense to buy from the store. It almost makes better sense to buy from some of the people that you’re listening to on podcasts, you’re reading their blogs, because they’re probably going to be the ones who are going to be able to answer your questions. I mean the problem with going to a manufacturer is that you might get a customer support person and they might just be repeating what the company mantra is. And who knows? You know what I mean? Who knows if that’s true or not? I mean we’ve even experienced that when looking for new ingredients for the skincare business. We end up asking questions and then suddenly the person on the other end of the phone kind of starts to shut down. And you’re like, okay well that probably means that you don’t know. And if you don’t know, then we don’t want to source that particular ingredient at all. So yeah, so I mean it’s almost as if you need to just find people. And I’m not even saying not people just like us, but people who are actively in this industry kind of looking around for cool stuff too. I mean it sounds really vague. But it’s kind of where we have to look. We have to be able to communicate with the people or at least second level of the people who are actually going out and trying to find this stuff.

Frederic: Good, Kev, really good advice. I mean this is a little shocking. But if you keep following the Renegade Health Radio podcast, we’ll keep you posted on what happens next if there are any changes in the regulations because this is going to – I mean, do you think this is going to provoke some changes?

Kevin: I think that this is – I think this is a big deal. There’s a lot of stuff about Codecs and all this sort of talk in the past. And you can just, if you want to know about Codecs, you can just kind of search online. And there’s been this kind of fear based kind of push about Codecs and how you won’t even be able to grow plants in your backyard if they have some sort of medicinal benefit. I don’t think that’s where this is all going. But this is definitely going to affect small supplement providers at some level. And it would be great if some of these companies and maybe even – I’m going to pass this article onto a few of my friends and colleagues because it would be really great to get some sort of lobby for small supplement companies. Because in New York, at least right now, because they’re going to write some sort of bill and it’s eventually going to make its way into federal law.

Frederic: Thank you, Kev. And thank you for the research. Of course I need to mention if you click on Store, you’ll be able to order some of our products such as the cinnamon, the holy basil, the muna. But like Kevin said, they’re not always available because if we run out we don’t sell you carrot powder. We wait to get the product in stock and because we order from places like Peru and so it can take a while. So they’re not always in stock. So make sure when we send you an email about the products being in stock that you get enough to last you for a while until we get the next shipment. Thank you for listening. And we’ll talk to you next week.

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. I have worked in an independent health food store. We knew which companies are reliable, and which are not. If you want to help, it would be worth contacting these companies and asking for a tour.

    Some companies have their stuff tested at a third party lab. Some verify their raw materials all the way to the source. Many do not.

    Check out New Chapter, Nutraceutical (multiple brands), HerbPharm…know your brands.

  2. I listened to part of the radio blog, and It would be helpful, to know , WHICH companies have the actual ingredients . I have tried many supplements, and can not tell a difference at all.
    dennis d.

  3. Debby says:


    First let me say that I generally don’t buy supplements from Wal-Mart, drug stores or even GNC.

    Kind of disappointed that you did investigate further. Harvard Prof. Pieter Cohen — a noted EXPERT in supplement safety — told the New York Times, the manufacturing process actually damages and even destroys the original DNA, making it difficult or impossible to detect the source. Prof. Cohen said the test results are so extreme that he finds them hard to accept

    Guess what, doing a DNA test sounds good, but it is not the correct test: chromatography and mass spectrometry are the correct tests. The NY Attorney General is looking to discredit supplements and they didn’t run the tests that could determine identity or purity.


  4. Sue says:

    Received this and thought others might like to read it.

    Dear Reader,

    You’ve heard the stories by now: New York State Attorney General Eric T.
    Schneiderman launched a secret investigation into several dietary
    supplements at some of America’s biggest retailers.

    But you haven’t heard the whole story. And neither has anyone else outside
    of Schneiderman’s office.

    There may be much more going on here than meets the eye. So we’ll have to
    keep watching as it unfolds.

    But already, blogs and commentators are using this as a way to attack all
    supplements. And making wild claims that simply aren’t true.

    And if the result of this New York investigation makes people think for
    one minute that all — or even most — supplements are fake, and possibly
    dangerous, that would cause a lot more harm than good.

    Tossing out the baby with the bathwater

    What Schneiderman claimed to have found is that some of the herbal
    products he tested from Walgreens, Wal-mart, Target and GNC didn’t contain
    the ingredients listed on the label. Walmart products came out the worst.

    But many are questioning the methods used to test the seized supplements
    in the first place.

    Dr. Daniel Fabricant, executive director of the Natural Products
    Association, said that the testing may not have even been accurate, using
    the “wrong tool.” And also that the attorney general’s office has not
    released the full details of the study to experts for review.

