Eating sawdust will not make you smarter. Nor, likely, will eating powdered houseplants or a mixture of dried rice, mustard, wheat and radish, no matter how the product is labeled. And yet millions of Americans apparently are eating just that: As it turns out, testing announced by the state of New York this week found that the Ginkgo biloba sold by Walmart, for example, contained no Ginkgo biloba DNA — it was a mixture of rice, mustard, wheat and radish.
“Supplements” are not considered by the Food and Drug Administration to be drugs or food and therefore are not subjected to rigorous testing and related laws regarding product labeling. The results of multiple tests have shown that many supplements don’t contain much, if any, of what they’re labeled as being (though to be clear, nothing has been found so far that does contain sawdust). Ginkbo biloba may or may not be good for your health, but you might never find out – because the product you’ve bought might not actually contain any.
One in four dollars in the supplement market passes though Utah, the home stage of Senator Orrin Hatch, whose son is a longtime lobbyist for the supplement industry and who was the chief author of a federal law enacted 17 years ago that allows companies to make general health claims about their products, but exempts them from federal reviews of their safety or effectiveness before they go to market.
“There’s a lot of wrong information out there,” warns the American Cancer Society, in its tutorial on these products. “Even for those who are usually well informed, it can be hard to find reliable information about the safe use and potential risks of dietary supplements.”