If you are buying herbal dietary supplements like Ginkgo biloba (G. biloba)
to boost cognitive capacity, the first thing you should do is stop spending money on herbal dietary supplements like Ginkgo biloba and the next thing you should do is wonder how, in a completely unregulated market, you can even know if it is real.

It might not be. Even the olive oil industry thinks supplement makers need to be more honest. A new study in Genome used DNA barcoding to test the authenticity of Ginkgo biloba (G. biloba) found that almost 20 percent of samples didn't even have any. 

Dr. Damon Little, Associate Curator of Bioinformatics in the Cullman Program for Molecular Systematics at The New York Botanical Garden, says there are two potential dangers of mislabeled supplements: some adulterants are toxic (alone or in combination with other supplements/drugs); and if consumers are expecting one thing and getting another, it may worsen their health even if the supplement is not toxic.

Herbal products might not be what customers think they are because the manufacturer used a filler or because the supplier cheated the manufacturer but it is impossible to know how or why fake products get on the market - or even how often. If only actual reputable corporations like pharmaceutical companies, with government oversight, could show that supplements work better than a placebo.   

Little has designed a novel DNA mini-barcode assay that can validate authenticity of G. biloba in herbal dietary supplements, so supplement manufacturers that care about quality control can know if they are selling fake products. He is now going to focus on other popular herbal supplements.