Is your herbal supplement tested and safe? What can you learn by reading the bottle’s label about its testing and quality? What information about testing will you learn from the company website? Do you understand why herb products need to be tested?
Most of you reading this article, just buy an herbal supplement at the store and assume it is safe and tested by the company properly. Do you understand why the label contains so little information on it? Do you understand why it’s critical for your herbs to be tested, how the herb product is tested, and what tests are needed?
The herbal supplement information on the label is not about safety. It’s about the product ingredients, the strength of the product if it’s an extract or standardized dosage, suggestions for dosage, and nutritional information. It also has to have warnings on it such as don’t take it when pregnant or nursing.
Herbal supplements are considered food; therefore, companies cannot state any health claims other than general wordage such as supporting normal blood pressure or supporting immune health. Any dosage stated is a general guideline, not anything more. If they did so, they can be taken to court and fined. If you state a particular herb lowers blood pressure on the bottle, the company will be fined for false advertising.
Only drugs can state they lower blood pressure. Even though you can find health claims on website advertising, that company can be taken to court over their wordage and are. This is especially true of weight loss supplements.
Most labels are on relatively small bottles with little room to state much more than the above information. The stickers such as non-GMO all make the label more expensive. The FDA regulates what is stated on the label, the wording, and what cannot be stated. Often mislabeling a product will cause the FDA to recall it.
Any labels the company adheres to on their bottles must be able to be certified by the company such as organic certified stickers or labels.
The information on that bottle label usually does not tell you much at all about the testing, where the product was grown, where it was manufactured, or if it was manufactured by GMP Manufacturing Standards. Each shipment of herb powder may not have the same source.
Spice or tea products more often state where they come from like ‘product from Mexico or India.’ I can assure you, for example, the powered herb products such as Cayenne pepper, that you buy at the store’s Mexican food section are not processed by GMP or cGMP standards. I will discuss what GMP and cGMP standards mean later in the article.
The lack of data about testing on the label does not mean the product wasn’t tested.
It means you have to investigate the company by calling them or going to their website. If the website does not tell you what they test their products for and what tests are performed, they probably don’t. If you call them and they give you vague answers or won’t directly answer your questions, don’t buy their products.
You can request proof of their certifications and testing results. The first guy who answers the phone won’t know that information, but they can put it through to the quality control department, who can.
Another way is to look at the questions on Amazon under the herbal supplement product.
You can use this, even if you don’t buy the product on Amazon’s site. Often people ask those questions which are answered there. You can also find out other information about the product there. On the Amazon description page itself, the company may add details about its company and the testing they perform. One of the questions you may find answered is what tests they perform on this product. One of the frequent questions is where the source of the herbal product is.
Many of you buying supplements, innocently assume all herb products are manufactured with the same testing, safety procedures, and quality. The safety of your herbs must be regulated by law, and by the FDA.
Drugs are regulated by law after years of tests and double-blind studies costing the drug company years and billions of dollars.
Herbs are considered food and are manufactured with fewer rules and regulations. If the FDA regulation on herbs, becomes law this year, herb products will be strictly required to be tested as drugs are now.
Thousands of supplements will be taken off the shelf. Companies would have to spend millions of dollars to perform the same tests required by the manufacturers of drugs. There is not enough money to justify companies spending that kind of money. Herbs cannot be patented, as drugs are. You would just lose access to most supplements.
That hidden testing and safety information influences whether you get positive results using that specific supplement. It is one of the reasons, people say herbs don’t work. They have purchased poor-quality products without proper testing.
I have uploaded two pictures below of bottle labels from Nutricost and Caryle Nutritionals, that do have stickers on them. The labels on these bottles show different product stickers such as those produced with GMP Standards, were third-party tested, non-GMO, packaged, and lab tested in the US. Very few bottles show these labels. If the product is organic, it will state it on the label itself or have an organic sticker on it.
Important: You have to investigate the company at its source, the company’s website, and its stated quality statements.
If you scroll down to the footer on a company home page, somewhere in the links you will find their page labeled Quality or quality testing. It may even be in the links at the top.
Below are examples of quality control pages from three company websites.
Notice the difference in their herbal supplement quality standards statements. These examples tell you about the different tests performed on a product and why they are needed.
