Image Credit: Aixklusiv / Pixabay. This image has been modified.

Supplement Labeling Fraud is Widespread

The regulation of dietary supplements in the United States has been described as “too little, too late.” “Dietary supplements may be adulterated with dangerous compounds, be contaminated, fail to contain the purported active ingredient, or contain unknown doses of the ingredients stated on the label; be sold at toxic dosages; or produce harmful effects” in other ways. As I discuss in my video Black Raspberry Supplements Put to the Test, “[i]f the composition and quality of ingredients cannot be reliably ensured, the validity of research on dietary supplements is questionable. Moreover, the health of the US public is put at risk.”

A private, third-party company that has independently tested thousands of supplements “identifies approximately 1 in 4 with a quality problem” because it either does not contain what it says it contains, is “of substandard quality,” or is contaminated in some way.

Let’s look at an example. I’ve produced a few videos on the remarkable properties of black raspberries, including one on oral cancer. These berries can’t always be found fresh or frozen, so how about black raspberry supplements, which are available in stores and online? At 0:56 in my video, I show a bottle of Pure Black Raspberry by Pure Health, that says “Fresh – Raw – Pure” right on the label. Sounds good, don’t you think? When we look at the back of the bottle, the label says it contains only seedless black raspberry powder “and absolutely nothing else!” It’s nice to see there are no fillers or artificial ingredients, so why not plunk down $23.77 for a bottle? Well, it turns out we’ve been had.

The first clue is that the image on the front of the label is actually blackberries that had been Photoshopped to look like black raspberries. Pure Health couldn’t even be bothered to put a real image on its fake supplement! The second clue is that the “[d]ark olive-brown-black powder in [the] capsule did not look like berry powder and had a medicinal odor,” according to the researchers. So, it was put it to the test, and, indeed, there was no black raspberry at all. Instead of promoting the fact that the Pure Black Raspberry contains only seedless black raspberry powder “and absolutely nothing else,” the company should have just listed that the bottle contains “absolutely nothing” period—or, at least we hope it contains nothing. Who knows what’s actually in the capsules!

The researchers tested every black raspberry product they could find, and, even of the ones with the correct picture on the front and with powder that actually looked like it came from real black raspberries, more than a third appeared to have no black raspberry fruit at all. “At the moment, a consumer who assumes the US dietary supplement marketplace is free from risk”—or is even honest—“is unfortunately naive.”

How widespread is this deception? Researchers used DNA fingerprinting techniques to test the authenticity of 44 herbal supplements from a dozen different companies. As you can see at 2:33 in my video, less than half of the supplements were authentic and actually contained what they said they did. Most contained plants not listed on the label and product substitution, and many “contained contaminants and or fillers,” also not listed on the label. This isn’t just fraud: Some of this deception could really hurt people. For example, one St. John’s wort supplement contained no St. John’s wort at all. Instead, it was actually senna, which is an herbal laxative that “can cause adverse effects such as chronic diarrhea, cathartic colon, liver damage, abdominal pain, epidermal [skin] breakdown and blistering.” In the video at 3:09, you can see how the 12 companies did. Tested products from only 2 of the 12 companies appeared to be completely authentic, with the remaining 10 companies’ products containing filler, product substitution, and/or contaminants. Herbs only work if they’re actually present. Indeed, this study found that 80 percent of the manufacturers in the supplement “industry suffer[] from unethical activities…”.

“Until US dietary supplement products are better regulated and quality control standards for safety, purity, and dosage are defined and endorsed, the safer source for dietary phenolics,” or phytonutrients, “as a consumer is from food intake.”


For more on supplement company shenanigans, see:

What’s so special about black raspberries? Reversal of cancer progression, for starters! See Black Raspberries vs. Oral Cancer and Best Fruits for Cancer Prevention.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


71 responses to “Supplement Labeling Fraud is Widespread

Comment Etiquette

On NutritionFacts.org, you'll find a vibrant community of nutrition enthusiasts, health professionals, and many knowledgeable users seeking to discover the healthiest diet to eat for themselves and their families. As always, our goal is to foster conversations that are insightful, engaging, and most of all, helpful – from the nutrition beginners to the experts in our community.

