Fake and diluted ingredients, including herbs and animal parts, are increasingly finding their way into traditional Chinese medicines. Investigators have found many supposedly medicinal powders diluted with everything from flour to corn starch to sand.
Sometimes the dilutions are the result of cutting corners by manufacturers, but often it's done by middlemen and retailers seeking to increase their profit margins.
PHOTOS: Most Threatened Species
There is little or no governmental regulation of these medicines, and the problem is getting worse. As one traditional Chinese medicine manufacturer noted, "counterfeiters are posing a great threat, as fake products are made to closely resemble genuine ones.
Counterfeiters can produce fake medicinal herbs with starch and gypsum powder, or mix dirt or dust with the herbs to increase their weight."
Dilution, Inert Ingredients and Placebos Many legitimate, regulated drugs and food products contain inert or inactive ingredients or "fillers." Sometimes these ingredients help delay - or speed up - the body's absorption of a drug's active ingredient, for example, while fillers in food may add flavor or bulk, coloring or increase shelf life.