What’s Hiding In Your Supplement?

December 4, 2013

Last month one of the supplement companies that I trust and use issued a product recall. Trace amounts of an antibiotic was found in certain products due to contamination of an ingredient provided by an outside company. You can read about the recall in it’s entirety here if you are interested.  But more importantly, this is a great reminder about how strongly we rely on the integrity of the people and processes that create the products we buy and put into our bodies in our quest for optimum health.

If you read the entire press release, you’ll notice that the term ‘voluntary recall’ was mentioned more than once.  However, according to the FDA, “Recalls are almost always voluntary. Sometimes a company discovers a problem and recalls a product on its own. Other times a company recalls a product after FDA raises concerns. Only in rare cases will FDA request a recall. But in every case, FDA’s role is to oversee a company’s strategy and assess the adequacy of the recall.”  So, while this case may have been discovered by the manufacturer before the FDA became aware, not all voluntary recalls are this way.  Don’t equate voluntary recall to mean there was a choose not to recall.

The supplement industry while governed by the FDA is not held to the standards that drugs are.  This means there is no research, premarket review, or pre-approval by the FDA before products hit the shelves.  The  manufacturer is required to have testing and documentation to support the claims of the product, but it is never required to be given to the FDA unless an issue arises with the product.

It is the manufacturers responsibility to make sure the products are safe and the labels are not misleading. And although it is required that all ingredients be reported on the label, there are countless cases of lab tested supplements containing ingredients not listed and not containing the very ingredients marketed. I’m sure you have read the accounts of professional and Olympic athletes being penalized for a banned substance that has contaminated their approved supplement.  It happens so frequently (1 in 4 supplements run the risk of contamination of a banned substance), that it has become the go to excuse for those athletes who purposely take illegal substances to increase performance and get caught.

Here are a few tips to help you navigate the gigantic and tantalizing world of supplementation:

1) Do some research

Reading the label is no guarantee.  There are many reported instances of supplements not containing the ingredients on the label. Get to know the company, mindset, and background of the people who created the company and who hold its vision.  Email them, call them, ask questions and get product information if you can’t find it online.

2) Do more research

Review the studies that have been performed on your supplement and verify that the health claims are proven with science and not just innovative marketing.  Also verify that the ingredients in the studied supplement are the same as the shelf product.

3) Watch out for recalls

Download an app or visit the FDA website regularly to check out what supplements (and food!) have been recalled.

4) Trust your gut

If the claims are too good to be true, it probably is.

If the price is very low comparatively, it’s most likely not high quality.

Does the purported benefit outweigh the risk of taking the supplement?

5) Trust your body

If you think you are having an adverse response to a supplement, stop using it, see your doctor, and report it.  This page is helpful if you have a case to report.

These tips may be easier said than done, because unless you are having each supplement lab tested yourself there is no way to be 100% certain.  But if you care about what is going into your body and  you like using supplements, then you need to do it.  With so few regulations on this industry and these products, who else is going to watch your back?

Americans spend more than $28 billion dollars a year on supplements. Don’t waste your money, make smart decisions about your products.

Feel good, do what you love,