You might be surprised to hear that the supplement industry mostly operates on an honor code. Meaning, nearly all of the supplements you find online and in stores are unpoliced and unregulated. It’s concerning that this $32 billion industry essentially allows pills to appear on the market freely and are assuming they’re safe unless proven otherwise.
We definitely don’t want big Pharma-like regulations to crush high-quality supplement manufacturers so that only the brand with the deepest pockets comes out on top. However, we as consumers need to be extremely diligent when it comes to purchasing our supplements.
In the best case scenario, a bad supplement is only a waste of money. In the worst case scenario, a bad supplement is dangerous.
The Supplement Supply Chain—Where Do Fraudulent Supplements Come From?
There are a number of places in the system where contamination or fraud can occur. There are four areas where things can go wrong in the supplement supply chain:
- Products are flat out counterfeits
- Expired products are sold as still effective
- Stolen products are resold
- Third party sellers tamper with trusted sources—this could include any of the methods above
Currently, it’s not possible to know how widespread this issue is due to the weak links in the supplement supply chain listed above.
One 2013 study that randomly selected 44 popular supplements found only 48 percent of the supplements contained what was on the labels. Additionally, one-third of these same supplements contained fillers or contaminants not listed on the label, some of which “pose serious health risks to consumers.” Shockingly, this study found only two of the twelve companies had products that were exactly as they claimed on the bottle.
Should You Buy Supplements on Amazon?
There are a lot of worrisome articles circulating about counterfeit supplements being sold on Amazon.com. The truth of the matter is, there’s little Amazon can do to protect you against fake products and fake reviews. Though they have a process for reporting and banning counterfeit third-party sellers, these can pop up overnight and it takes time for them to be reported.
Fortunately, you can buy directly from manufacturers on Amazon, manufacturers who are verified and should have a detailed manufacturer profile. You don’t need to fear buying from Amazon if you only buy from verified manufacturers.
Should You Buy Supplements from Retail Locations?
It’s not enough to blindly trust retailers because fake vitamins are sold in stores as well. Large retailers such as GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart have been caught red-handed with fake supplements. The New York Attorney general’s office accused these four retailers of selling fraudulent products.
Here are some of the shocking findings from the NYC attorney general’s report:
- A ginseng supplement sold at Walgreens contained only powdered garlic and rice.
- Six herbs sold by Target tested negative for the herbs listed on their labels. Instead, these supplements were made up of rice, beans, peas, and wild carrots.
- GNC had supplements with ingredients missing from their labels. These hidden ingredients included peanuts and soybeans, which can be very dangerous for anyone with allergies.
The bottom line is this—neither Amazon nor retail stores are sources you can blindly trust when it comes to supplements.
5 Tips for Avoiding Fake Supplements
1. Buy Directly from Reputable Manufacturers
Once you’ve found a reliable manufacturer of a particular supplement you want to buy, you can go right to the manufacturer’s website and purchase directly from them. This is the number one method you can implement to ensure your supplements are not only real, but high quality.
Sure, it may be a bit more expensive because you might not get the free shipping that comes from your Amazon Prime account. However, you’ll have the guarantee of product coming straight from the manufacturer without passing through any unnecessary and potentially dangerous third parties.
Keep in mind, it’s often possible to buy directly from a manufacturer using Amazon. Many manufacturers recognize how convenient it can be for the consumer to use this e-commerce platform and set up an account to sell from their site.
2. Buy Directly from Reputable Sources
This strategy differs slightly from manufacturers in that there are many doctors, nurses, and wellness leaders who sell their own private label products. These are often blends of vitamins, minerals, nutrients or herbs that have been developed from their personal clinical experience and research. There are actually many successful blends that were developed by health professionals to support their own patients in their practices. Many of these supplements are unique or personalized health solutions and shouldn’t be overlooked just because they aren’t from the manufacturer themselves.
In the case of supplements sold by reputable sources, be sure to use a similar mentality as you do when you buy from reputable manufacturers. Once you identify the product and source as high quality (from your excellent sleuthing), you should then only buy this directly from the source. Avoid third-party sellers, especially if they are selling the product at a fraction of the price.
3. Check the FDA Tainted Product List
You can check the FDA’s tainted products list. This is a running list of potentially hazardous products but is by no means complete.
4. Check for Red Flags
Major red flags include:
- If the product seems fake or too good to be true
- Supplements that are very cheap
- If the seller has no contact information
- Reviews that seem overly curated
5. Check for Signs of Credibility
Signs of credibility include:
- Trusted certifications
- Third party lab testing
- Choose trusted brands that have been around for many years
Ultimately, just like anything else you buy, you run some risk of it not being exactly what you paid for—especially when you get it online. You can check for red flags and signs of credibility but keep in mind many of these can be forged, and so it’s better to stick with a manufacturer and source you trust.
With supplements you should be extra vigilant and spend a little extra time researching, along with possibly a few extra dollars to ensure you are getting exactly what you’re looking for—it pays off in the long run.
To learn more about how to balance your hormones with supplements (and which to take), you can download our FREE Supplement Guide here.
What I Recommend
In response to these fake supplement brands, my team and I created our own brand of supplements called Wellena.
All our supplements are free of gluten, soy, corn, dairy, yeast, and peanuts. We do not use any fillers or additives. We do not use cheap and ineffective forms such as magnesium oxide or folic acid.
The supplements have the NSF Certification to NSF/ANSI 173—this American National Standard helps confirm that what’s on the label is in the product and that the product contains no unsafe levels of contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides, and herbicides.
Need to stock up on supplements? Magnesium, DIM, zinc, B complex, vitamin D? Consider getting them from us, we would love your support.
Helpful Tip: If you would like to learn more about how to rebalance your estrogen levels naturally—using food, herbs and supplements, and know when to use and not use bioidentical hormones, I invite you to join our Estrogen Reset program here.