    The supplements were tested by looking for the DNA in the ingredients, a
    kind of “genetic fingerprinting.” But Dr. Pieter Cohen, an expert on
    supplements from Harvard Medical School, commented that the results of
    these tests were so “extreme” that it’s possible the plants were still
    present but their DNA had been destroyed during the manufacturing process.

    Others are saying that the DNA testing method used doesn’t even work to
    identify botanical extracts, and that the expert responsible for this
    analysis specializes in looking for DNA in dinosaurs.

    And regarding some potential allergens that Schneiderman said were found
    in some of the seized products, Steve Mister, president of the Council of
    Responsible Nutrition, said that this DNA testing doesn’t tell us how much
    of these ingredients were found.

    That’s very important, he said, as there are legally allowable thresholds
    that say trace amounts of some ingredients, such as gluten, and trace
    amounts of DNA from things like rice and beans, are allowed and “not
    considered harmful.”

    Those are just some of the unanswered questions that need to be answered
    before people start to panic and to question the value of all dietary

    Of course, it’s worth noting that the old saying applies here. “You get
    what you pay for.”

    And like anything else you can buy super cheap, be it a kid’s toy that
    falls apart after a day of play or a bottle of ginseng for a $1.99…it is
    usually worth paying for quality.

    Unfortunately, Schneiderman’s investigation will likely do little more
    than bring all the supplement bashers out from under their rocks and ready
    for their 15 minutes of fame.

    So here are a few things to keep in mind when you hear the talking heads
    all nodding in agreement about how “dangerous” supplements are.

    First, the biggest misconception you’ll hear everywhere this story is
    covered is that supplements are “unregulated.”

    Nothing could be further from the truth. It is true that supplements do
    not undergo finished product testing review by the FDA before they are
    brought to market. But the industry is heavily regulated, including
    ingredients and amounts that are not allowed, manufacturing standards,
    testing and requirements, labeling requirements, and more.

    And beyond the legal requirements, there are ethical standards involved
    here. Everyone I know in the supplement industry takes your trust very
    seriously and recognizes how important it is that you know what you are
    taking and you get what you pay for.

    That’s why, at HSI, we only work with companies that follow all of those
    legal and ethical standards very closely.

    You’ll also be hearing how drugs are tested for “safety” before they are
    allowed on the market and supplements aren’t.

    That is true…and there’s a good reason for that. Drugs are inherently
    dangerous. And supplements, which are technically food, are not.

    And even with all the supposed pre-market testing that goes on, drugs
    still end up killing and injuring people every single day.

    Beyond all the headlines and the spin, the truth is clear here: Taking the
    dietary supplements you need is a safe and effective way to stay healthy.

    And when you purchase supplements from reliable, high quality sources that
    use good manufacturing processes, you should have no reason to worry.

    But if you’re looking for supplements you can trust and that work, you
    won’t find them on the $1.99 shelf next to the water guns.

    To Your Good Health,

    Jenny Thompson
    Health Science Institute

    “New York attorney general targets supplements at major retailers” Anahad
    O’Connor, February 3, 2015, The New York Times,

    “New York AG targets herbal supplements at major retailers” February 3,
    2015, Nutraceuticals World,

  5. Jan K says:

    Food products which tout (i.e.) blueberries on their labels have been found to contain nothing which comes close to blueberries in their ingredients, and continue to be sold as such, yet no one in government is getting their ‘panties in a bunch’ over it. Of course, these are the products manufactured by Big Food. In like manner, the multiple vitamin and mineral supplements manufactured by the largest corps (i.e. Centrum) have been found to provide minimal to no health benefits due to the cheap, low quality compounds, as well as fillers, contained therein, yet the government agencies remain similarly silent. The common denominator? Mega Corps.

    The malevolent focus of the FDA, and Senator Durbin, for a number of years now has been on herbals and those supplements sold in single form, with attempts by both to bring these products under an ‘approval’ process identical to that of pharmaceuticals, even though existing federal regulations clearly delineate otherwise. These targeted supplements are typically the products of smaller companies and taken by those who seek remedies outside of the allopathic treatment modality, both eschewed by the FDA. The goal is to eliminate competition for the Mega Corps and to remove one’s ability to ‘treat’ self. Court decisions increasingly support the idea that an individual has no inherent right to decide on treatment or what goes into one’s own body. Mainstream media is actively at work to alter public opinion via its reporting which vilifies those whose exercised choices in self-responsibility fall outside of mainstream medicine. Even if, as Kevin believes, Codex is not the playbook, the finale of these cumulative scripts can play out the same: the herding of us all down a single corridor ending in corporatized, pharmaceutical medicine’s room without doors.

  6. fred says:

    This is adding to the post by sue:

    It seems DNA barcoding was the wrong method to use in testing the supplements and is very inaccurate. GNC retested with other methods and verified its supplements contain what is listed…according to the following article:

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