Contaminants in Chinese Supplements

Did You Know…Chinese supplements may be contaminated with chemicals such as mercury and arsenic?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers profound benefits.  Chinese herbs have been tried and tested for thousands of years.  They’ve been shown to strengthen the immune system, revitalize the body’s innate ability to heal, and treat the root cause versus the symptoms of disease. 

But… it is essential to know what is in your supplements, whether they be Chinese herbs or other botanicals.

Testing Reveals Contaminants 

Prior research has shown that Chinese medicines may be laced with hazardous chemicals;  however, until recently, evidence has been inconsistent.

Now, a brand-new analysis published in the journal Toxicological & Environmental Chemistry seems to suggest that the presence of arsenic and mercury in Chinese supplements is very real.

Dr. Etsuko Furuta of Ochanomizu University, Japan and Professor Nobuaki Sato of Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan examined 32 Chinese supplements, 11 of which were purchased from Japanese manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies, and 21 of which were purchased online.


Researchers tested samples using two non-dissolving techniques:

  1. Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis (INAA) to inspect levels of any toxic chemicals that may be lurking in the supplements
  2. X-ray diffraction (XRD) to determine the chemical makeup of these hazardous chemicals.
    Tests revealed:
    – Arsenic and mercury in each of the 32 samples
    – Supplements with the same name had wildly inconsistent concentrations of arsenic and mercury
    – INAA and XRD performed together delivered much more accurate results, which throws findings       
    from previous studies that just used one or the other of the testing methods into question


Consumer Evaluation 

According to Furata and Sato, most of the supplements tested didn’t have an ingredient list, making it virtually impossible for consumers to purchase discernibly.  And even those that had ingredient labels weren’t entirely accurate, as evidenced by the presence of toxic chemicals found during testing.

Researchers attribute the high levels of mercury to environmental contaminants.  They urge stricter guidelines on regulation and importation so that consumers and regulatory agencies can gain a clearer picture on the actual chemical structure of these medicines.

Following the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve or review supplements.  Third party testing does exist, but manufacturers have to pay for these “stamps of approval.” When purchasing supplements look for certifications from…

– ConsumerLab.com—their “Approved Product Quality” seal
– The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention—USP
– NSF International—NSF Dietary Supplements Certification

And, of course, do your research.  Purchase from a trusted source.  Look for transparency in the companies you purchase your supplements from.  They should be able to provide you with a Certificate of Analysis (COA) for any herb formula sold.  This will include the ingredient formula and the amount of every ingredient included.

Just because supplements can be purchased without a prescription doesn’t mean they aren’t potent, particularly Chinese medicines.  Always consult a licensed health practitioner or physician before adding any supplement to your health program.  Your healthcare provider should also be able to steer you towards trusted, high-quality nutraceuticals.

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