NEW YORK--60 Minutes in early March became the most recent media outlet to take on alternative medicine and quality of dietary supplements. In a story that ran March 4, co-host Ed Bradley interviewed Dr. Andrew Weil, the director of the integrative medicine program at the University of Arizona. The program that was supposed to be focused on Weil's latest book, took a skeptical view of Weil's credibility and products he recommends to patients.
"[M]illions of people depend on Dr. Weil for guidance, especially when it comes to choosing which herbal supplement to take," Bradley stated. He then asked Weil if he felt comfortable recommending herbs to patients. "Yes, I'm comfortable because I recommend specific brands of specific products, and I have the knowledge to know which to recommend, because I know the manufacturers," Weil replied.
However, the three brands Weil recommended--New York-based Mariposa Botanicals, Ferndale, Wash.-based Zand Herbal Formulas and Sandy, Ore.-based Eclectic Institute Inc.--failed the newsmagazine-funded tests at two different labs, which reported the products contained less than the labeled ingredient. Mariposa's echinacea was found in one test to contain less than 26-percent of its listed compound. Zand's echinacea tested at 50 percent of listed compound, and Eclectic's ginkgo biloba had 75 percent of its listed ingredient.
Bradley confronted Weil with the findings, who said he was "relying on the analyses that I have been provided by the company, and I'm relying on what I know." Bradley noted that when the show informed the three companies of the lab results, all the companies wrote to say that their products passed company tests. "But, again, that's not what we found," Bradley reiterated.
After the show aired, the companies in question responded to the findings. Eclectic Institute, for example, stated that the ginkgo product tested was comprised of the whole leaf and contained all ginkgo flavones, not just the three for which 60 Minutes had tested. According to the company, additional testing methods would have shown that the additional ginkgo flavones contributed to the missing compounds.
Zand, which became part of Botanical Laboratories last year, stated that the product 60 Minutes tested had also been tested by Zand in two independent laboratories, both of which yielded results of having 131.7 percent and 98.7 percent of the listed ingredient when using HPLC and spectrophotometry testing methods. "We offered to exchange our data with 60 Minutes in order to compare testing methods, as well as provide [interviews with] industry experts to explain the testing methods needed in order to return accurate results," said Jim Coyne, president and chief executive officer of Botanical Laboratories.
And according to Mariposa, one of the labs that 60 Minutes used was also a laboratory that Mariposa had used to test its products. However, due to a change in analytical methods, its product that had once tested at 160 percent a few years ago now fell short, according to Rob Martin, executive vice president.
60 Minutes did, in fact, interview Mark Blumenthal, executive director of the American Botanical Council (ABC). However, the interview did not air when it was found that Blumenthal was a friend of Weil's. Still, Blumenthal noted that labs may have used very different techniques when testing the products. "It is possible that different preparation techniques could produce different results. Even using the same preparation methods and same analytical methodology, it is still possible to come out with different results," he stated. "That's why you need [an independent party] to retest or look at the data carefully and be able to look at both laboratories' results and find out what's going on." The newsmagazine used San Juan Capistrano, Calif.-based Flora Research and Denver-based Industrial Laboratories to test the three products.
According to Jim Neal-Kababick at Flora Research, the lab used HPLC methods such as the INA ginkgo and echinacea methods, along with necessary modifications for sample matrix. Neal-Kababick also stated that these methods are the basis for the newer analytical methods the U.S. Pharmacopoeia is proposing to use. Due to client privilege, he did not elaborate on which methods were used for the three tests done for 60 Minutes. A source at Industrial Labs confirmed that the lab tested the products using UV and HPLC methods.
"It's unfortunate that a program as respected as 60 Minutes would use such tactics to tarnish this industry," said Robin Gellman, the director of communications at the American Herbal Products Association, where Zand is a member. "The results aired by 60 Minutes are questionable and taken out of context." As of press time, Mariposa had not returned calls for comment.
For a copy of the transcript, visit www.cbs.com. To learn more about these companies, visit www.mariposabotanicals.com/indexnew.htm, www.zand.com and www.eclecticherb.com.