Hardly a day goes by that I don’t hear another news story about a supplement product that was found to have serious quality control issues (i.e. the capsule doesn’t contain the ingredients on the packaging label, the amount of active ingredients may be far lower or higher than on the label, individual capsules or bottles can vary widely in their potency levels, etc.)
- New York Times Story (2013)
- The Washington Post Story (2015)
- US News & World Reports (2016)
- STAT (2016)
Clearly, if a dietary supplement doesn’t contain what it is supposed to, how can we expect it to measure up to its intended purpose?
Academics have spent years debating the evidence on the efficacy of taking individual dietary supplements, and these debates will likely go on forever. Although these discussions are extremely important, this is not the topic of this article. Instead, I want to focus on ‘how to identify higher quality supplements,’ so that if you choose to purchase them you are at least more likely to get what you intended.
Tips For Identifying Higher Quality Supplements:
Although dietary supplements are not as carefully regulated for quality as are pharmaceutical drugs there are now government standards and private testing services that have made this search less sketchy than it was just a few years ago.
Never purchase any supplement from a manufacturer that doesn’t clearly indicate that it follows cGMPs. Check the product label.
In 2010, the US FDA started to recommend (albeit, non-binding and without enforcement teeth) that dietary supplement manufacturers follow rules called “Current Good Manufacturing Practices” (cGMPs). Good manufacturing practices (GMPs) are guidelines that provide a system of processes, procedures and documentation to assure a product has the identity, strength, composition, quality and purity that appear on its label.
You are much more likely to get a higher quality product if it has a TGA certification.
If you are looking for an organization that has far more rigorous regulatory requirements for dietary supplements, look no further than Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). TGA inspection and certification is conducted at a pharmaceutical level standard, as the Government of Australia does not make a distinction between supplements and pharmaceutical drugs. There are a few dietary supplement manufacturers in the U.S. that have this certification.
Look for labels indicating the product has met the standards of a recognized certification and verification program.
These organizations inspect the supplement company’s manufacturing facilities and conduct product ingredient verification, in which they verify the product’s label through testing of the material inside the package. Once a supplement manufacturer has been approved by these third-party groups they are given permission to use the group’s “mark” or “seal” on their product.
Although these “seals of approval” do not mean that the product is safe or effective, they provide assurance that the product: 1) was properly manufactured, 2) contains the ingredients listed on the label, 3) does not contain harmful levels of contaminants.
The 4 main groups offering this kind of a third-party certification are:
- Natural Products Association
- NSF International
- United States Pharmacopeia
Dietary Supplement Reviews:
- You can also sign up for a membership in ConsumerLab.com or Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database to read online reviews of supplements.