To do this we need your help, so here are some basic guidelines to get you started.

The Short List

To help maintain and foster a welcoming atmosphere in our comments, please refrain from rude comments, name-calling, and responding to posts that break the rules (see our full Community Guidelines for more details). We will remove any posts in violation of our rules when we see it, which will, unfortunately, include any nicer comments that may have been made in response.

Be respectful and help out our staff and volunteer health supporters by actively not replying to comments that are breaking the rules. Instead, please flag or report them by submitting a ticket to our help desk. NutritionFacts.org is made up of an incredible staff and many dedicated volunteers that work hard to ensure that the comments section runs smoothly and we spend a great deal of time reading comments from our community members.

Have a correction or suggestion for video or blog? Please contact us to let us know. Submitting a correction this way will result in a quicker fix than commenting on a thread with a suggestion or correction.

View the Full Community Guidelines

  1. I’m aware that supplements are largely unregulated, and that’s what makes deciding on, for example, which B-12 or D3 to purchase so difficult. Can you tell us which brands tested well?

        1. Pat,

          I appreciate the work of Consumerlabs and others however, they only take a snippet of firm’s products to the testing lab and there are many excellent manufacturers often times overlooked. I appreciate the cost and the amount of energy put into the issue of testing and recognize the limitations.

          With that said, it’s also important to know the testing techniques and not just assume one method is appropriate. Please see my piece sent to Healthymo today for more details.

          Dr. Alan Kadish moderator for Dr. Greger http://www.Centerofhealth.com

    1. Yes. Exactly my question. Is there a trusted brand? We are in London, and the Vegan Society here sells a daily chewable called Veg 1:

      Vitamin B2 (1.6mg – 114%)
      Vitamin B6 (2mg – 143%)
      Vitamin B12 (25µg – 1,000%)
      Vitamin D3 (20µg – 400%)
      Folic Acid (200µg – 100%)
      Iodine (150µg – 100%)
      Selenium (60µg – 109%)

      I’m happy enough with that one until I hear otherwise, BUT I recall Dr Greger recommending that vegans should supplement their DHA/EPA intake with a pollution free supplement. I know there are some that are third party tested, and have seen some of the parts-per-million tables they disclose, but I’m not sure how many parts-per-million (et cetera) is/are safe. I’d love to find out which company to trust, so I don’t have to worry about it anymore. We went plant based on Jan 1st (2020) and there is quite a lot to learn. Thank goodness for Dr Greger!

      1. Nice to see that someone on this forum is from London, I live just east of London and have yet to find anyone I know that follows WFPBNOS diet which I have been on for four years

    2. Paula,

      I think if you follow the links back to the videos, there was discussion where some of the brands that passed Consumer Labs testing came up.

      B12 has become an issue for me because cyano is so hard to find now.

      My Vitamin Shoppe went out of business a few weeks ago, but I just switched to buying from CVS and they have one enteric-coated cyano version B12.

      CVS announced last year that they will be testing all of the supplements they sell.

      If that is true, it simplifies everything for me.

      As far as Vitamin D goes, I have tried a few brands and Life Extension with the sea iodine is the one that I used that so far has solved my insomnia issues.

      I have still only had 1 night of insomnia since Dr. Greger’s last Vitamin D blog after 10 years of insomnia and it was Life Extension Vitamin D with K2/Sea Iodine that I happened to be using and it worked, so it wins even though CVS doesn’t sell it.

        1. There are brands without carrageenan, but finding one that is lab tested and doesn’t taste really bad and that isn’t expensive is complicated.

      1. Do you take the Vitamin D at night? I’ve heard before that D should be taken early morning or no later than early afternoon. Not sure if this is correct or not.

        1. Greg,

          You might find the literature a bit confusing. There is a good article at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5643801/ which details the many issues of best approaches an what we don’t know. In the end it’s still up for debate and probably very individualized.

          We tell our patients to ingest their vitamin d with some fat in a meal, based on the 2014 publication https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25441954.

