Whether you’re planning a cleanse, following doctor’s orders or simply upgrading your daily health routine, nutritional supplements might be part of your plan. But, should you be concerned about supplement quality? ─ In a word, yes. Here’s why and a few common misconceptions about the supplement industry.
Doesn’t the FDA Monitor the Supplement Industry?
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) does provide oversight to the supplement industry. However, don’t let this give you a false sense of security about your supplement safety and efficacy. Some aspects of the FDA regulation might surprise you.
Consider these factors
• Approval. Supplement manufacturers do not need the agency’s approval to produce or sell a product.
• Safety. Federal law does not require a manufacturer to prove that their supplements are safe.
• Claim Accuracy & Truthfulness. There is no law requiring manufacturers or sellers to prove the accuracy or truthfulness of most product label claims. Also, it is illegal to market a dietary supplement product as a treatment, cure or symptom reliever for any specific disease.
Supplement Quality —Buyer Beware
Supplement quality failures are not uncommon. Be aware of these typical failure scenarios.
• This isn’t what I paid for! Often, the label doesn’t match what’s inside. Probiotic products are often contaminated or contain microbes which are dead and/or are different from the ones listed on the label. Or, consider the Consumer Labs report on the classic detox herb, silymarin. In the report, 8 out of 10 supplements tested did not contain the quantity of silymarin claimed on the label.
• Heavy metals? No thanks. Heavy metals, such as lead or arsenic, are commonly found in mineral products, such as calcium, herbal products, and protein powders.
• You’ve got to be kidding. (a.k.a. Gross Mislabeling) In 2015, the York State attorney general’s office tested supplement products from four major retailers. According to their findings, products often contained little more than cheap fillers like powdered rice, asparagus, and houseplants. Even worse, some products contained substances that could be dangerous to those with allergies, making them not only fraudulent but potentially dangerous.
What should you look for in dietary supplement quality?
To start, look for a company that is current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) certified. In short, GMPs help eliminate product contamination, mix-ups, and errors. But, any manufacturer may promote that they follow the now mandated GMPs. Don’t take their word for it. Look for GMP certification.
What is GMP Certification?
The health department inspects restaurants, to verify that restaurants meet sanitation and food safety standards. Similarly, GMP certifying agencies audit manufacturing sites to confirm that the GMPs are being followed. GMP Certification is the gold standard in quality. It assures you that what’s listed on a supplement label is in the container ─in the same quantities. It also assures that there’s nothing in the bottle that isn’t on the label, such as trace amounts of prescription drugs, fillers or unacceptable levels of pathogens or heavy metals.
Having previously worked for Metagenics, I am most familiar with their product line. But I remain partial to the Metagenics product line for many reasons. First, they are not only GMP-certified, they are one of the first in the industry to achieve three independent GMP certifications. Second, they go beyond GMP-certification, exceeding requirements in the following ways.
- Science. Metagenics products designs and formulates their products based on science, not the latest consumer trends. In fact, their manufacturing team boasts the largest scientific and clinical staff in the industry.
- Raw Material Testing. Vendors deliver raw materials with a Certificate of Analysis (CofA). But many vendors source their raw materials from 3rd world countries which commonly use pesticides and chemicals to maintain crops. For example, 90% of ginseng is contaminated with pesticides. So, rather than simply trust the CoA, all raw materials for Metagenics products undergo additional independent testing. If the materials fail to meet their quality standards, Metagenics rejects those materials ─which are often sold to other companies.
- Product Testing. At every stage in the manufacturing process, every batch of products undergoes extensive in-house testing and third-party testing by respected independent laboratories. These labs test for uniform blending, tablet disintegration time, potency and shelf-life stability. And finally, Metagenics tests products for purity to ensure that your supplements are free of aflatoxins, pesticides, insects, heavy metals and residual solvents.
So, keep these issues in mind when shopping for supplements. Because the last thing you want in your nutrition supplement regiment is more toxins or to waste your money!
- Hughes, et al. Microbiologic characteristics of Lactobacillus products used for colonization of the vagina. Obstet Gyneocol 1990;75:244
- Bateman, J. Possible toxicity of herbal remedies. Scottish Med J 1998;4:7-15
- Calcium supplements contaminated with lead.
- Bourgoin B, et al. Lead Content in 70 Brands of Dietary Calcium Supplements. Amer J Pub. Hlth. August 1993, vol. 83, no. 8