consumers are concerned about the quality of dietary supplements
they buy -- from vitamins and minerals to sports nutrition, dieting
aids and herbal remedies. The following question is typical of
those we receive most often here at SupplementQuality.com:
looked for [three specific brands of supplements] in your search
box and came up empty. What can you tell me about the quality of
these three companies and their supplements? They have great prices,
but I am concerned that I may be buying low quality supplements
as a result.
are approximately 1000 producers of dietary supplements in the
US -- all of whom make more than one product. The task of evaluating
them all is monumental in scope, technically challenging, and
companies research, manufacture, and sell their own formulations
through retail stores, catalogs, and/or the Web. However, most
dietary supplements are produced by a few dozen companies -- and
are then repackaged or "rebranded" by other companies, ranging
from supplement-focused businesses to large "drugstore" chains
to local health-food stores.
quality of any supplement product depends primarily on the quality
of the original manufacturer, and secondarily on the distribution-and-storage
methods of the reseller and/or wholesale-and-retail distribution
system. For details of judging quality, check out these questions
you can ask the supplier. Or . . .
simpler approach to judging quality was supplied by Allison Sarubin,
a registered dietitian and author of The Health Professional's
Guide to Popular Dietary Supplements, in our interview
with her on 8 June 2000.
products are being tested by independent labs for purity, potency,
and effectiveness of ingredients. Check out our news
low price does not necessarily mean low quality. Some producers
have chosen to pursue "high volume" strategies -- just as
grocery supermarkets make their money by selling a larger
volume than the corner convenience stores. They have lower
profit margins, but sell many many many more things. Also,
repackagers that don't have large advertising budgets find
it easier to keep their prices low.
the other hand, sometimes a low price
is due to low quality.
are some strategies for learning about the quality of any
If it carries the ConsumerLab.com quality seal or appears
on the list of brands on their www.ConsumerLab.com
website that passed their random independent testing program,
you can be assured the supplement is high quality and should perform
If it carries the USP or NF seal, the producer
is claiming that it meets the US Pharmacopoeia or National
Formulary standards for that product. Among other things,
these standards cover potency, minimum dosage, and purity
If it carries the NNFA's "GMP" seal, the manufacturer
has passed a comprehensive, independent inspection of its
manufacturing process. (This gives solid assurance of a well
made product, but says nothing about the manufacturer's choices
of which ingredients and potency levels to use.)
If it carries the BioFIT trademark, the product has
passed "biological assay" testing, which means that it displays
biochemical activity that is consistent with having the corresponding
effect in the human body.
uses a subjective, 100-point system for rating brands. Up to twenty
points are awarded for each of five categories: health claims,
scientific theory, scientific research, safety and side effects,
and value (relative cost).
Call the supplement's producer and ask for the head of their
quality control or assurance program. (Be prepared to ask
a few questions!) This will tell you if they actually have
a quality control program. If they don't (they might be a
reseller or rebrander), ask how they deal with quality control
key questions to ask about quality
How do they choose which ingredients and formulas and potency
levels to use in a product?
If the company doesn't do their own research (which few supplement
companies can afford to do), the ideal answer involves some
combination of using monograph information for herbs, doing
literature reviews of clinical research, and staying abreast
of current research reports.
quality ingredients involves a combination of testing raw
materials and developing relationships with suppliers whose
products are of consistent quality.
How do they test their products for quality control?
the ideal answer involves sending a sample of each batch to
an independent testing lab, using testing methods developed
through the Institute for Nutraceutical Advancement. Or, equally
ideal, having the independent lab procure random samples "off