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Dietary Supplements Contain Lead, Arsenic, and More

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Dietary Supplements Contain Lead, Arsenic, and More

Mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, and pesticide residues are finding their way into your herbal dietary supplements, according to a recent Congressional investigation and reported in The New York Times. Nearly all of the supplements tested in the investigation were found to contain trace amounts of heavy metals–and although those levels did not exceed thresholds considered dangerous (by the F.D.A.’s standards, at least), 16 of the 40 supplements tested contained pesticide residues that appeared to exceed legal limits. Some supplements have even been known to include prescription medications, like Viagra.

Itís a Jetson’s-like idea that most of us have become completely accustomed to: condense the nutritious elements of food into a neat little pill. Take the pill, and voila, you have all you need for optimal health. Itís a theory and practice enjoying tremendous popularity in America ever since the 1970s when chemist extraordinaire Linus Pauling began promoting the importance of supplemental vitaminsĖin particular, vitamin C to ward off colds.

The health benefits of taking dietary supplements has been controversial in medical circles, but the American public has eaten the idea upĖto the tune of $25 billion dollars per year. Half of all American adults take some type of dietary supplement regularly. The growing popularity has led to an increasing number of imported supplements containing contaminants, spiked with illegal drugs, and promising false health claims.

According to the article in the Times, Congress passed legislation in 1994 that allowed supplement makers to sell products without first getting approval from the F.D.A. for their ingredients or for basic health claims. But scientific organizations have warned repeatedly since then that the F.D.A. should do more to ensure that the supplements are safe and that their health claims are substantiated.

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


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3:31PM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

Thank you for info.

3:30PM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

Thank you for info.

3:30PM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

Thank you for info.

3:29PM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

Thank you for info.

5:09AM PST on Jan 12, 2011

Thanks for the info.

3:47AM PDT on Sep 25, 2010


9:22PM PDT on Sep 19, 2010

Will have to be more careful when choosing supplements now.

8:03AM PDT on Jun 22, 2010

My mom attended a talk a few years ago by a prominent figure in medicine here in Singapore. After the talk, some people stayed behind to talk to this man, and to these people, he told them not to buy supplements made in the US, but to buy those made in Australia or NZ instead, as the US supplements are not properly regulated, whereas in Australia and NZ they are really strict about regulation.

I stopped taking all my supplements completely 1.5 years ago - all 10 of them - except for cranberry pills. I thought I would suffer from nutritional deficiencies. But amazingly, since stopping all these supplements, my allergies (hives) have stopped, and I feel no different to when I was taking my supplements. In fact, if anything, I feel healthier now.

There was an adjustment period though - about 1-2 months after I stopped taking all my supplements - during which I fell sick about 3-4 times. My body cleansing itself of the toxins from all those supplements? Makes you wonder huh.

I wish I could stop taking the cranberry pills too, but unfortunately, I am very prone to UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections), and whenever I stop taking my cranberry pills, I am sure to get a UTI shortly thereafter.

11:44AM PDT on Jun 16, 2010

That's some starling information. I don't take any supplementary pills, but I do have a shake in the morning from a powder made by GNC (General Nutrition Center) It is supposed to have more minerals and be more balanced. I once thought that the only danger with pill supplements was the imbalance that can occur in the body when too much of one vitamin or mineral is introduced and blocks or impedes others, but I guess there is one other to worry about.

10:40AM PDT on Jun 10, 2010

Ooops... I just found the ones with the undetectable levels... sorry about that... thanks for the very helpful post.

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Thank you for sharing. Its good to know these things.

I love this. So adorable I want to kiss this kitten!


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