Depending on manufacturers, not all supplements are created equally. In fact, it can be very difficult to determine the quality of a dietary supplement. The quality control of a supplement largely depends on the manufacturer, suppliers and any other groups or individuals that are involved in the production process. As a result, are your supplements really what they claim to be?
What is required on a supplement label?
The National Institutes of Health indicates that the following are required to be listed on a dietary supplement label:
- Product name (including the word supplement)
- Contents’ net quantity
- Name and location of the manufacturer, packer and/or distributor
- Usage instructions
- Serving size
- List of ingredients
- Amount per serving size
- Percent of Daily Value
- Non-dietary ingredients – including filers, sweeteners, flavors and fillers.
Typically there are four grades of supplements: pharmaceutical, medical, nutrition (or cosmetic) or agricultural (feed) grade.
- Pharmaceutical grade are the highest quality vitamins – when it comes to purity, dissolution and absorption, these supplements meet the highest regulatory standards.
- Medical grade are also very high-grade supplements. However, they made not meet all of the standards set forth by pharmaceutical grade supplements. One example of a medical grade supplement are prenatal vitamins.
- Nutritional supplements are the types of supplements you typically find in health food stores. These supplements are not always tested for purity, absorption or dissolution. These supplements may vary in concentration of active ingredients and contain a variety of fillers.
- Agricultural supplements are for veterinary use only.
Choosing quality supplements:
- Look for fillers. Fillers are commonly used in supplements to make production easier as well as faster. Warning: fillers compromise the effectiveness of a supplement.
- Read the warning labels. If you have a certain medical condition, certain supplements may not be advisable for you. For instance, some supplements will tell you not to use them if you are pregnant. If you have questions about a specific supplement, contact your doctor.
- Read the usage directions. A quality product will tell you how much to use. An even higher quality product will have usage breakdowns based on age and sex.
- Look for supplements with a “USP” label. Products with this label meet all the standards set forth by the U.S. Pharmacopea when it comes to strength, dissolution and purity.
- Look for an expiration date. Like medications, supplements can lose their potency over time.