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Consumer Labs' tests find arsenic, lead, bacteria in many "greens" drink powders

| 16 Comments
This is copyrighted information, so I will have to summarize. You can go directly to the source at the Consumer Labs site here.

While they don't appear to have tested any of the 3-4 green powdered drink products I am familiar with, here is the list of products that failed quality control testing--and why:

  • All Day Energy Greens (lead)
  • Gary Null's Green Stuff (lead)
  • InnerLight Super Greens (lead)
  • Now Spirulina (failure of tablets to disintegrate after 60 minutes)
  • The Ultimate Meal (>2x the USP limit for aerobic bacteria)
  • Vibrant Green Health (arsenic)
Most of these "greens" powders are said to contain a mixture of the (dried) young shoots or sprouts of barley grasses, alfalfa, kamut (a proprietary wheat), and various forms of algae (spirulina, chlorella, and kelp).

The antioxidant activity of greens  powders is reported in terms of the value obtained from a laboratory test known as ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). Consumer Labs notes that this ORAC score is observed in test tubes and may not (or likely does not) correlate to what happens in the human body.

Similarly, CL sort of challenges the entire "alkalinizing" argument for green drinks--something I have often wondered about. They argue, quite convincingly, that:

The blood of the human body maintains a pretty strict pH range, just slightly alkaline, from 7.35 to 7.45. Since the typical (western) diet is more acidic, goes the alkaline diet theory, this tilts the famed acid-alkaline balance to the acidic end of the range, promoting the loss of essential minerals (add reference here please!), and is thought to make people prone to illness.
"Alkalinizing" greens are purported to help restore this balance, improve overall health and prevent many chronic diseases.
There is little evidence, however, to suggest that an acid-producing diet is the foundation of chronic illness or that food consumption will easily change the pH of one's blood. The human body has a complex system of checks and balances to keep the pH of blood tightly within the range of 7.35-7.45. Food choices can temporarily increase or decrease the pH of one's urine or saliva, but will have little to no effect on the pH of blood.* Alkaline diets may, however, help prevent the formation of calcium kidney stones, osteoporosis, and age-related muscle wasting.

Greens products tested and passed by CL testing:

  • AmaZing Grass Greens
  • American Health More Than A Greens
  • Barlean's Organic Oils Greens Organic
  • Garden of Life Perfect Food RAW Organic Super Food
  • Health To Go Greens
  • Juice Plus Garden Blend
  • Puritan's Pride Life's Greens
  • Rainbow Light Immuno-Build Greens
  • Solgar Earth Source Greens & More
  • Swanson GreenFoods Green Max Powder

* GIven that even a 0.01 shift in the pH of the blood would seem significant, I would like to hear more about CL's apparent equivocation between "little" and "no" effect. This matter might warrant further scrutiny, and I am not yet entirely convinced that the alkalinizing hypothesis is total bunk.


Mike is due to complete his five-year licensing program in East Asian medicine in the spring of 2014 and is eager to return to the working world. He looks forward to applying the fruits of his study and life experience to helping people minimize the use of life-long drug taking and to discover more effective management of conditions for which suboptimal or no effective treatment currently exists.

In 2013 he presented his insomnia research at the biannual meeting of the Society for Acupuncture Research and to the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD. He currently serves as a peer reviewer for The American Acupuncturist, a quarterly research journal of the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. He can be reached in New York City at mbarr@pacificcollege.edu

From 1990 until shortly before it closed its doors, he was part of the clinical research team at St. Vincent's Hospital in Greenwich Village, NY. His research and that of his colleagues has been presented at medical conferences world-wide and published within the pages of The New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet, Annals of Internal Medicine, Clinical Infectious Diseases and others. With Dr. Ramon A. Torres, he co-authored chapters for two medical textbooks.

16 Comments

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Comments on Mike Barr's blog entry "Consumer Labs' tests find arsenic, lead, bacteria in many "greens" drink powders"

Interesting about the supplement contamination that you outline in your article. Could you do a piece about the potential toxic non-medicinal ingredients in ARVs? I just looked at these ingredients in Ziagen: colloidal silicon dioxide, magnesium stearate, microcrystalline cellulose, sodium starch glycolate, hypromellose, polysorbate 80, synthetic yellow iron oxide, titanium dioxide, and triacetin. Surely, these non-medicinal ingredients are causing toxicity to us in long-term use.

I was thinking the same thing when I popped a Valtrex last week. Why in the world do they have to make the tablet coating bluer than a blue M&M? Not sure how we would go about looking into this however. (I guess I should ask for the generic!) Clearly the FDA has signed off on the safety of these coatings—even long term. Maybe we could ask the Consumer Labs folks to conduct testing?

Generics have just as much crap in them as the non-generics. The FDA signing off on them certainly does not make them safe in my eyes! One would have to research each ingredient by itself to expose the individual side effects. Again, I am hoping someone at POZ would find this a good idea for an article. One would have to look at independent sources, not rely on information from the pharmaceutical companies that produce the pills, nor the FDA. To tell you the truth, I wash the coating off my pills just before swallowing them!

