Do You Really Know What's In Your Supplements?

March 31, 2015
by Annalise Mantz for Thrive Market
Do You Really Know What's In Your Supplements?

They're supposed to make you feel better and live healthier—but when it comes to regulating supplements, the rules are all over the map. Is that powder or pill you're buying really what it says it is?

After a major investigation by the New York Attorney's Office turned up massive fraud in February, one major retailer is taking major steps to make sure what it's selling is legit.

Nutrition giant GNC Holdings will ramp up its quality control standards and product testing after reaching an agreement with the New York Attorney General on Monday, according to The New York Times.

Just how bad is the problem? The investigation earlier this year used DNA barcoding to test several supplements from GNC, Target, Walgreens and Wal-Mart and found many supplements that didn't contain the herbs claimed on their labels.  The attorney's office sent cease and desist letters ordering GNC to remove it's "fraudulent" gingko biloba, St. John's Wort, echinacea and saw palmetto supplements from store shelves.

And the fraud was widespread: only 22 percent of the supplements tested matched the claims on their labels. Some of the samples also tested positive for common allergens—including wheat—that weren't listed on their labels.

Supplements are supposed to be regulated under the  Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), but enforcement is uneven at best. Since they're not technically under the FDA, the ingredients in these types of products are difficult to monitor, and quality control is hard to enforce.

But the revelation about the massive fraud has retailers scrambling. GNC's announcement also included news that it will start using DNA barcoding, and test for more allergens like nuts, wheat, and soy in its supplements, according to a company statement.

Still, many consumers are left wondering: How can you really know if you're getting what you pay for?

Finding a retailer you trust is key, said Jeremiah McElwee, Thrive Market's vice president of merchandising.

“The brands we offer to our members operate at the highest level of integrity and are able to produce third party testing results for the identity, potency and purity or their products," McElwee said.

To make sure you're getting supplements that live up to their claims, ask questions. Any reliable retailer will be happy to provide you with information about what's on their shelves. And of course, read the labels on herbal supplements carefully before you buy them.

At Thrive Market, we're committed to delivering only top-quality supplements to our members. Our buying team has been in the natural foods space for more than 20 years, building relationships and finding the best products. We aren't interested in flashy promises—we look for top quality and honest claims. Find some of our favorites here.

Photo credit: nathanmac87 via Flickr

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This article is related to: Protein powder, Supplements, Vitamins

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  • DG

    this is really old news, and the "fraud" was quickly debunked by the fact that DNA barcode testing is unfit for finished goods. But hey, if perpetuating these scare tactics is good for your supplement business, have at it.