Study Finds Supplements Contain Contaminants

27 May

A story in the New York Times by Gardiner Harris discusses the results of a Congressional investigation on dietary supplements. Many were found to be contaminated with heavy metals and/or pesticides:

Nearly all of the herbal dietary supplements tested in a Congressional investigation contained trace amounts of lead and other contaminants, and some supplement sellers made illegal claims that their products can cure cancer and other diseases, investigators found.

The levels of heavy metals — including mercury, cadmium and arsenic — did not exceed thresholds considered dangerous, the investigators found. However, 16 of the 40 supplements tested contained pesticide residues that appeared to exceed legal limits, the investigators found. In some cases, the government has not set allowable levels of these pesticides because of a paucity of scientific research.

You can read the actual report in summary, highlights and full report.

The report focused on herbal supplements like Ginko and St. John’s Wort. The levels were low as noted:

GAO also found trace amounts of at least one potentially hazardous contaminant in 37 of the 40 herbal dietary supplement products tested, though none in amounts considered to pose an acute toxicity hazard. All 37 supplements tested positive for trace amounts of lead; of those, 32 also contained mercury, 28 cadmium, 21 arsenic, and 18 residues from at least one pesticide. The levels of heavy metals found do not exceed any FDA or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations governing dietary supplements or their raw ingredients, and FDA and EPA officials did not express concern regarding any immediate negative health consequences from consuming these 40 supplements.

Earlier this year, Kirkman Labs (who markets their supplements towards the autism parent community) was found to have a number of supplements contaminated with antimony.

A representative for the Council for Responsible Nurtirion downplayed the contamination issues:

Steve Mister, president of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade association representing the dietary supplement industry, said it was not surprising that herbal supplements contained trace amounts of heavy metals, because these are routinely found in soil and plants. “I don’t think this should be of concern to consumers,” Mr. Mister said.

3 Responses to “Study Finds Supplements Contain Contaminants”

  1. Kev May 27, 2010 at 12:26 #

    The cognitive dissonance, it burns [rollseyes]

  2. Prometheus May 27, 2010 at 22:39 #

    I note that the Kirkman website hasn’t provided an update on their search for the source of antimony contamination since 3 Feb 2010. I should hope that – by now – they would have at least identified the antimony compound that was contaminating their products.

    The Kirkman products were contaminated – according to their website – as a result of contaminated stevia, used as a non-sugar sweetener. Since stevia is ~ 250-300 times sweeter than sucrose (comparable to aspartame), the stevia must have been heavily contaminated with antimony, since so little of it would be used in each “dose” of supplement. It should be a simple matter, with heavy contamination, to identify the antimony compound. Yet there has been no news from Kirkman in over three months.




  1. Tweets that mention Autism Blog - Study Finds Supplements Contain Contaminants « Left Brain/Right Brain -- - May 27, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kev, Catherina+ScienceMom. Catherina+ScienceMom said: RT @kevleitch Autism Blog – Study Finds Supplements Contain Heavy Metal Contaminants « Left Brain/Right Brain […]

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