Thanks Mike for this info. I was trying to find out what green drinks were safe and non-toxic and went to the consumer lab site but they will not divulge this info until you sign up for a membership fee. I was interested in trying the Amazing Grass Green Superfood. I use to take Delicious Greens 8000 but found out that on the bottom of their container there was a very small label stating that this product contains lead.

Also before that one I was taking All Day Energy Greens and now found out that it contains lead as well. Its crazy, cause here we are paying good money to be healthy by taking these greens and then we find out they have toxins.

Anyway, thanks again.
Lucille

Lucille,

I checked their review and found Amazing Grass Green Superfood. Happy to report it passed all their tests! Thanks for your comment. -Mike

Wheat grass,
barley grass,
alfalfa, spirulina,
spinach, chlorella,
broccoli

Vitamins A, B12, C &
K, riboflavin, folic acid

$0.966
EFA fiber blend,
digestive enzyme &
active culture pre &
probiotic blend
Vegan, GMO free,
gluten free

$28.79/8.5 oz. (240 g)
container (approx. 30
servings)

Would you have any information as to whether the product called "Kyo-Green" is safe? I have used it for many years and like it, but since the nuclear meltdown in Japan I have had to look for older bottles that may still be on the shelves. Now everyone seems to be out and I don't know if later products since the disaster are safe. Would you know? Thanks for your response?

The Consumer Lab folks did not include Kyo-Green in their review. If I come across other sources anytime soon that do include recent tests of their product(s), I will post them here.

Sorry I don-t have a better answer right now. Have you tried contacting the Wakunaga US sales people directly? One would think they would have test results they could share.

Wakunaga of America
23501 Madero, Mission Viejo, CA 92691 U.S.A.
Telephone : +1-949-855-2776
Facsimile : +1-949-458-2764
http://www.wakunaga.com

Or perhaps, since the company's US HQ are in California, the California State Board of Pharmacy (housed under the CA State Department of Consumer Affairs) might also be monitoring their products:

1625 N Market Blvd, N219
Sacramento, CA 95834
Phone (916) 574-7900
Fax (916) 574-8618
http://www.pharmacy.ca.gov/

Lastly, in theory the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) division of the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) is responsible for monitoring the safety of nutritional supplements, although they don't seem even to be able to keep up with their primary mandate of protecting our food!

U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
Outreach and Information Center
5100 Paint Branch Parkway HFS-009
College Park, MD 20740-3835

Toll-Free Information Line:
1-888-SAFEFOOD
(1-888-723-3366)

Email:
Industry: industry@fda.gov
Consumers: consumer@fda.gov

Hi Mike, thank you very much for your write up pertaining to toxins found in 'green' powders. It is so enlightening and has indeed brought awareness to ignorant souls like me, of how unsafe certain food products can be, even organic products. I chanced upon your blog when I searched on the net on how excess lead found in foods can affect the human body after I have purchased some 'green' powders for my children from iHerb company online. I bought 3 products - Amazing Grass green superfood, Green Foods green magma and Kyo-Green energy drink mix. I was alarmed and completely devastated when I read the label on the can of Kyo-Green that it contains lead which leads to cancer. From your report, the Amazing Grass product passed the Lab's test. Phew! Now, I'm not sure the other two are safe for consumption, namely - Kyo-Green and Green Foods green magma. I tried shipping the items back to iHerb from Singapore (South East Asia) which is where I stay but the hefty shipping cost already adds up to the value of one can of my green product. Not feasible. Now I am thinking of dumping them into the trash can. If you can help shed some light on the safety of consuming the Kyo Green and Greenfood green magma, I would be most grateful. The issue is, exactly what amount of lead per serving is safe for consumption on a daily basis. California Proposition 65 sets it at 0.5 micrograms per serving which is kind of low. What about Consumers Lab? If the two products I bought are indeed not safe for consumption, it will be a complete waste of money. A good lesson learnt to be a more educated and discerning consumer in future. Many thanks once again for your report on the safety of various 'green' foods so consumers can exercise caution and make informed choices when purchasing such products. I will adhere to your list of 'safe' green food powders to buy in future. Best Regards, Adeline.

Adeline,

I have always thought of Wakunaga (Kyo-Green) as a reputable company, and I took Green Magma for many years, so I am also surprised by this news. I believe that Consumer Labs do publish their cut-offs for acceptable lead levels. Let me dig up that post and let you know. -Mike

Here is some additional information. I am going to the ConsumerLab.com (http://www.consumerlab.com/) site now to the page that explains there upper limits (ULs) of contamination. I have found the annual subscription to be well worth the seventy-five dollars or whatever it is. I imagine some libraries or medical schools might offer access to the public. Might be worth checking out.

