It is extremely important to improving your health and preventing potential detrimental health effects that you understand and choose your supplements carefully. Why? Currently supplements over the counter are not regulated, and this potentially allows for dangerous contaminants to make their way into your supplements.
More commonly, quite frequently the amount that is claimed to be in the product is actually much less. For example, say a bottle claims that each capsule contains 500 mg of St. Johns Wort. Some companies’ products, when tested in independent labs, were found to contain only 200 mg. Also they are sometimes found to be contaminated with lead, mercury, PCB’s, aluminum, and other harmful things. This has been found to be true with drugs as well, but occurs less commonly due to more strict regulations.
Is there a specific example of this?
In March 2010 a number of companies including CVS Pharmacy, General Nutrition, NOW Health Group, Omega Protein, Nature Made, Rite Aid, GNC, Solgar, and Twinlabs all came under lawsuitbecause independent labs found unsafe levels of PCB’s in their fish oils. To make matters worse, the companies actually had claims on their bottles that they filtered OUT PCB’s and mercury. PCB’s are known to cause cancer and reproductive toxicity.
We have even personally talked to one quality control expert who reported one over the counter supplement company having dirty machines that were shedding metal parts into their supplements, and they didn’t think it was a problem. Yikes! Note this is also common to see in drug manufacturers – as in April 2010 Johnson & Johnson recalled 135 million units of children’s Tylenol, Benadryl and Motrin medicines for bacterial contaminations and the presence of small metal parts. And in September 2010Abbott Laboratories recalled 5 million containers of powdered Similac infant formula due tocontamination with beetles and beetle larvae. Yuck!
Fillers, extra ingredients, and rancid oils?
Be sure to check the “other ingredients” section. You may not find artificial colors, preservatives, wheat, dairy, etc.; but you will still see things like titanium dioxide, caramel color, ethyl vanillin, corn starch, cellulose, stearic acid, etc. These are not beneficial and are in fact merely extra chemicals that your body does not need – and they will certainly not help optimize your wellness in the long term.
Another issue common with oils such as fish oils is they can go rancid – and this is very hard to discover since the material is often in a capsule. Many times this will be due to a lack of good manufacturing procedures and lack of fresh ingredients. Often this leads to unpleasant effects such as the “fish oil burps,” the oil losing its benefits, or actually becoming harmful to you.
What about the GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) regulation?
This is an FDA regulation without teeth that companies can choose to comply with for preparing, packing and storing. This does provide some protection and sanitation; however, it does not requiremanufactures to follow strict procedures, such as testing of each ingredient for purity, potency, and identity when it arrives at their facility. This can, for instance, be a problem if a company is making a product whose ingredients come from China, and are contaminated with lead.
Why is potency important?
It is extremely important that you are getting the appropriate dose for your supplements to be effective, as most natural medicines, just like medications, are dose dependent. This is difficult to achieve if the company claims one dose on the bottle but the actual dose is much less. And you are not getting what you paid for.
How can I safely shop for supplements?
This is something that is extremely important to talk to your Naturopathic Doctor about, since we receive extensive training in understanding quality ingredients (we even sometimes tour manufacturer’s production lines). We also request documentation of testing from an independently associated lab that has no financial ties with the manufacturer. It is our job to make sure you are getting a supplement that will optimize your health. Like a mechanic ordering the correct part for your car, we are here to find the safest and most appropriate supplements for you.