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Your Supplements Might Not Be the 'Quality' You Think

Beth Bradford

Sep 6, 2023

Buying your supplements through a "wellness" website doesn't guarantee they're good.

How many supplements do you typically take on a daily basis? If you're like me, it's probably a lot.

Did you know that nearly 58% of adults in the United States regularly take at least one supplement every month? It's quite a popular practice, and it's no wonder considering that the supplement industry is valued at a whopping $160 billion. Hello, melatonin, vitamin D, fish oil, ashwagandha, calcium...

Do you happen to notice any difference if you simply take a multivitamin every day? Even though lots of folks are into taking supplements, it's interesting to note that two-thirds of people out there don't really feel like these supplements do much for them. According to Harvard Medical School, the medical community says there isn't sufficient evidence to back the idea of taking vitamins and minerals for enhancing your health.

Here's the thing: supplement manufacturers have a clever way of using words like "supports" or "promotes" without running afoul of the Food and Drug Administration. We take fish oil supplements to "support" a healthy heart. How many supplement labels do you see that say they "promote" the immune function? All marketing.

A survey conducted by Pew Charitable Trust found that a lot of folks actually think that manufacturers are required to demonstrate the safety of their supplements to the FDA. They also believe that the FDA conducts tests on these supplements before they hit the market. Unfortunately, the FDA doesn't really give its official stamp of approval on the safety or effectiveness of dietary supplements before they hit the store shelves.

People also mistakenly believe that the FDA also keep tabs on the exact amount of ingredients in supplements. Nope, they do not. Therefore, it's best to think twice before spending more on "higher quality" supplements, especially if a wellness influencer or a spiritual chiropractor promotes them on their websites. Before diving in, it's a good idea to do some research on the supplement and the manufacturer. It'll help you make an informed decision.

The contents of the supplement bottle may not match what is on the label

You might have heard about "nature's Ozempic." It's actually berberine, and it's been making quite a buzz on TikTok lately. While it's true that some individuals may consider using berberine as a potential treatment for type 2 diabetes, it's important to note that the contents of each capsule may not always match the information provided on the label.

A 2019 study published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements looked at 15 different brands of berberine and guess what? Nine of those brands didn't meet the standard potency requirement set by the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP). The study also discovered that the more expensive brands didn't always turn out to be the best in terms of quality.

Similarly, a study published in 2013 in JAMA Internal Medicine discovered some inconsistencies in the potency of vitamin D. Only about a third of vitamin D supplements actually meet the USP standard potency, which is supposed to be between 90% and 110% of the recommended amount of vitamin D. Certain vitamin D supplements out there have a potency as low as 9%! In other words, if you're taking vitamin D and it doesn't seem to work, it might be the brand.

If you're thinking about using melatonin gummies to help with your sleep, it's a good idea to look for a trustworthy brand. I've noticed that some melatonin gummies worked better than others, even if they listed the same strength on the label. A 2023 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association decided to dive into the world of melatonin gummies and examined 25 different brands. Guess what they found? The amount of melatonin in these gummies varied quite a bit, sometimes even up to three times more than what was claimed on the label. Quite surprising, isn't it? Out of all the melatonin products, only three of them actually contained the amount stated on the label, give or take 10%. Some even had CBD, even though it wasn't stated on the front of the label.

Finding a good supplement brand

Finding a reputable brand requires some research. Check out customer reviews and ratings online to get an idea of what people are saying about different brands. However, note that some supplement companies will give you an extra bottle of a supplement if you write a review. Would you get an extra bottle of a supplement and write a bad review?

While the FDA primarily provides guidelines for supplements, there are other organizations that can assist you in discovering reputable brands. Did you know that certain supplement manufacturers choose to have their products undergo a process to obtain a USP Verified Mark for their labels?

The USP, also known as the United States Pharmacopeia, is an independent lab that collaborates with the FDA to create standards for supplement potency. It also makes sure that the strength of the product matches what's stated on the label. The USP, just like the FDA does for prescription drugs, actually inspects the facility where the supplement is made and checks that the ingredients are sourced properly. There aren't actually a whole lot of brands that have been verified by the USP, so it's a pretty big deal when you see this on a supplement label. Brands like Vitafusion and Nature Made are two brands with this USP verificiation.

The National Science Foundation offers a certification program to ensure the safety of supplement ingredients. Scientists thoroughly examine the ingredients for any harmful substances like toxins, microorganisms, mycotoxins, and pathogens. It's a great initiative to ensure the quality and safety of supplements. It also conducts yearly audits and regular testing of the supplements it approves.

If you're curious about the brands that have been certified by NSF, you can simply look up your supplement on its database. It's a great way to find out which brands have received their certification. When it comes to melatonin, there are quite a few manufacturers you can choose from such as Amazon, Klean Athlete, and Wegmans.

Consumer Lab is supported by members and it also tests and reviews supplements independently. Additionally, it shares alerts issued by the FDA and provides case studies regarding certain supplements. While the reviews are available for free, accessing detailed information about the top brands for each supplement requires a monthly membership fee of $5.

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