"Contamination is a known issue with ingredients derived from algae. Although Chlorella (a green algae) and Spirulina (a blue-green algae) have generally
been found safe, all algae can accumulate heavy metals such as lead and mercury, and, with Spirulina, there have been rare reports of allergic reaction,
rhabdomyolysis (muscle breakdown), and, in a baby whose mother used Spirulina for a long period of time, seizures (Heussner, Tox Appl Pharmacol
2012).

A form of blue-green algae known as Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (or Aph. flos-aquae), typically harvested from Klamath Lake in Oregon, is
frequently contaminated with toxins, including microcystin toxin -- a potential human carcinogen also known for acute toxic effects on the liver. A study in
2010 of dietary supplements sold in Germany found this toxin in every supplement containing Aph flos-aquae (sourced from Oregon) at levels considered
unsafe for infants and, in the case of single-ingredient supplements, unsafe for older children as well. Although the levels were below established limits of
toxicity to adults, some researchers indicate that exposure to microcystin should be minimized and eliminated where possible -- which would suggest
avoidance of supplements containing Aph. flos-aquae.

Recommended Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (ULs) have been established for many vitamins and minerals, so it is advisable to keep track of the amounts
that you may be ingesting from the powders as well as from other foods and supplements (see www.ConsumerLab.com/RDAs for Recommended Dietary
Allowances (RDAs) and ULs)."

Consumer Labs explains that they get their UL and RDA numbers from the Institute of Medicine (in my experience, probably the most reputable and professional scientific organization in the country). The table is called Dietary Reference Intakes Tables and Application. Here is the URL for Table 5 (Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Elements), although I see no entry for Lead:

http://iom.edu/Activities/Nutrition/SummaryDRIs/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Nutrition/DRIs/New%20Material/6_%20Elements%20Summary.pdf

You might want to check out other of their excellent reports. Many of them are free of charge. Others (many not free) can be found at National Academies Press, the publishing arm (I understand) of the IOM: http://www.nap.edu/

Erm... Some people are very dim witted and ignorant..

Lead, arsenic and other non nutritive metals and chemicals are everywhere. When you cook and roast a pound of carrots and progress to eat them, you will also receive concentrations of unwanted metals and chemicals (including nicotine) in the process, because they are absorbed from the soil and the atmosphere.

Just like the mercury in tuna debacle, which unfortunately occurs due to pollution.

You cannot totally avoid being subjected to metal/chemical intake irrespective of how healthy or unhealthy you eat or what you eat.

I think maybe you should all look into the permissible limits set by the FDA (and the FSA in the UK) of how much of these specified metals and chemicals they allow, and if said mentioned products exceed the tolerable level, then it could be a cause for concern, otherwise, this is just scaremongering and totally unwarranted.

You may also take an interest in looking into what the FDA and FSA allow food manufacturers to include percentage wise, of certain contaminants, including and not limited to fecal matter, in certain products produced (namely - burger patties).

*Rolls eyes*

ENERFOOD ORGANIC GREEN SUPERFOOD POWDER
Have u tested this product and do u have a list of the products that failed your test?
Thanks

I do not see EnerFood on the list of products tested. Here are the ones who failed tests,mostly because of levels of lead or arsenic above accepted limits:

All Day Energy Greens (lead)
Gary Null's Green Stuff (lead)
InnerLight SuperGreens (lead)
Now Spirulina (tablets failed to dissolve)
The Ultimate Meal (aerobic bacteria)
Vibrant Health Green Vibrance (arsenic)

APPROVED PRODUCTS (and cost per daily serving)
AmaZing Grass Green Superfood ($0.96)
American Health More Than A Greens ($0.85)
Barlean's Organic Oils Greens Organic ($0.96)
Garden of Life Perfect Food RAW RAW Organic Green Super Fod ($0.93)
Healthy To Go Go Greens ($0.63-1.26)
Juice Plus+ Garden Blend ($0.65)
Puritan's Pride's Life Greens ($1.30)
Rainbow Light Immuno-Build Greens ($1.12)
Solgar Earth Source Greens & More ($0.96)
Swanson GreenFoods Green Max Powder ($0.37)

Nature's Bounty Super Greens Nutritional Powder
Vitamin World LIfe's Greens

As more testing becomes available, I will update. Thank you!

Hi Mike,

Thank you for the great article. I found this letter from a law firm in California saying that nearly all of the Amazing Grass products are testing positive for lead above the allowable levels.

http://oag.ca.gov/system/files/prop65/notices/2013-00508.pdf

I wonder why Consumer Labs found them to be ok?

I am still searching for the best green powder and will try some of your other suggestions!

Thanks Nadine,

I will look into it. Off the top of my head, all I can imagine is perhaps CA state allowable limits are lower than those that Consumer Labs used/uses—but let's check it out.

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This page contains a single entry by Mike Barr published on July 7, 2013 3:08 PM.

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