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High percentage of supplements are contaminated

The New York Times reports, “Nearly all herbal dietary supplements tested in a Congressional investigation contained trace amounts of lead and other contaminants, and 16 of the 40 supplements tested contained pesticide residue that exceeded legal limits.

Here are the details of what the Government Accounting Office found.

Trace amounts of at least one potentially hazardous contaminant.

  • Found in 37 of the 40 herbal dietary supplement products tested.
    • None contained amounts considered to pose an acute toxicity hazard.

Heavy metal contamination

  • All 37 supplements tested positive for trace amounts of lead
  • 32 contained mercury
  • 28 cadmium
  • 21 arsenic


  • 18 contained residues from at least one pesticide.

The bottom line?

The levels of heavy metals found did not exceed any FDA or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations governing dietary supplements or their raw ingredients, and FDA and EPA officials did not express concern regarding any immediate negative health consequences from consuming these 40 supplements.

Mr. Steve Mister, president of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, which represents the dietary supplement industry, said it’s not surprising that herbal supplements contained trace amounts of heavy metals, because these are routinely found in soil and plants. “I don’t think this should be of concern to consumers.”

Maybe not, but Senator Herb Kohl from Wisconsin presided over a hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging yesterday. He believes, “the FDA needs the authority and tools to ensure that dietary supplements are as safe and effective as is widely perceived by the Americans who take them.”

Anyone who reads this blog knows that contamination of herbals and other supplements is common. has tested over 2,000 dietary supplements made by more than 300 manufacturers and found that 1 in 4 have quality problems.

5/27/10 13:56 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.