Supplement Labeling Fraud is Widespread

The regulation of dietary supplements in the United States has been described as “too little, too late.” “Dietary supplements may be adulterated with dangerous compounds, be contaminated, fail to contain the purported active ingredient, or contain unknown doses of the ingredients stated on the label; be sold at toxic dosages; or produce harmful effects” in other ways. As I discuss in my video Black Raspberry Supplements Put to the Test, “[i]f the composition and quality of ingredients cannot be reliably ensured, the validity of research on dietary supplements is questionable. Moreover, the health of the US public is put at risk.”

A private, third-party company that has independently tested thousands of supplements “identifies approximately 1 in 4 with a quality problem” because it either does not contain what it says it contains, is “of substandard quality,” or is contaminated in some way.

Let’s look at an example. I’ve produced a few videos on the remarkable properties of black raspberries, including one on oral cancer. These berries can’t always be found fresh or frozen, so how about black raspberry supplements, which are available in stores and online? At 0:56 in my video, I show a bottle of Pure Black Raspberry by Pure Health, that says “Fresh – Raw – Pure” right on the label. Sounds good, don’t you think? When we look at the back of the bottle, the label says it contains only seedless black raspberry powder “and absolutely nothing else!” It’s nice to see there are no fillers or artificial ingredients, so why not plunk down $23.77 for a bottle? Well, it turns out we’ve been had.

The first clue is that the image on the front of the label is actually blackberries that had been Photoshopped to look like black raspberries. Pure Health couldn’t even be bothered to put a real image on its fake supplement! The second clue is that the “[d]ark olive-brown-black powder in [the] capsule did not look like berry powder and had a medicinal odor,” according to the researchers. So, it was put it to the test, and, indeed, there was no black raspberry at all. Instead of promoting the fact that the Pure Black Raspberry contains only seedless black raspberry powder “and absolutely nothing else,” the company should have just listed that the bottle contains “absolutely nothing” period—or, at least we hope it contains nothing. Who knows what’s actually in the capsules!

The researchers tested every black raspberry product they could find, and, even of the ones with the correct picture on the front and with powder that actually looked like it came from real black raspberries, more than a third appeared to have no black raspberry fruit at all. “At the moment, a consumer who assumes the US dietary supplement marketplace is free from risk”—or is even honest—“is unfortunately naive.”

How widespread is this deception? Researchers used DNA fingerprinting techniques to test the authenticity of 44 herbal supplements from a dozen different companies. As you can see at 2:33 in my video, less than half of the supplements were authentic and actually contained what they said they did. Most contained plants not listed on the label and product substitution, and many “contained contaminants and or fillers,” also not listed on the label. This isn’t just fraud: Some of this deception could really hurt people. For example, one St. John’s wort supplement contained no St. John’s wort at all. Instead, it was actually senna, which is an herbal laxative that “can cause adverse effects such as chronic diarrhea, cathartic colon, liver damage, abdominal pain, epidermal [skin] breakdown and blistering.” In the video at 3:09, you can see how the 12 companies did. Tested products from only 2 of the 12 companies appeared to be completely authentic, with the remaining 10 companies’ products containing filler, product substitution, and/or contaminents. Herbs only work if they’re actually present. Indeed, this study found that 80 percent of the manufacturers in the supplement “industry suffer[] from unethical activities…”.

“Until US dietary supplement products are better regulated and quality control standards for safety, purity, and dosage are defined and endorsed, the safer source for dietary phenolics,” or phytonutrients, “as a consumer is from food intake.”


For more on supplement company shenanigans, see:

What’s so special about black raspberries? Reversal of cancer progression, for starters! See Black Raspberries vs. Oral Cancer and Best Fruits for Cancer Prevention.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:

What Not to Do When You Handle Receipts

The plastics chemical bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA, was banned for use in baby bottles in Canada in 2008, in France in 2010, in the European Union in 2011, and in the United States in 2012. Then, in 2015, France forbade the use of BPA in any food or beverage packaging, something the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had decided was not warranted. But, what about the more than 90 studies “reporting relationships between total BPA in [people’s] urine and a wide array of adverse health outcomes, including a significant increase in the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, obesity, impaired liver function, impaired immune and kidney function, inflammation, reproductive effects in women…[and] in men…, altered thyroid hormone concentrations, and neurobehavioral deficits such as aggressiveness, hyperactivity, and impaired learning”?

Only a very small minority of studies appear to support the U.S. government’s assertions that there were no effects of BPA at low doses. Where is the disconnect? Governmental regulatory agencies determine safety levels of chemicals by sticking tubes down into the stomachs of lab animals. In these types of tests, BPA is released directly into the stomach, where it goes to the liver to be detoxified into an inactive form called BPA-glucuronide. So, very little active BPA gets into the bloodstream. But, that’s not what studies on humans show. People have active BPA in their blood. How did the FDA respond? By rejecting all such human studies as implausible.

The problem with a “blanket rejection” of human data is that there may be sources of BPA exposure that are not modeled by stomach tube exposure in rats. After all, “[t]his isn’t how food actually enters our bodies. We chew it, move it around in our mouths…before it enters the stomach.” It turns out “that BPA can be completely absorbed directly into the bloodstream from the mouth,” thus bypassing instant liver detoxification. The same would be the case for BPA absorbed through the skin, which you can see at 2:08 in my video BPA on Receipts: Getting Under Our Skin.

Thermal paper, often used for cash register receipts, luggage tags, and many bus, train, and lottery tickets, is 1 to 2 percent BPA by weight. Taking hold of a receipt can transfer BPA to our fingers, especially if they’re wet or greasy. Does the BPA then get absorbed into our system through the skin? Cashiers were found to have more BPA flowing through their bodies “[c]ompared with other occupations,” but that was based on only 17 people. “Strict vegetarians had lower urinary BPA concentrations compared with nonvegetarians,” but, once again, the sample size was too small to really make a conclusion. It’s been estimated that even cashiers handling receipts all day may not exceed the “tolerable daily intake” of BPA—however, that could change if they were using something like hand cream.

