Buying Supplements from CVS? You’re Probably Getting Hosed

Walgreens, GNC, Walmart, and CVS don’t always sell supplements. But when they do, they’re fake. Oh wait, they actually DO always sell supplements. And they’re still fake, well maybe some of them. At least according to New York’s Attorney General (aka my new favorite politician), who is going after these fraudsters. My previous rants on supplements and GNC have focused on the fact that a teenager making minimum wage with no nutrition experience or education can advise you on dietary supplements that are very poorly regulated by the FDA if he happens to work at GNC or a similar outlet.

This time though, the focus is on the fact that not only did these four retailers try to sell you poorly regulated crap you don’t need, they also lied about the crap that was in it! According to a write up in the New York Times:

“The authorities said they had conducted tests on top-selling store brands of herbal supplements at four national retailers — GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart — and found that four out of five of the products did not contain any of the herbs on their labels. The tests showed that pills labeled medicinal herbs often contained little more than cheap fillers like powdered rice, asparagus and houseplants, and in some cases substances that could be dangerous to those with allergies.”

In addition, some supplements at Target also tested negative for the herbs on their label. Basically, those ginkgo baloba pills you bought for “vitality” were really powdered garlic and powdered rice. For that I could have just made you some stir fry!

The New York State AG sent cease and desist letters to those four retailers. And of course industry reps are trying to pass this off as “bad practices from fringe companies”. Sorry guys, CVS is not a “fringe” company.

The morel of the story (rant)?

If you put it in your mouth, it should come from a trusted source (I know, I know, that’s what she said). Don’t get me wrong, I like CVS and shop there often for anything from bandaids to makeup to all of my life saving insulin prescriptions (although if you’ve read my blog long enough you know I can’t stand GNC and Vitamin Shoppe). I just don’t think you should be getting your supplements there.

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Think You Need A Supplement? Follow these steps:

  • Identify exactly what problem or deficiency you are addressing with it, and if you can reap the same benefit from a dietary change. For example, if I am tired all the time and find I have low iron, I may choose one of the following: take iron supplements, increase my intake of iron rich foods, or take iron supplements for a few weeks to replete my stores, while increasing iron intake from food over the long term.
  • Do your research, to make sure that supplement actually addresses your problem. To use the iron example above, it is pretty well established that taking an iron supplement improves blood iron levels. It is not as established that garlic pills promote weight loss, that a cranberry supplement can prevent UTIs (there is some evidence this works for some women, but nothing is concrete), or that ginkgo paloba will increase your vitality.
  • Make sure you get it from a safe, quality source. Third party tested products are best, and NSF tends to be the cream of the crop of that testing. If a supplement is tested, it will have a label on the bottle indicating so. You can also search the NSF International Directory for certified products.

You can read the full article about what the NY AG is doing in the New York Times.

Photo 1 c/o Adam Jackson Photo 2 c/o Health Gauge 

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