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From the Townsend Letter,
the Examiner of Alternative Medicine
May 2006

Quality Problems Widespread Among Ginseng Products Sold in Japan

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Among 14 brands of ginseng dietary supplements recently purchased in Japan and tested by, only five products passed independent testing by Six products did not contain the ginseng they claimed on their labels, and three others exceeded acceptable pesticide levels. One product that failed testing carried the Japan Health, Food & Nutrition Food (JHFA) seal, indicating that its quality had been checked and approved by an agency sanctioned by the Ministry of Health. This is the second major dietary supplement Product Review reported by for the Japanese market., which independently tests popular dietary supplements, has conducted similar testing in the US since 1999. published a report on Japanese CoQ10 supplements in May 2005.'s Ginseng Product Review focused on two related types of ginseng: American (sometimes labeled as Western or Panax quinquefolius) and Asian (often labeled as Korean, Chinese, or Panax ginseng). Ginseng dietary supplements are taken primarily to improve energy, although this effect has not been clinically demonstrated. Ginseng products are sold in many forms including drinks, tonics, pills, capsules, tablets, and pastes and cost as much as 12,000 yen (approximately $120 US). Products were purchased through stores, on-line retailers, catalogues, or multi-level marketing companies. The products were then tested for their levels of ginsenosides (key markers for the quality of ginseng) and for potential contamination with the heavy metals (lead, cadmium, and arsenic) and pesticides, including hexachlorobenzene (HCB), quintozene, DDT, and benzene hexachlorides (BHCs).

No ginsenosides could be detected in two products: a popular energy drink and a tonic, although both were sold as pharmaceutical products and subject to strict regulation by the Ministry of Health. A product sold widely in convenience stores that carried the JHFA seal contained only 60% of its claimed amount of ginsenosides. Three other products contained only 23% to 41% of the expected minimum amount of ginsenosides based on their claimed levels of ginseng.

The three products contaminated with pesticides included one sold online, another sold through drug stores, and a third sold through a major multi-level marketing company. These products exceeded acceptable levels of BHCs by 80 to 500%. BHCs are potentially carcinogenic and toxic to various organs and include the compound lindane (gamma-BHC). Two of the products also exceeded the acceptable level for hexachlorobenzene (HCB) by 36% and 49%, respectively. HCB is a probable human carcinogen banned from most food crop uses throughout the world and is a breakdown product from another pesticide, quintozene. One of the products that was high in HCB also exceeded the acceptable level for the pesticide quintozene by a small amount. The ginseng products that passed testing included three products in tablet form, a liquid (sold as a pharmaceutical), and a paste that carried the JHFA seal.

"These results are very disturbing. It is sad that individuals hoping to enhance their well-being with ginseng are, with some products, exposing themselves to potentially harmful substances or are getting ripped off," said Tod Cooperman, MD, President of "We found similar problems in the US in 2000, which, on testing again in 2003, had significantly diminished. We hope that our findings will steer consumers toward better quality products and cause the market to fix these problems."

The Ginseng Product Review is found at Japanese.) The report identifies and lists the five products that passed the testing and provides general descriptions of those that did not. Subscription is required for the report, which also includes expert information on how to buy and use ginseng. Subscription is $9 (approximately ¥950) for the report or $24 (approximately ¥2,500) for 12 months of reports online.

(NOTE: Non-subscribers may see the initial portion of the product review, in English, at is a leading provider of consumer information and independent evaluations of products that affect health and nutrition. The company is privately held and based in New York, USA. It has no ownership from, or interest in, companies that manufacture, distribute, or sell consumer products. Subscriptions to are available online. For group subscriptions or voluntary product testing, contact Elena Yoo, Japan Manager, at



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