Not all medical supplements are created equal. This is partially due to the fact that supplements are not regulated by the FDA in the same manner as prescription medications are. The reasons for this are complicated, but can be found here. You likely have seen the familiar disclaimer on television, vitamins, or supplements: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.” So, if you read between the lines, the statement basically means: ‘This product works because we say it does. The product also contains what is on the label because we say so. Trust us.’
Yea, not so much. You may or may not be familiar with the recent lawsuit brought by the Attorney General of New York against Target, Walmart, GNC, and Walgreens. The suit claims that these stores were selling herbal supplements that contained little to none of the actual supplements listed on the label, therefore resulting in fraud. This is nothing new, as it has been known for many years that not every supplement company has been forthright in labeling of their products.
So, which ones are legitimate? Some companies will submit their products to independent laboratories for testing. The laboratories will test the supplement to verify that what is on the label is actually in the product, including the dosage. As a result, the supplement bottle will usually have a seal somewhere on the label to verify that the product has been independently verified. Mind you, this does nothing to verify the efficacy of the product nor does it promise the supplement to work, but rather simply means that what you see is what you get. The most common testing/verification companies are: Consumer lab, Natural Products Association-Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), NSP, and United States Pharmacopeia (USP). A good article explaining these companies can be found here.
So the moral of the story is: Do your homework, because you do not always get what you pay for.
- Willers J, Heinemann M, Bitterlich N, Hahn A. Vitamin Intake from Food Supplements in a German Cohort - Is there a Risk of Excessive Intake? Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2014;84(3-4):152-62. PubMed PMID: 26098479