Tests to make sure the herb is not adulterated and is the proper herb species. Adulterated means the herb product contains herbs such as weeds, a product is cut with a different herb than specified that is not as effective but cheaper. Goldenseal leaf versus root. It may be the wrong herb species. Each herb family has a microscopic footprint the herb company microbiologist can identify.
Tests for heavy metals such as lead and mercury.
Tests for bacteria, E-coli, mold, insect, and mouse parts.
Testing to make sure the medicinal properties are present in the sample tested. What are the medicinal properties of that herb sample? There are certain constituents in each herb that are the primary medicinal elements.
There are NO ads in the blue links in this article.
#1 If you go to the Nutricost website it states this,
“All Nutricost supplements are manufactured in a GMP-compliant facility and provide high-quality ingredients and offer a variety of options for your health support.”
Now to another herbal supplement company where I buy many of my supplements from
#2 This is quoted directly from Carlyle’s Website under Quality
” WE GUARANTEE WE ARE CERTIFIED”
Underwriter Laboratories Certified (UL)
Good Manufacturing Practices Certified (cGMP compliant)
Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) aligned with cGMP goals.
USP standards for heavy metals are compliant.
Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) aligned with cGMP goals. 21 CFR part 111 compliant.
Nutritional Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) compliant.
“Banyan requires microbiological testing and certificates of analysis from all of our suppliers for every batch of herbs; however, we do not solely rely on vendor certificates of analysis for testing data. All of our herbs and tablets are tested at third-party labs. Our labs use all appropriate testing methods, with criteria and methods of analysis determined by the following third-party organizations and protocols:
- BAM (Bacteriological Analytical Manual) is the FDA-preferred laboratory procedure for microbiological analyses of foods and cosmetics. These are a collection of procedures used for the detection of bacteria, viruses, parasites, yeast, mold, and microbial toxins.
- AOAC (Official Methods of Analysis) International evaluates chemistry, microbiology, and molecular biology methods of analysis.
- USPÂ (simply USP) is an organization that sets standards for public health and related programs to help ensure the quality, safety, and benefit of medicines, supplements, and foods.
The standards are as follows and are measured in colony-forming units per gram (CFU/g):
Total aerobic microbial count <10^7 CFU/g
Total combined yeast and molds <10^5 CFU/g
Coliform <10^4 CFU/g
E. Coli absent in 10 gm
Salmonella absent in 25gm
Staphylococcus aureus absent in 25 gm
Our herbs and products are tested for arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury using independent U.S. laboratories. The acceptable limits for daily intake are as follows:
Arsenic content shall not exceed 0.01 milligrams per daily dose (10 micrograms per day)
Cadmium content shall not exceed 0.0041 mg/d (4.1 micrograms per day)
Lead content shall not exceed 0.01 mg/d (10 micrograms per day)
Mercury content shall not exceed 0.002 mg/d (2 micrograms per day)
All of our products are within the safety guidelines stipulated by the American National Standards Institute/National Sanitation Foundation International Dietary Supplement Standard 173 (ANSI 173).”
Testing may include HPLC and infra-red analysis of botanical blends and analytical assays for vitamin and mineral label claims. The company may have specialized testing equipment that other companies do not have. Some of these tests measure the active medicinal properties of the herb to see if they are active in the sample product.
If a company is proud of its quality and testing procedures, it will display that information making it easy to find.
What factors are inherent to herbal supplement products that determine their quality and effectiveness?
The first step by a manufacturing company is to buy quality herbal bulk products from the grower of the products from different countries such as India, China, Asia, or Japan.
Herbs are grown in many different countries including the United States. Growing them in the US is more expensive with more regulations, so often herb materials originally are imported from a foreign country. Some herbs only grow in certain countries and areas such as Ashwagandha. They are specific to a certain country. Moringa trees only grow well in countries or areas of the US that have mild winters without freezing temperatures as Florida or California. Most of the Moringa tree leaves come from The Philippines’ where many thousands of acres are devoted to this crop. They naturally grow there and are cultivated as well. Herbs are more potent when grown in an area where they have the right soil quality and temperatures.
The large manufacturing company may send a representative to that herb producer in that country to verify their practices. This may only be done initially when trying to secure safe sources for their end products. Many companies here in the US just ask for testing proof on the bulk product from the source herb grower. They never investigate the company other than that. The health food store does not investigate each brand they sell, they just buy the different products. Herb companies also have reps that visit the herb store such as Sprouts and give them brochures and give them information so hopefully, the store will carry more of their product line.
