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Are your supplements really what they say they are?

For at least the last two millennia, adulteration has been a major concern in the world of botanical supplements. Adulteration, the practice of corrupting products with unlabeled additives or substitutes, can occur either as a result of poor sourcing of raw materials and lack of testing procedures to identify fakes or as a deliberate act of dishonesty.

Sadly, some nutraceutical manufacturers are consistently dishonest about what they put in their products. They replace advertised ingredients with a less expensive substance—without the active compounds that any reputable lab test would discover as missing. Many companies thus peddle false promises, as what’s inside the bottle is not represented by what’s on the supplement facts label. We call this the great rip off.

Far more often, however, are the unwitting manufacturers that rarely test either raw materials or final products. The vast majority count on their raw materials suppliers to provide what they specify and they save money by not testing each and every lot. We call this ‘looking the other way.’


A Look at the Widespread Adulteration of Ginkgo

Gingko biloba, the valiant warrior of brain and circulation health, made recent headlines as the target of widespread adulteration. As one of the biggest players in the U.S. herbal supplements industry, the gingko market brings in an estimated $18.4 million, with a global market reaching $1 billion. That’s a lot of gingko! Or is it?

That’s the question that industry sources are asking and consumers want to know the answer to. Numerous reports imply that the plant pigments quercetin and rutin are being used to artificially enhance the flavonol glycoside content of “gingko biloba” supplements. ConsumerLab began testing ginkgo for the standard 24% flavonol glycoside and 6% terpene lactone content all the way back in 1999. Still, surveys show that as much as 70% of gingko products in the U.S. do not meet these standards!

Many of you may remember that we reported on this problem back in February 2009. Clearly, adulteration of gingko has been going on for decades. But a new, more sophisticated substitute has emerged: Japanese pagoda tree extracts. Like gingko biloba, the pagoda tree (Sophora japonica) contains quercetin and rutin, making it the perfect substance to sneak in.


Hucksters Putting Profits Above People

To make one kilogram of gingko powder, 50 kilograms of dried leaf are needed – and the process isn’t easy, or cheap. So, many greedy manufacturers choose to cut corners and maximize profits – all at the expense of the consumer. As we mentioned in 2009, toxins can get concentrated from the use of whole leaves (in contrast with the active form of extracts derived from leaves).


Watchdogs Unite!

Until the FDA takes action against companies practicing intentional adulteration, it’s up to the honest players to educate consumers and provide strictly-tested products.

Since we last wrote about this disturbing topic, there’s a new team of watchdogs looking out for you. In 2011, the American Botanical Council, coupled with two leading nonprofits, built a task force charged with sniffing out adulterated botanical products and educating the public.


Simple Tests Ensure Authenticity

While people who are economically motivated to adulterate their products may be getting better at disguising their phonies, technology is getting better at catching them. Comprehensive testing is easy and available to nutraceutical companies – it’s just a matter of how much they care about their customers. At the Co-op, our members’ well-being is our #1 priority.


The Co-op Quality Commitment

We believe in delivering nothing less than the real deal when it comes to our products. We don’t scrimp.

We stick to proven ingredients in proven amounts that meet our label claims (yep, that costs more than empty promises). We conduct independent laboratory testing—on each and every production (another cost). Testing also adds time—to send a random sample of finished product off to our lab and wait for the results. Quality costs money and time, and still we strive to offer really affordable pricing.

It’s an old-fashioned kind of commitment that serves not only our most discerning members (and, we are among those members) but also lets us sleep incredibly well at night. Read more about our independent laboratory testing.

While we love to tell people about our commitment to quality, many of our fair members have shared how they’ve personally “tested” our claims. Here’s what we hear:


  1. Clinicians report positive differences in lab tests when patients take our supplements.
  2. Muscle testing practitioners keep getting impressed when they test our products on their clients.
  3. Members write about other (often more expensive) brands they tried that never worked as well.
  4. Octogenarians have bragged about making buttermilk with our probiotics!