How Do You Know What's In Your Supplements?

In the news this week, on Monday, New York's Attorney General ordered four major retailers, Walmart, Target, Walgreens and GNC to stop selling supplements that were found to not actually be what they claimed to be and/or contained ingredients not included on the label. And it wasn't just a few, 79% of the supplements tested didn't contain the stated ingredients or had filler material in them like rice or wheat.

But how can that happen? Well, the supplement world (and this includes protein supplements etc) operates in what I like to call an innocent until proven guilty regulatory world. This means that if I purchased the equipment necessary, I could make supplements out of packing peanuts, bottle it and sell it to you, and unless I made someone sick or someone decided to inspect my supplements at random, then I would just keep on selling encapsulated packing peanuts for whatever ails you. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the expectation that supplement companies are producing a quality product, but doesn't regulate the supplement industry in the same way that pharmaceuticals are regulated.

So how do you know what's in your supplements?

Well, for most supplements you don't. But there are some that you can rest assured are what they say they are thanks to a scientific nonprofit organization called the USP, which stands for the United States Pharmacopeial Convention. This organization has been setting standards for the identity, quality, purity and strength of medicines, food additives and dietary supplements since it was founded in the early 1800s. 

The USP offers a verification program to which supplement manufacturers can submit their product for testing. If the product passes through USP's stringent guidelines in manufacturing, laboratory testing, and off the shelf testing, then the product can be promoted with USP's verification seal.

So as a consumer, and as a Nutritionist that recommends supplements, I look for USP verification to determine which one I'm going to buy or recommend. There are supplements that are USP verified that are widely available and affordable as far as supplements go. If you would like to learn more about USP, their verification process, and what supplements are verified and where you can purchase them, click here.

If you are interested in learning more about what supplements are right for you, make an appointment with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist or talk to your doctor.