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Bought Supplements From GNC, Target, Walmart, Or Walgreens? They Might Be Complete Duds [Report]

supplements, herbal supplements, nutritional supplements, diet supplements, health supplements, supplement labeling, supplement mislabeling, walmart supplements, target supplements, gnc supplements, walgreens supplements, labeling issues

Image: The Straits Times

First HFCS, now mainstream supplements. Labeling fiascos are making waves.

If you’ve re-upped your supplement collection lately, start sifting through your shelves — there’s a decent chance they’re complete duds. And they might even be laced with garbage fillers and allergens.


As New York Times Well originally reported, the New York State attorney general’s office officially accused four massive retailers—GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart—of selling fraudulent and contaminated supplements. 

The reports come after state DNA tests revealed that a large chunk of products were mislabeled and/or contaminated with unlabeled substances; some of which contained none of their designated ingredients whatsoever.

“The authorities said they had run tests on popular store brands of herbal supplements at the retailers…which showed that roughly four out of five of the products contained none of the herbs listed on their labels.”

According to newsnet5, testing by retailer broke down as follows:

  • GNC — Testing matched labeling 22% of the time
  • Target — Testing matched labeling 41% of the time
  • Walmart — Testing matched labeling 4% of the time.
  • Walgreens — Testing matched labeling 18% of the time.

Effectively, you’re looking at an average “success rate” of 21.25%. In other words, there’s a 1-in-5 chance you’ll actually get what you’re paying for. Supplement lottery! Lovely.

The retailers were subsequently sent cease-and-desist letters to remove all impacted products, including popular herbal supps like gingko biloba, St. John’s wort, ginseng, echinacea, and saw palmetto.

Before you stampede off on a Walmart-sized tirade and start throwing bottles at people, we mapped out each of the offenders and their impacted products. Products that contained none of their designated ingredients across 20 tests (i.e. a ginkgo supplement consistently had no ginkgo in it) were labeled “None Found.”1


supplements, herbal supplements, nutritional supplements, diet supplements, health supplements, supplement labeling, supplement mislabeling, walmart supplements, target supplements, gnc supplements, walgreens supplements, labeling issues

That’s jarring, and the DNA testing only covered a small subset of herbal products.

It’s unclear how much further the contaminations/mislabelings extend and to what other product categories, but it’s conceivable that their higher priced items like protein powder, fish oil, and probiotics are all garbage as well. Because the FDA doesn’t regulate supplement safety or labeling—brands are only subject to a laughable “honor code”—you’re relying solely on the brand’s word.

Yeah…about that.

The most disturbing part is that we’re not berating a group of obscure, gimmicky brands — you know, the ones pushing an endless stream of garcinia cambogia and nonsensical fat burners. These are MEGA retailers that cater to a high percentage of the US population, especially people in lower income areas.

We’ll monitor the situation as it develops—the tests are questionable and other involved parties have their own agendas—but if the test results hold, it’s a catastrophic shot to their credibility, in particularly for a company like GNC that specializes in supplements and health products. It’s a deliberate and egregious breach of trust.

“If this data is accurate, then it is an unbelievably devastating indictment of the industry. We’re talking about products at mainstream retailers like Walmart and Walgreens that are expected to be the absolute highest quality.” — Dr. Pieter Cohen, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School

As a consumer, I can’t forgive that. There are too many other options to risk getting a crap supplement, especially when GNC is already GOUGING you on prices. Until this is resolved and/or clarified, buy your supplements elsewhere. and Amazon are great places to start.

Your move, GNC et al.

Bryan DiSanto

Bryan DiSanto

Owner & Editor-in-Chief at Lean It UP
Bryan DiSanto is the Owner & Editor-in-Chief of Lean It UP, a culinary student at Le Cordon Bleu – Paris, an ACE-CPT & CSN, NYU graduate, ex-fat kid, and all-around fitness/nutrition nutjob.

He also contributes to Men's Health Magazine.

When he’s not working on his (or somebody else’s) abs, whipping up Eggocados, or running a Tough Mudder, he’s probably off yelling at a Carolina Panthers game somewhere.
Bryan DiSanto
Follow Lean It UP on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest for real-time fitness/nutrition tips, advice, info and updates.



References, Notes, Links

  1. — Retailers Are Warned Over Herbal Supplements []


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