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Testing

Customers Want Quality!
14 June 2000

Callers to SupplementQuality.com are asking about the quality of the supplements they are taking. A recent article in Natural Health mentioning our website and giving our phone number resulted in hundreds of site visits and roughly 50 callers looking for information about the quality of specific brands.

Unfortunately, the number of independent testing programs can be counted on the fingers of one hand. We report on them below.

Call to action: Consumers and health practitioners are demanding reliable, high quality products. Such fundamentals as product consistency and dosage size remain at issue for many manufacturers. No certified, independent testing protocol is in place to verify production quality. (See "Creating a quality model for dietary supplements" in our "Standards & regulations" section.

While many consumers do not recognize the extraordinary freedom or choice in price and quality represented by the open market for dietary supplements that exists in the US, a variety of interests are keenly aware of the situation and seek alternative scenarios, including federal regulation that would effectively place supplements in the same class as pharmaceuticals. Whatever the pros and cons of such an approach, experience in other countries suggests the costs of supplements would skyrocket while potency and availability would plummet.

As long as an independent certification program remains a wish rather than a reality, producers, health providers and consumers who believe in an open, competitive market for dietary supplements will remain at risk. The time for action is now!

ConsumerLab.com

ConsumerLab.com conducts independent testing of popular and widely available brands of supplements against a high standard of quality. They examine clinical research findings for each specific supplement to learn "what works" -- then compare test results of brands against this formulation. The names of brands that pass these tests are posted on their website, www.ConsumerLab.com.

Producers of passing brands can purchase a license to print the ConsumerLab quality seal on the labels and literature of approved products. ConsumerLab informs manufacturers if its brand fails the testing. Brands that were not tested can pay a fee to have their products tested.

SupplementQuality.com keeps an updated page of current test results available at ConsumerLab.com. This news is provided solely from publicly available information and does not constitute a licensed report from ConsumerLab.com.

NNFA's TruLabel program

The National Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA) is a trade organization that represents more than 1000 manufacturers and 3000 retailers of health foods, dietary supplements, natural ingredient cosmetics and other natural products. Members who produce dietary supplements are required to pass TruLabel inspection (an independent testing program) to ensure that the contents of a bottle matches its label.

Names of companies that pass this independent testing program are published in NNFA's newsletter NNFA Today. However, only NNFA members can subscribe to this newsletter, so this information is not available to the public.

Also, a variety of technical difficulties have made it impossible to test the full range of popular dietary supplements. Sometimes, the presence of one ingredient interferes with the accuracy of testing for another. For some ingredients, the results of one kind of test can differ from those of another -- so the question of which test to use is still the subject of debate. NNFA told us that they were able to test only about half of the supplements on the market.

(For more information about the challenges of developing rigorous, reliable tests, see our interviews with Mark Lange and Loretta Zapp at the Institute for Nutraceutical Advancement.)

Consumer Reports Online

Consumer Reports has conducted independent testing of a wide range of products for decades. Supported entirely by consumer subscriptions (the publication takes no advertising), their independence and integrity are unquestioned. Recently Consumer Reports has begun to scrutinize supplements as well as automobiles, toasters, and dishwashers.

We searched Consumer Reports Online (www.ConsumerReports.org) for "dietary supplement", "vitamin", and "mineral" -- and came up with the following article titles.

  • "Alternative Medicine, treating ten common conditions" (including arthritis and high cholesterol), and including a reader survey showing how thousands fared with complementary and standard medicine. May 2000.
  • "The lowdown on SAM-e." October 1999.
  • "Are you taking too much medicine?" (Including vitamins.) March 2000.
  • "Nutritional supplements: Which might harm? Which might help?" March 1999.
  • "Calcium supplements: Lead in supplements and antacid tablets." February 1999.
  • "Menopause, estrogen from plants?" January 1999.
  • "Colds and flu, what to do?" (Including vitamins.) January 1999.
  • "Are you paying too much?" (For vitamins, among other things. Discusses how prices of similar products can vary depending on who's being targeted.) October 1998.

SupplementWatch.com

SupplementWatch takes a different kind of approach, which is no less valuable for being subjective. In addition to publishing both news and information about specific supplements and research results, SupplementWatch reviews products and recommend brands that score 80% or higher in their rating system. Supplement ratings cover five basic areas; each area is worth up to 20 points. (A rating of 100 would be a perfect score.)

  1. Claims: What is the product supposed to do? Are the health claims reasonable?
  2. Theory: How is the product supposed to work? Is the theory sound? Is there a proposed and logical mechanism of action?
  3. Scientific support: Has the supplement been tested? What kinds of studies have been done -- and of what quality?
  4. Safety: Are there any side effects? What kinds of toxicity studies have been done? What dosage levels are safe or unsafe? Are there any known interactions with drugs or other supplements?
  5. Value: Is this supplement worth its price? How does this supplement compare to others in the same category for taste, convenience, availability, consumer service, and overall quality of ingredients?

In conclusion

While the research, testing and standardization programs that will eventually lead to enhanced quality in dietary supplements are only partly in place, a dramatic increase in interest and use of supplements suggests positive change will continue. SupplementQuality.com urges energetic action on the part of industry and consumers to speed the day when both public and professional confidence in the quality of dietary supplements equals or exceeds that of pharmaceuticals.end-of-story

 

 

   
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