Research News

UB experts weigh in on debate over safety of nutritional supplements

By RACHEL STERN and ELLEN GOLDBAUM

Published April 9, 2015

“It is the wild, wild West when it comes to botanicals and other nutritional supplements.”
Edward Bednarczyk, chair
Department of Pharmacy Practice

With media nationwide questioning the safety of herbal supplements, two UB researchers have weighed on the debate.

Edward Bednarczyk, UB pharmacy practice chair, said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must hold companies to a higher standard when it comes to the supplements.

After the New York State attorney general’s office accused GNC and three other major retailers of selling contaminated or fraudulent herbal supplements last month, GNC agreed to put into place new testing procedures.

“It is the wild, wild West when it comes to botanicals and other nutritional supplements,” Bednarczyk said. “I think this is a strong signal to the FDA to start holding companies to a higher standard on the whole herbal side.”

Mark O’Brian, professor and interim chair of biochemistry, said the attorney general’s office is, in part, responding to findings contained in a 2013 paper published journal BMC Medicine.

That paper analyzed 44 herbal supplements and found that only 48 percent contained what was on the label while 59 percent contained filler or contaminants not on the label. 

“Of the 12 companies represented by those 44 products, three of them didn’t sell any products that contained the ingredients that they claimed were in their supplements,” he said.

Further, only two of the 12 companies sold products in which all contained only what was on the label without filler, substitutions or contaminants, O’Brian said.

For Bednarczyk, the main issue is that the public is in the dark.

“These products are wildly popular. We are not dealing with fringe things here,” he said. “It is possible retailers will step up, but I think the FDA must require a different set of standards. This should be happening on a federal level.”