          Dr. Alan Kadish moderator for Dr. Greger http://www.Centerofhealth.com

    3. When you say something like this, please provide one or two links of organizations who do this testing and/or a list of the worst brands. Otherwise, is useless info to those who rarely cook. Not healthy but that’s life for many of us.

    4. I would like to know which brands did not test well. i take numerous supplements and cannot afford to waste money on brands that did not test well.

    5. leg.org (Life Extension Foundation) has does tests on all and tells the vendors ahead of time that they won’t pay if it doesn’t pass. A bunch of manufacturers withdrew their products when told that. Easy way to get rid of the charlatans.

      Some of their products are listed on the independent 3rd party sites like the International Fish Oil Standards site and you can ask then about any other 3rd party verification.

      http://www.nutrasource.ca/consumer-programs/international-fish-oil-standards-ifos/

    6. It is frustrating to read articles that say we cant trust supplements but don’t offer any real advice how to tell which companies are trustworthy.

  2. Vitamania, and excellent book on the supplement industry’s history and present practices, see

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1594205043/ref=x_gr_w_bb_sout?ie=UTF8&tag=x_gr_w_bb_sout-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1594205043&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

    Also, check out the podcast, The Dream, available everywhere. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-dream/id1435743296?mt=2
    The current Season #2 focuses on the “wellness” industry, including a lot of info on supplements.

  3. A private, third-party company that has independently tested thousands of supplements “identifies approximately 1 in 4 with a quality problem” because it either does not contain what it says it contains, is “of substandard quality,” or is contaminated in some way.

    Your link doesn’t show who the “private, third-party company” is. I’d like to know.

    Thank you.

  4. I’m surprised no one seems to have heard of Consumer Lab, which does what everyone is asking
    for. They test for purity and actually containing what the label claims. You do have to have a
    paid subscription but I find it worth the price.

    Frank Rocap

    1. Frank,
      My problem with them is that I have yet to find a product which carries their CL seal of certification. I wish they would indicate which products are third party tested and which have the CL designation. Also, they are very slow to add products tested but I do like very much their response to questions asked as well as the information they provide for the supplement that includes cautions and concerns.

    2. Agreed, I have a Consumer Lab subscription too and I think it a very good value. I appreciate how they focus on good value for price and quality as well as sample easily obtained products from Walmart and Costco, vs more “designer label” brands. The results are very surprising sometimes, alot of people are overpaying for poor quality. I also appreciate the heavy metal testing they do. I wish they tested more brnads though, but it gets expensive quick. I like brands that actually will publish their Certificate of Analysis from independent third party labs, but hard to find those.

    1. I searched for info on Consumer Lab to find out if they were truly independent and accurate in their tests and recommendation. I found nothing conclusive and various conflicting reports, some that mentioned that companies receiving the CL certification seal have paid to get that seal. If this is true, can they be trusted? Frank, do you have any info that leads you to trust their tests and reports or are you just assuming they are what they claim to be?

  5. At least we can buy berries whole, either frozen or dried. I think I will do that from now on. You can tell a black raspberry from a blackberry if it is whole. Too bad we can’t do that with other supplements.

  6. I live in the EU and trying to find a reliable list of trustworthy supplement companies is beyond frustrating. Please please please publish a list for the one that you have recommended to us all – B12, D…. and the few others you have mentioned in videos over the years that nearly everyone who learns of them goes on a hunt to buy. It would be wonderful to have a dirty dozen and clean fifteen for supplement companies that works for us all globally. <3 thank you for all the videos and blog posts.

  7. I wish you publish the names of the brands that are selling fake and real products. I know the litigious nature of the process that forces little fish to run from the big ones but there might be ways to fight back such as pooling resources among the small fish to confront big ones. What comes to mind is NutirionFacts coordinate with the Consumer Reports and get help through crowd funding plus secure funds from honest big companies whose product will be promoted by objective research. I am sure honest big companies will be very interested to take the jackals out of the market.
    You are much praised and appreciated for what you are doing.

