Why Supplement Quality is Important for YOU!

How do you know if you can trust that the supplements will have in them what they say they have in them? Short answer…it’s not easy.

Having a trustworthy source of potent supplements is vital.

Unfortunately, the supplement industry is not well regulated by the FDA or any regulatory organization for that matter. Because of the lack of oversight many supplement manufacturers falsely advertise their products. This practice is all too common in retail stores. In 2015 the New York Attorney General conducted an investigation on store-brand herbal supplements sold at GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart.

This investigation found that four out of five of the supplements they tested did not contain any of the herbs listed on their labels. Four out of five!

Instead, cheap fillers such as powdered rice, house plants, and asparagus were the actual components of the supplements. So, a consumer going in to buy ginkgo biloba at Walmart or valerian root at Target would be getting zero percent of the herb they had hoped to be taking. Additionally, a number of supplements at GNC were found to contain unlisted ingredients used as fillers, things like peanuts and soybeans. So, a consumer taking a supplement in hopes to improve their health may actually be taking something they are allergic to.

Further, even if the supplements do contain the ingredients they claim to, there is a chance that they are not concentrated at the dosage marked on the label. Dr. Erin LeBlanc, a researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in North Portland, conducted a study she later published in JAMA. She investigated 55 vitamin D supplements produced by 12 different mass market supplement manufacturers. She found that some of the supplements contained only 9 percent of the vitamin D that they claimed to! And, some contained 146 percent of the advertised dose. Only one contained within 10% the amount listed on the label. 

This lines up with my own experience. Back in the day when I was just out of school I did some

freelance work consulting for a number of different supplement companies. One of the companies flew me to California with the head of their sales department to present our products to the buyer’s committee at a large health food chain. I was asked a question about our quality control, which I answered honestly. I was fired when we got home because I didn’t lie to the committee. Not even kidding.

What about buying online to save money?

If all that was not unsettling enough, if you buy your supplements on Amazon or eBay there is a chance that they are actually counterfeit products! If a brand is very popular and sells well it is pretty easy for a third-party to copy the company’s labels, manufacture a worthless pill, put it in a bottle that looks exactly the same as the real thing, and then list it on Amazon or eBay.

These fraudulent companies sell the products at a reduced rate so that customers buy it. In reality, the supplements arriving at the front door aren’t supplements at all. There is also a risk of expiration dates being altered, or the products being stored in a way that compromises the quality of the product (think hot warehouse!)

So…what to do?

Fortunately, there are supplement companies out there that are producing quality products. To learn more about how to find them, check out this article I wrote on exactly how to make sure what you are taking is what you think it is. I carry some high quality supplements in my office for patients and clients (and ship as well,) and discount the more expensive products significantly from retail. But that said, as far as I’m concerned it is unethical to tell someone ‘you need this supplement’ then tell them they should buy it from you. If your practitioner tells you this, think hard about whether you’re comfortable having them be your doctor. 

Here in Portland if people prefer to purchase locally I will often recommend a local pharmacy called Pharmaca, or I send people to another local source—we have many in Portland including NUNM the local naturopathic college.  Pharmaca can ship as well.

There are also some brands that have physician label and mass market label. This means that some of the higher quality supplements that I can offer as a physician can also be purchased from your local health food store. But buyer beware. Just because something is sold at the health food store doesn’t mean it’s good quality. And just because the person working at the health food store swears by a product also doesn’t mean it’s good quality. They are trained by the manufacturers and their reps directly. Remember that job I mentioned above that I was fired from? Truly, it can be sketchy out there.

In short? Vet carefully. Buy quality.

Yours in Health,

B Vitamins: What You Need to Know

You have probably heard at one point or another that you should take vitamins. But you have probably also heard that it’s unnecessary, and that we shouldn’t. What’s the truth? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. In an ideal world we would get everything we need from our food as it would come from the earth without refining or processing. In an ideal…

Read More

Put Your Face in Nature

When I was dealing with some pretty bad anxiety a few years ago my yoga teacher gave me an assignment. She told me I had to put my “face in nature” every single day. Rain or shine. Anxious or not. It didn’t have to be for an hour, or even half an hour. Just ten minutes. If it’s raining, she said, grab an umbrella. If…

Read More

Dr. Samantha’s Top Tips for Kicking Sugar to the Curb

Most people eat more sugar than they think that they do. It’s everywhere. Go grab a few things from your pantry or your fridge. Spaghetti sauce. Crackers. Cereal. Yogurt. Even milk. Now, look at the label. Check out the serving size. Now, look at how much sugar is in that serving. 4.2 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon. Now think about how this adds up.…

Read More

Why is Sugar So Addictive?

Have you ever wondered why you can’t just eat one cookie at a time? Or why diets are so difficult to sustain? Or why you’re thinking about cookies right now instead of the words you are reading? It’s sugar, sugar! We evolved to seek out sugar. Our brains are hard-wired to make us love sweets. This was an absolutely crucial evolutionary adaptation when food was…

Read More

Vitamin D: What You Need to Know

If you want to stay healthy through the winter and beyond, don’t forget your vitamin D! Where I live in Portland, OR, we’ve had an abundance of sunshine-filled days this winter- a rare treat! But no matter the season we need to be attentive to how much vitamin D we get. I’ve talked about winter blues in a past blog post but the blues aren’t…

Read More