The highest quality companies, such as Banyan, have their own GMP-certified labs which do their own testing on each shipment. Their goal is to have control over each step of the herb manufacturing process to ensure safety. Then they also send samples out for third-party testing as well.
Why your herbal supplement product needs to be tested to know it’s safe to consume.
Many herbs look similar to each other. Some that look similar are poisonous. If the herb is supposed to contain medicinal properties, you need the correct plant species, grown in the proper environment including soil quality. Not all Oregano species have the same medicinal properties. This applies to every herb plant family. Some herbs are used more for their flavor in foods versus herbs that are grown and used for their medicinal qualities. Medicinal herbs often taste bitter such as Neem and Andrographis. Garlic is one of those exceptions. If herbs are picked at the wrong time or processed in a negative way, they will taste bitter.
Herb products can be contaminated.
Herb products can contain dirt, bacteria such as E. coli, insect parts, mouse or rodent contamination, or environmental chemicals from the soil. You cannot see that with just visual inspection. It takes examination by microscopes, and by certain highly technical testing machinery and lab analysis to know that. Even organic products can contain natural lead, dirt, mouse, and insect parts.
Problems with inspections of herbal products in countries like India or China.
Problems of adulteration of herb products. This means the product was cut with a cheaper herb, herbs not listed on the bottle, or contaminated.
Many of these countries such as India and China have severe ground, air, and water contamination. The soil may contain heavy metals such as lead. The air of these countries may be contaminated.
Herb plants absorb heavy metals through the root systems and from the air. If you pick herbs found on the roadside, those herb plants are contaminated by the exhaust of the cars going by. It is only safe to pick herbs if they are growing at least 200 feet from a road. It is far safer to pick them up in areas far away from sources of contamination.
The contamination of heavy metals can occur naturally such as in Nevada where lead is a problem or because of pesticides that remain in the soil from years of cotton or other commercial crop production. Areas, where the soil is influenced by volcano activity, may contain natural heavy metals. Those chemicals whether natural or artificial stay in the soil for many years.
What does GMP Compliant mean? The excerpt below is from the FDA page. This is not a law.
The company does not have to manufacture its products in a GMP-compliant laboratory. If they don’t use GMP standards, and people become sick, they can go to jail or be fined. They run the risk of their company being shut down.
Backgrounder on the Final Rule for Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs) for Dietary Supplements | FDA
- “Requires certain activities in manufacturing, packaging, labeling, and holding of dietary supplements to ensure that a dietary supplement contains what it is labeled to contain and is not contaminated with harmful or undesirable substances such as pesticides, heavy metals, or other impurities.
- Requires certain activities that will ensure the identity, purity, quality, strength, and composition of dietary supplements, which is a significant step in assuring consumers they are purchasing the type and amount of ingredients declared.”
Quality In-House Manufacturing
Responsible herbal company manufacturers test the bulk product in their own lab here in the US. They do not rely on the testing from the source grower. They reject bulk product that fails that testing. These testing procedures can cost them thousands of dollars both in the testing and the loss of product that does not meet their standards. It is very difficult to get your money back from a foreign country. Even a trusted source can ship a product that sometimes does not meet quality standards. The need for testing is critical.
These companies also store their material as well in their own facility to control the various steps of manufacturing the end product. This is for quality control.
These responsible companies also hire herb experts to help them combine herbs into formulations that are the most effective for a certain health challenge. The herb formulation may include the most effective herbs and quantity of each herb best suited for instance to the lungs or to the heart. Many herbs are more medicinally effective in combination with other herbs. The way the herbs are combined in the formula also reduces side effects. You need less of an herb in the formula if it is potent. A little goes a long way. The different constituents contained in the herbs complement each other in their health benefits.
Teas and spice products are not tested as rigorously as herbal supplement products, if at all. Read the articles below on that.
Heavy metals in tea? – Industry T Ching
Your Herbs and Spices Might Contain Arsenic, Cadmium & Lead (consumerreports.org)
This subject is so important, that I hope you read the entirety of it. Your health using herbs is dependent on your knowledge of the subject.
The next article will be on How to Choose a quality herbal supplement
Can you trust Organic Certifed Products article here
Cathryn Freer, the Herbladyisin signing off.