  8. You can look for products that are GMP, GMPc, and independently verified on the label. While articles like this serve as a buyer beware and focus on the “bad apples” in the industry, there are plenty of reputable vendors too. If we’re going to regulate an industry then I would like to see insurance companies forced to cover supplements like a prescription. I don’t see regulation as an answer. Informed consumers research and make informed buying decisions.

  9. Life Extension EPA/DHA has been tested clean by several entities. Gaia Herbs is independently verified by a third party. and includes tracking throughout the production process.

  10. So glad I long ago gave up consuming giant bottles of vitamins, minerals and god knows what replenished monthly ordered on line or from some shop CONVINCED this strange collection of horse pills and gel caps was ESSENTIAL to my well being and vigorous old age pitying those not blessed with the TRUTH. Some blessing, lucky it didn’t kill me.

      1. https://quackwatch.org/research-projects/amen/

        https://quackwatch.org/research-projects/amen_response/

        https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/dr-amens-love-affair-with-spect-scans/

        I don’t have a view on Amen and I’m somewhat sceptical of Harriet Hall who seems to confuse her own opinions with actual medical facts.However, I’d probably want more good reasons to get a radioactive injection and brain scan than Amen seems able to offer. he does seem to have a great business model though.

      2. Thanks, I’ll watch it later, Barb. He does have interesting/unusual guests on his show.

        I noticed Daniel Amen has very piercing eyes….as though he were trying to hypnotize the people he was speaking with.

      3. Barb, I started watching your link but found Dr. Michael Klaper talking about leaky gut.

        Was this a Mercury retrograde booboo or what?

  11. There are several reliable sources for supplements but I always use the health ranger who has his own testing lab and has in the past published results of water tested by samples sent in by readers.

  12. Now that we know that 80% of supplement suppliers are frauds and openly lie to us just who do we trust? Why is there not a list of reputable dealers available or an organization that makes these suppliers accountable, I know of one but it is not cool to publish it here.

  13. I have been watching Vitamin D studies videos while I put labels on things at work today and I am going to try eating potatoes again while I am supplementing.

    They said that for people who were at risk for Type 2 Diabetes who were sincerely deficient, there was a 62% decrease in Type 2 Diabetes if they supplemented, even though the bigger study only showed a non-significant 12% decrease in risk of Type 2 Diabetes.

    I couldn’t eat potatoes before taking Vitamin D. I am going to see if I can eat them now that I am supplementing.

    I looked at the Alzheimer’s study and a few other studies and the “if you are deficient” category is all I am going to look at now because the people who aren’t deficient don’t show signficant benefits, but still directionally better would be enough for me. I guess I am not a scientist at heart or I just figure if I could improve the risk by 12% with just taking a Vitamin D, then maybe improve it a tiny bit more by the fact that I stopped having insomnia – I still am not having insomnia since taking it.

    Seems like that is something anyway.

    I genuinely have watched so many doctors present it from so many directions and it is hard to know which ones to trust.

      1. Thanks, Greg.

        I ended up with insomnia again last night.

        But I didn’t take it yesterday. I thought I could get away with it because I didn’t drink any coffee yesterday and because I have been getting sunshine this week. I have been able to sit outside for 10 minutes and I have been doing deliveries for the company, so I have been driving with the sunroof and window open and got an hour of sunshine on my face and head.

        It is more related to me wanting to get the hour of light, but I thought, well, if Dr. McDougall is right that you only need a small amount of your skin to be exposed, I thought maybe since I took a few 25,000 iu doses that I might be covered.

        A year ago, there was no light. The skies were snowing or raining or just overcast and deeply gray for months.

        This year, we have light almost every day. Last year, people were making suicide jokes and I was wearing long sleeves and a jacket until June 21st. This year, I feel like I have had weeks of Spring already.

        I took some this afternoon and I already slept for 3 hours tonight.

  14. Would like to know where i can purchase tested, good,safe, quality supplements such as Omega 3 , C, D B12 2500mg. and powered turmeric. Thank you very much. Mike

    1. Hello, Is there another manufacture who makes turmeric powder than Qunol that does add a black pepper extract.Thank you. Mike The stores in my area do not sell turmeric.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This