Did you know that 1 out of every 5 dietary supplements fails to contain the ingredients and amounts listed on its label? Since American consumers are on their own when it comes to making a smart purchase, find out what you need to know
Americans spend nearly $10 billion a year on vitamins and other dietary supplements. But according to nutrition watchdogs at Consumer Lab, a lot of us aren’t getting our money’s worth.
“There are plenty of rip-offs out there,” says Consumer Lab president Tod Cooperman, MD. Forget for the moment whether vitamins and other nutritional supplements actually provide the benefits they claim to deliver. Cooperman’s investigators simply looked at whether the ingredients listed on product labels matched what was found inside.
About 20% of the supplements they examined failed to pass the test.
It’s Buyer Beware!
The Consumer Lab project looked at a wide range of products, everything from daily multi-vitamins to sleep aids. The results: some had more active ingredients than their labels indicated. Others had less. Some contained none at all. What’s more, researchers found “almost no connection between price and quality.” Many inexpensive supplements passed every test, while several costly ones failed completely.
How Can This Happen?
It happens because no federal agency currently regulates the dietary supplement industry. The FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) does not analyze these products before they’re put on the market. In other words, the government does not pre-test them for safety or validate label claims.
Once a dietary supplement is available for sale, the FDA does become responsible for monitoring its safety and may issue a warning or even require that a product be removed from market if it’s shown to be unsafe. Still, that’s a far cry from offering the public a guarantee that products brought to store shelves have been evaluated for safety or quality.
The Honor System
Since passage of the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, responsibility for quality control has been left entirely up to individual manufacturers. Each is expected to ensure that their "Supplement Facts" labels and ingredient lists are accurate, that their dietary supplement ingredients are safe, and that the contents match the amounts declared on their labels.
Of course, many companies constantly strive for excellence, even to periodically testing their own products and validating their contents. In some cases however—whether by intent or accident—manufacturers fail to deserve consumer trust.
||So How Can You Buy Smart?
In truth, there’s no way to be entirely certain, but here are some tips to help you avoid an unwise purchase.
- Drop any supplement in a glass of water. If it doesn’t dissolve within 30 minutes, it probably contains a lot of crude petroleum and fillers. Not good.
- Buy a product only if the manufacturer’s name and phone number appear on the label. That’s generally a sign of their good faith and commitment to quality.
- Supplements should limit potency to 100% of the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI). Avoid supplements that contain mega-doses of vitamins and minerals.
- Labels that claim the product inside will “cure” or even “treat” a serious disease should rouse your suspicion. Remember the old adage: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Never substitute a supplement for any drug prescribed by your physician.
- Some natural products can worsen certain health conditions. Some can be harmful at high doses. So before starting any supplement regimen, speak with your doctor or naturopath.
- Your body can metabolize nutrients better from food than from pills. So as much as possible, eat healthy instead of relying on bottled dietary supplements.