products for quality
is done as an integral part of the manufacturing process to ensure
quality. It is performed by the manufacturer and also by independent
labs on its behalf.
is also done off-the-shelf by completely independent third parties
to test the quality of products being sold. There have been several
initiatives to test supplements independently. ConsumerLab.com
is a private testing organization that licenses a quality seal for
products that pass testing. Some
other initiatives are done by trade associations like the National
Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA)
and American Botanical Council (ABC).
Sporadic testing is done as part of an investigative news report,
the results of which have been published in media such as The
LA Times, Consumer Reports, and The
New York Times.
addition to testing for marker compounds to verify the presence
of particular biologically active components, testing is performed
to test for dosage accuracy; contaminants such as heavy metals,
bacteria, and pesticide residue; compliance with US Pharmacopoeia
(USP) tests for disintegration,
dissolution, and shelf-life standards; and bio-availability.
dietary supplements is much more complex than for drugs. Pharmaceuticals
are usually manufactured by extracting single active ingredients
from raw materials and then blending those ingredients into a unique,
often patentable, formula. In contrast, botanical products have
complex chemical structures. Exactly which active ingredient(s)
provide a health benefit is often unknown and thus controversial.
technology itself is complex. Different methods can be used to test
for the same ingredient, giving different outcomes. Even for a single
product, testing can be so difficult that it can take over six months
for the manufacturer to figure out how to test its own product.
different manufacturers use different formulas and procedures for
creating the same type of supplement. These different formulas and
procedures call for different test methods. This makes testing to
compare different brands especially difficult.
more about identifying ingredients, see standard
terminology: the important first step in evaluating health
useful methods have been developed by manufacturers and independent
test labs to analyze and ensure the quality of botanicals. But these
methods vary among manufacturers and labs. In order to compare botanicals,
it is important to have a common understanding of how to test a
given type of dietary supplement.
order to perform product tests on multiple brands of a given type
of supplement, standards are needed to establish what ingredients,
or marker compounds, for which to test. Otherwise, reliable testing
can only be performed on single name brands. Among the questions
that must be answered are:
of the active components should be included?
test methods accurately measure the existence of those ingredients?
much of these components should be present?
ratios of these components should be present?
the presence of one component offset the test of another so as
to yield a false-negative?
a test be offset if the product is doctored thus yielding a false-positive?
this end, an industry consortium called the Institute for Nutraceutical
Advancement is working to create standard test methods under its
Methods Validation Program (MVP) so that different brands can be
tested using the same methods. They aim to make standards as broad
and inclusive as possible so that they are valid for every product.
far their efforts have concentrated on development of methods for
testing raw materials. It will be years before industry-wide standards
are available for finished products. Thus reports of dietary supplement
testing should be evaluated with this in mind.
also: dosage amounts, standard
label: ingredients and recommended
and bioavailability, and interviews with Mark
Lange and Loretta Zapp
of the Institute for Nutraceutical Advancement.