An investigation into labelling fraud within the vitamin and supplements industry has revealed that many herbal supplements do not actually contain any trace of the listed ingredients. In fact, many of the tested supplements contained little more than wheat, cheap powdered rice, and houseplants.

“Among the attorney general’s findings was a popular store brand of ginseng pills….promoted for ‘physical endurance and vitality,’ that contained only powdered garlic and rice,” – New York Times.

“…the authorities found that its ginkgo biloba, a Chinese plant promoted as a memory enhancer, contained little more than powdered radish, houseplants and wheat – despite a claim on the label that the product was wheat- and gluten-free.”

It was also found that 3 out of 6 herbal products sold at another large chain store – St John’s wort, ginkgo biloba, and valerian root – contained none of the herbs on their labels, whilst supplements at yet another retailer contained unlisted ingredients that included soybeans and peanut, which are problematic for people with allergies.

The investigation may have been prompted by a 2013 New York Times article revealing research that found as much as ⅓ of supplements tested did not contain the ingredients listed on their labels.

How relevant is the supplement scandal to the Australian market?

In 2019 the complementary medicine industry, which includes vitamins and supplements, was worth 5.2 billion in Australia – and growing.

Supplements in Australia are strictly regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and categorised as AUSTL.

“The degree of assessment and regulation required to gain registration is rigorous – sponsors are required to provide comprehensive safety, quality and efficacy data,” – Rachael Dunlop, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Technology. 

Dr Vicki Kotsirilos, a Melbourne GP, author of A Guide to Evidence-based Integrative and Complementary Medicine, and a previous TGA employee states (in regards to the American supplements scandal): “It does not surprise me, but it does not apply to Australia. We have one of the highest regulatory systems for complementary medicines in the world.”

Kotsirilos also disagrees with another question raised from the American investigation: is the goodness of a supplement or vitamin lost through processing?

“There are no clear studies to verify that statement,” Kotsirilos says. “Some complementary medicines, such as evidence-based nutritional and herbal supplements in their final product form have evidence of clinical efficacy for clinical conditions.”

She further states “If you’re a healthy person and eating the perfect diet and can assimilate nutrients from that diet … you have to ask whether you need to be on multivitamins.”

“If you’re not absorbing nutrients, there is a role to take nutrients for nutrient deficiencies – where the evidence applies or holds.”

Where evidence applies or holds is the key. Even in supplements where there is evidence of efficacy, there can be variation in quality of ingredients and dosage from one product to another.

The only real way to separate the wheat from the vitamin chaff?

“It is important that people are guided by professionals, such as Doctors, Pharmacists and Health Care Professionals who are aware of the evidence and which products carry the evidence.” Kotsirilos says.

As a member of the Therapeutic Goods Association, all supplements created by Kissun Pharmaceuticals is rigorously tested for safety, quality and efficacy.

You can view our complete range here.