Guide to buying supplements in UK

Interesting programme on TV last week, BBC's 'Trust Me I'm a Doctor', that is relevant for anyone buying supplements in the UK.

I always thought that the UK supplement industry had no regulation. I was wrong. I still don't think there is enough and the risk of people ingesting rubbish and quite possibly harmful unknown ingredients is unbelievably high. But there is an organisation called THR (traditional herbal regulation) and supplements that have been tested by them bear the mark THR - this is worth looking for and seems to be the ONLY guide to buying a reliable product in the UK.

The TV programme looked at whether herbal supplements actually contain the herbs they list on the label. Along with a team from UCL team they carried out tests on both food supplements and supplements approved by THR. In every THR product tested, the product contained what was claimed on the label. But other food supplements showed a wide and disturbing range of quality.

Knowing that some people with PBC and liver issues take milk thistle, it is worth being aware of the following result from the programme's tests:

'36% of the food supplement milk thistle products contained no detectable milk thistle. Although this is quite a small sample size it is still a startling result. Furthermore, in one case of milk thistle, unidentified adulterants suspected to be synthetic compounds were present in place of milk thistle.'

Personally I don't use milk thistle but I'll certainly be looking out for the THR mark on other supplements.

2 Replies

  • Hello badpiglet.

    Yes I did see this programme advertised but unfortunately due to my tv recorder developing a fault I haven't as yet seen it but intend to on the net via BBCi player.

    I was well aware of milk thistle and the fact that some don't contain adequate levels. I did use milk thistle myself on experimenting a couple years ago but got mixed results on my bloods and decided that I didn't think it was working.

    I did buy milk thistle that was silymarin originally before UK became licensed for certain herbal products and milk thistle was one. The ones I got were of a good quality and mgs but as I've stated to me didn't think they were doing me any good.

    After they were licensed I noticed that there was hardly any mgs of silymarin in which put me off.

    The cost as the company informed since licensing was due to the fact that they had to have a manufacturer who could validate a licence and it was a pharmaceutical. The milk thistle was marketed by 3 different companies after licensing so adding to the cost but at the same time there was some limits on the mgs. The milk thistle certainly bumped up triple and the strength to me then was not worth the cost so I've not bothered since.

    My gripe with any sumpplements and even prescribed medications and supplements (I call iron a supplement for anaemia and also the urso as to me it is adding a certain component to the system) is that they contain certain additives that dont' sound very good. There is talc in some for instance. Povidone is another one. I feel it is these that can be a certain problem for a lot of people and in taking certain things daily, it does in my view all start to add up.

  • A link to the THR (traditional herbal registration) for those who are interested:

    Also the following link gives some detail on the requirements of registration:

    Clearly, although a number of hoops have to be jumped through before a supplements can be registered, it does not mean that a herb is free from side effects for anyone, let alone those with PBC and/or any other conditions. So I reckon, a lot of caution is always needed if thinking about taking supplements - if we can get nutrition direct from food, so much the better. Personally I always research and look hard at the side effects when weighing up whether to take something or not. But at least a supplement bearing the THR mark has been looked at for content and quality, which is more than many others.

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