You know you need dietary supplements, but which product should you choose?
It can be overwhelming to look down the aisles of supplement products in the store or sorting through the long lists online.
Asking the clerk which product’s best usually gets a questionable response. Relying on advertisements leaves you suspicious of hype and marketing trickery.
You also may have seen studies that found big flaws in the manufacturing of some supplements.
For instance, a 2006 study published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science found that more than half of the dietary supplements tested did not disintegrate properly. That means they were not available for the body when taken.
You were throwing your money away if you bought these products and missed all the benefits you thought you were getting.
Few of us count as experts in nutritional science.
You’re not powerless though. You can choose your dietary supplements wisely by relying on nutritional science experts who do the research for you.
You can look for evidence of use of good manufacturing practices (GMP) and/or use ConsumerLab.com and/or NutriSearch.
Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) provide a system of processes, procedures, and documentation to assure the product produced has the identity, strength, composition, quality, and purity that it says it has.
Manufacturers who use these practices indicate GMP on their labels or accompanying product literature.
Three independent non-governmental programs provide GMP guidelines. Each has its own level of good manufacturing practice (GMP) compliance ranging from food-grade to pharmaceutical-grade:
- NPA GMP Certification Program – NPA stands for Natural Products Association. It represents retailers, manufacturers, wholesalers, and distributors of natural products (foods, dietary supplements, and health/beauty aids).
- NSF Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) Registration indicates that nutritional supplements manufacturers are complying with GMP requirements consistent with regulation for dietary supplements published by the FDA in May 2007.
- USP Dietary Supplement Verification Program indicates that the product meets standards set by the United States Pharmacopeia. Pharmaceutical products are required to meet these more rigorous standards.Nutritional supplement products use this level of GMP voluntarily as they only need to meet the same standards as foods do.Surprisingly, few nutritional supplement manufacturers choose to meet USP standards even though they are recognized worldwide as the hallmark of pharmaceutical manufacturing quality.
ConsumerLab.com (CL) provides Product Reviews to help consumers and health professionals evaluate health, wellness, and nutrition products and offer a Voluntary Certification Program for manufacturers and distributors.
Product Reviews include multiple brands of products claiming to have the same key ingredient. CL independently purchases the products at the retail level (stores, online, mail order, etc.). After removing identifying information to prevent any bias they send the products to accredited labs for testing with these criteria:
- Identity: Does the product meet standards of identity, the level of quality claimed?
- Strength: Does it contain the amount of ingredients claimed?
- Purity: Is it free of contaminants?
- Disintegration: Does it break apart properly so it can be used by the body.
Subscribers view test results in Product Reviews on line once available. Here are sample summaries of Product Reviews on COQ10 supplements and Green and Whole Foods:
2010 Product Review: CoQ10 and Ubiquinol Supplements: “All but one of the  products tested contained their labeled amounts of CoQ10 and/or ubiquinol. “Healthy America Coenzyme Q10 provided only 86.7% of its claimed 150 mg of CoQ10 per softgel, despite a quality guarantee and “cGMP” claim — suggesting that it was made according to the FDA’s good manufacturing practices for dietary supplements.”
2010 Product Review: Greens and Whole Foods Powders: “none of the  tested products exceeded contamination limits for arsenic or pesticides, but two products exceeded limits for lead and/or cadmium: InnerLight SuperGreens and Nature’s Way Alive! Whole Food Energizer Ultra Shake Vanilla.”
The Voluntary Certification Program provides manufacturers and distributors an opportunity for listing on their website and to carry the CL seal of approval. To qualify they must pay a fee and pass initial and yearly testing of their product.
NutriSearch helps consumers choose the best dietary supplements through providing them scientifically based information on the quality of nutrient ingredients and their manufacturing process. This information is available at their website and though a published study in their comparative guide.
The NutriSearch Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplementscontains their study of over 1500 products available in the US and Canada. They rate each dietary supplement based on a Blended Standard and the product’s Health Support Profile.
They develop the Blended Standard from the recommendations of 12 nutritional medicine authorities and base the Health Support Profile on 18 health support criteria:
- Completeness based on the 47 essential nutrients considered essential for optimal health of the Blended Standard.
- Potency reflects the need for some nutrients to be at higher levels than their Dietary Reference Intake.
- Mineral Forms, that they are provided in their most absorbable form as amino-acid chelates (chelated) or organic-acid complexes.
- Bioavailability of Vitamin E, otherwise does the product contain the natural (d) form of alpha tocopherols versus the less useful synthetic form (d/l) alpha tocopherols.
Other criteria include antioxidant support, the health of key organs (bone, heart, liver, eye), metabolic or glucose control, reduction of homocysteine levels, detoxification of fat-soluble toxins (in the brain and liver), inflammation control, bioflavonoids, and others.
They rate each of the 1500 supplements with a score from 1-Star to 5-Stars, with “1” being the lowest and “5” being the highest. There were very few 5-Star supplements.
Of those who did reach 5-Stars, some achieved the NutriSearch Gold Medal of Achievement, representing the “best of the best.” This means the manufacturers used good manufacturing practices (GMP) and have verification through independent laboratory testing, “what is on the label is really in the bottle.”
They give an additional award, Editor’s Choice Award, to manufacturers who also demonstrate good corporate citizenship indicating quality, integrity, and leadership.
Only three dietary supplement manufacturers achieved this top award: USANA Health Sciences, Douglas Laboratories, and TrueStar Health.
Unless you’re a nutritional medicine expert its hard to know which dietary supplement product is best. Avoid the error of going for the cheapest brand.
Quality nutrients and using good manufacturing practices (GMP) cost manufacturers more… but in the end, you get more benefit for your buck. Its worth it to support your natural healing and health.
Look for evidence of GMP and use key independent resources like ConsumerLab.com and NutriSearch to help you. Make sure you’re getting the quality dietary supplements your body needs.
Sources and Resources
FDA US Food and Drug Administration, “Dietary Supplements” at http://www.fda.gov/food/dietarysupplements/default.htm.
Lyle MacWilliam, NutriSearch Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements Consumer Edition (Canada: Northern Dimensions, 2008).
Natural Products Association at http://www.npainfo.org/
NSF at http://www.nsf.org/business/gmp/index.asp.
NutriSearch at http://www.nutrisearch.ca.