Testing Program Points To Quality Conundrum
by Wyn Snow, Managing Editor
for a moment that your favorite pharmacy was sending bottles of
aspirin to an independent testing lab -- either to assure that various
brands meet minimal quality standards or as a good marketing strategy
to distinguish itself as a quality leader from other pharmacies.
Wouldn't it make you want to laugh -- or cry?
an on-line supplement retailer, is sending leading dietary supplement
products to FDA-licensed independent testing labs -- and pulling
brands that flunk off their shelves. The labs check the potency
level of one or two key compounds. In order to pass, the actual
level found by tests must be at least 90% of the amount stated on
results available on website
useful of all, Vitacost.com is posting the actual lab reports on
their website. Interested consumers can now find test results for
John's wort products
of the weight-loss products contain ephedra. Brands tested included
Atkins, Natrol, Nature's Answer, Nature's Herbs, Nature's Way, Thompson,
Twinlab -- and the store's own brand called Nutraceutical Sciences
plans to test women's health supplements and men's health supplements
by October 2000.
again, testing shows enormous variation in the quality of dietary
supplement products. While the majority passed with flying colors,
too many are a waste of money.
loss products included such diverse substances as 5-hydroxytryptophan,
green tea extract, expanding-fiber products, chromium, and hydroxycitric
acid. The laboratory tested the level of active ingredient(s) present
-- either one or two in each product. Nine of the thirteen products
contained at least 90% of the label amount, and some as high as
176%. The other four contained levels between 82% and 18%.
John's wort products were tested for hyperforin and hypericin
levels, both of which are believed to contribute to its mood-enhancing
properties. Hyperforin levels ranged from 114% of a reference value
to 4%, while hypericin levels ranged from 123% to 61% of the reference
value. None of the eight products contained more than 90% of the
reference value of both compounds.
products were tested only for glucosamine levels, which ranged from
131% to 98%. Vitacost.com tested only one ingredient because it
believes that "if one key ingredient tests at 95-105% of what is
stated on the label, then the product was formulated with excellent
quality control and any other ingredients listed on the label are
most likely within the same range." We disagree. Chondroitin
is more expensive than glucosamine -- and testing at ConsumerLab.com
has shown that variations in chondroitin levels occur more often
than in glucosamine.
addition to testing, Vitacost.com rates supplements from 5 (excellent)
to 1 (poor) on the following five criteria:
superiority of nutrient levels (lab test results)
forms of nutrients used (which forms are most easily absorbed
and used in the body)
expected overall effectiveness of the formulation (scientific
research supporting the ingredients used)
safety of the formulation
value compared to similar products (relative price)
average of the five areas is taken to give each brand an overall
rating. In this case, ratings of tested products ranged from 5 (best)
to 1.25 (worst).
the quality challenge
are confident that every tablet of aspirin on the shelf contains
the stated quantity of aspirin because it has to meet rigorous standards
of manufacturing and testing. Yet we don't have the same confidence
in dietary supplements -- largely because randomized, independent,
off-the-shelf testing shows a woeful lack of reliability among some
ten to twenty percent of products -- and consumers have very limited
access to reports that help them learn which brands flunk the tests.
the increasing numbers of Americans who use dietary supplements,
this lack of reliability among brands is appalling. A comprehensive
system of independent quality testing is long overdue. Other industries
have faced and solved this same challenge, interestingly in a way
very similar to that chosen by Vitacost.com.
choosing to go to a third-party laboratory certified to FDA standards,
Vitacost.com is doing what insurers and producers in other industries
have done as a matter of common sense for years. It's time for consumers
to demand that the dietary supplement industry do so as well.
applauds Vitacost.com's efforts to assure that all the products
they sell are of sound quality. But their action highlights the
huge consumer confidence vacuum in supplement quality. The time
for producers to act is now.