Indeed, “many skin-care products, including hand sanitizers, lotions, soaps and sunscreens,” contain chemicals that enhance skin penetration. So, using a hand sanitizer, for example, before touching a receipt could cause a breakdown of the skin barrier.

What’s more, we now know that “using hand sanitizer and handling a thermal receipt…prior to picking up and eating food with [our] hands” results in high blood levels of active BPA. Researchers at the University of Missouri, conducting a study to mimic aspects of the behavior of people in a fast-food restaurant found that when people handled a receipt right after using the hand sanitizer Purell, BPA was transferred to their fingers. Then, BPA was transferred from their fingers to their fries, and the combination of absorption through the skin and mouth led to significant levels of active BPA in their blood, as you can see at 3:45 in my video.

We can hold a receipt in our hand for 60 seconds and only come away with 3 micrograms of BPA in our body. In contrast, if we pre-wet our hands with hand sanitizer, we can get 300 micrograms in just a few seconds—a hundred times more BPA, as you can see at 4:05 in my video. “These findings show that a very large amount of BPA is transferred from thermal paper to a hand as a result of holding a thermal receipt for only a few seconds immediately after using a product with dermal penetration enhancing chemicals,” like hand lotion. This could explain why dozens of human studies show active BPA in people’s systems, contrary to the assumptions based on stomach tube studies in rodents.

When actual evidence contradicts your assumptions, you reject your assumptions. The FDA, however, rejected the evidence instead.


Watch my video to learn Why BPA Hasn’t Been Banned.

For more on BPA, see:

Interested in other examples of Food and Drug Administration failings? Check out:

Phthalates are another class of concerning plastics compounds. For more, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:

Treating Prostate Cancer with Green Tea

Green tea has been called nature’s defense against cancer. Population studies linking green tea consumption with lower cancer risk have led some to advocate for the incorporation of green tea into the diet “so as to fully benefit from its anticarcinogenic properties.” What, after all, is the downside?

But, population studies can’t prove cause and effect. Indeed, “it is not possible to determine from these population-based studies whether green tea actually prevents cancer in people”…until it is put to the test.

Prostate cancer is preceded by a precancerous condition known as intraepithelial neoplasia. You can see a graphic of the progression at 0:41 in my video Treating Prostate Cancer with Green Tea. Within one year, about 30 percent of such lesions turn into cancer. Because no treatment is given to patients until cancer is diagnosed, this presents a perfect opportunity to try green tea. In the study, 60 men with precancerous prostate intraepithelial neoplasia were randomized into either a green tea group or a placebo group. Since it’s hard to make a convincing placebo tea, the researchers used green tea pills that were roughly equivalent to about six cups of green tea a day and compared them to sugar pills. Six months into the study, they took biopsies from everyone. In the placebo group, 6 of the 30 men developed cancer by the halfway point and 3 of the remaining 24 developed it by the end of the year. So, 9 out of 30 in the placebo group, about 30 percent, developed cancer within the first year, which is what normally happens without any treatment. In the green tea group, however, none of the 30 men developed cancer within the first six months and only one developed it by the end of the year. Only 1 out of 30 is nearly ten times less than the placebo group. This marked the first demonstration that green tea compounds could be “very effective for treating premalignant lesions before [prostate cancer] develops.” Even a year later, after the subjects stopped the green tea, nearly 90 percent of the original green tea group remained cancer-free, while more than half of the placebo group developed cancer, as you can see at 2:09 in my video. This suggests that the benefits of the green tea may be “long-lasting,” with an overall nearly 80 percent reduction in prostate cancer.

What if you already have prostate cancer? A proprietary green tea extract supplement was given to 26 men with confirmed prostate cancer for an average of about a month before they had their prostates removed, and there was a significant reduction in a number of cancer biomarkers such as PSA levels, suggesting a shrinkage of the tumor. However, there was no control group, and the study was funded by the supplement company itself. When an independent group of researchers tried to replicate the results in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, they failed to find any statistically significant improvement. Perhaps green tea is only effective in the precancerous state and not powerful enough “to meaningfully impact overt prostate cancer”?

It certainly didn’t seem to help for advanced metastatic cancer in the two studies that tried it. What’s more, doubt has recently been cast on the precancerous results. When researchers tried to replicate it, the green tea extract group only seemed to cut prostate cancer development about in half, which very well may have happened just by chance, given the small number of people in the study. So where does that leave us?

Unfortunately, green tea extract pills are not without risk. There have been about a dozen case reports of liver damage associated with their use. Until there’s more solid evidence of benefit, I’d stick with just drinking the tea. Green or black? A recent study that randomized about a hundred men with prostate cancer to consume six cups a day of green tea or black tea found a significant drop in PSA levels and NF-kB in the green tea group, but not in either the black tea or control groups, as you can see at 4:12 in my video. NF-kB is thought to be a prognostic marker for prostate cancer progression, so the green tea did appear to work better than the black tea.


What happens if we pack our diet with all sorts of plant foods? See my Cancer Reversal Through Diet? video.

Before and after: Learn about Preventing Prostate Cancer with Green Tea and Changing a Man’s Diet After a Prostate Cancer Diagnosis.

Similar studies were done with pomegranates. I discuss the results in Pomegranate vs. Placebo for Prostate Cancer.

Interested in other ways to prevent or treat prostate cancer? See:

What about green tea and other types of cancer? Check out:

For more on some of green tea’s other benefits, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations: