What's in your herbal supplements?


I see that it is mentioned at the end of the article, but the scarier news is the fact that herbal supplements often have active pharmaceutical ingredients mixed in with them – I assume that is due to deliberate adulteration.


From TFA:

“Introducing LadyBits, an ultra-cool collective of tech journalists who look at the world with smart, lady lenses.”

I wish that continued with:

“So when we heard that herbal supplements contained a bunch of damaging gunk, we laughed like drains! We don’t think this news will dissuade the loons who pop these pills in the face of numerous studies that show they’re nothing more than a scam to empty the wallets of idiots - but you never know!”

Sadly though, it doesn’t :-/


I think people are now waking up to this phenomenon more and more. What I’d really like to see is unadulterated compounds at a fair price that anyone could buy, and either a requirement that drugs approved by the FDA put something like ‘FDA indications approved’ on the label (positive label that you could look for on a surprising number of OTC medications, or a negative message about 'untested by ’ on the supplements. Then, we could go forward. Anything to reduce the information asymmetry between the producers and purchasers.

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I’m against regulation in any way, and would like the money you propose for censorship to go towards educating people about what to buy. What do you think?

I’m unclear how a clarifying message is censorship, so I find it difficult to respond to your message. Censorship of what?

Being opposed to regulation is a perfectly reasonable viewpoint. However, to educate people you’d need to find willing eyes and ears to be educated. A message of some kind directly on the pill bottle is a form of education. Perhaps you just want to change the message?


I think that anyone who is against “regulation in any way” is delusional.

Regulation exists to protect the ignorant, and the ignorant exist in every class and strata of society. The most learned, intelligent people in the world are still necessarily ignorant of many, many things. For example, the greatest minds in rocket science or in theoretical physics do not necessarily understand medicine. This is why we have medical specialists - it is absurdly unfeasible to expect to educate every single individual on matters of health, diet, and treatment.

Civilization only exists because of specialization. A small subset of the total population gains the necessary knowledge and masters the necessarily skills to provide a specialized service for the whole, because it would be inefficient at best and catastrophic at worst to try and have each individual provide for every facet of their own lives.

If we wish to live in a world in which people are healthy and in which they trust their health and wellbeing to science and fact rather than superstition or hearsay, regulation is vital. Until we solve the problem of stopping unscrupulous people from preying upon the ingnorant and vulnerable, regulation is the only extant means to protect the ignorant and the vulnerable.

And the only reasons I could imagine someone opposing regulation are if they are so deluded as to believe they themselves are neither ignorant nor vulnerable, and that they do no benefit from the protection regulation provides them; or if they are unscrupulous and wish to prey upon the ignorant and vulnerable.


I’m against giving children placebos and poisons marketed as medicine, which is really why people want the government to regulate these things.

It would be one thing if we lived under despotism, but this should be a government of, by, and for the people (at least in theory). And people want confidence in their medicine, not more unregulated snake oil.



You forgot your pills again my friend!

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What sort of ‘education’ did you have in mind that would solve the problem of having absolutely no idea whether the label is accurate or not? Am I supposed to do a full scale genomic fingerprinting of anything where species is important, break out my mass spectrometer and gas chromatography rig if I suspect chemical contaminants, and then do the whole thing over again every time the lot number changes? (If I can even trust the lot number, there’d be nothing requiring any indication that the manufacturing process or supplier may have changed)…

I’m all for people not being complete idiots; but a scenario where you basically have to be an analytical chemist just to buy a bottle of cough syrup is… complete idiocy.


I think being ‘against regulation in any way’ is anything but delusional, but it’s a purely selfish point of view. I want me and the people I influence to be allowed to choose what to do based on rational life choices. Education is a key part of this., hence the reason I mentioned it. An educated population does not need to be policed, and an educated population does not need to protect your so-called ‘ignorant’. Who are the ignorant to you? People lesser than yourself? Do you consider that there might be a group of people who consider you ‘ignorant’ and wish to rule you? Do you want to be ruled - for these people to decide what is best for you?

I’ve never met someone completely mad before - have a cigar. Where did I go from advocating complete individual freedom to mandatory genomic fingerprinting. I’m sorry; I must have temporarily taken leave of my senses - I’d balk at a mandatory genetic test, but hey ho… this is the internet and you can make up whatever waffle you like.

I’m not a herbal supplements convert and totally agree that they’re a waste of time and money, but I’m afraid I don’t agree with more stickers on things that need more administration and more public awareness.

Educate people, please, rather than labelling things with ‘Don’t!’. What’s more efficient?

For example, let’s tell people about bleach, ammonia and other floor cleaners, let them smell them, use them, be familiar with them and use them. Let’s all know about lovely bleach.

Then when the snake oil guy comes with his lovely ‘oxygenated foam’ spray ‘sexy liquid’ fluid ‘injection pump sex’ device, everyone goes ‘Oh, it’s just bleach - we learnt about non-ionic and an-ionic surfactants in week one’.

Problem solved. No prohibition of bleach, one educated populace. Utopia, as Sir Thomas Moore originally imagined it, including toilets.

I think you’re as set in your ways as I am and would suggest you read around a bit. Is your point of view really as concrete as you pretend?

Picking only one of your ripe, low-hanging fruit, do you really know that civilisation only exists because of specialisation? Come on… pick something to claim as true that can actually be proved.

Peace out.

Nice strawman argument you got there. I’m sure it’s much easier to knock down, rather than addressing the actual argument presented.

What evidence do you have of this? Educated people do criminal things all the time. Educated people can be lied to, and even the most highly educated people don’t have some magical sense that can let them accurately analyze the chemical makeup whatever they look at.

Education won’t protect you from being poisoned when you swallow two cyanide pills that came in a sealed blisterpack labeled asprin.

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I’m not sure if you are being obtuse or merely condescending; but I’ll restate just in case:

Without access to data, ‘educated’ decisions are largely illusory. You need to know what you are actually dealing with in order to even begin making decisions about it. As the…delightful… process outlined in the methods section of this paper shows, if the label is a bunch of lies that’s a nontrivial process, absurdly impractical if you actually have to undertake it as part of routine buying.


To paraphrase a conversation between Adam Savage and his son:
Libertarianism is just anarchy for rich people.


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