The Unregulated Dietary Supplement Industry: Why Quality Matters

Posted on 2/9/2015 by Dr. Adrian den Boer
Categories: supplements

On Monday, February 2, 2015, the New York Times reported that the New York Attorney General ordered several major retailers - including Walmart, Walgreen’s, Target, and GNC - to remove a wide variety of herbal supplements from their shelves after finding that almost none of them contained ingredients claimed on the label.  According to the article laboratory tests showed the manufacturers, who advertised supplements like Ginkgo, Echinacea, and St. John’s Wort, had been selling pills filled with little more than cheap and potentially dangerous fillers such as rice, asparagus, wheat, and various houseplants.

This is huge news for two reasons.  First, the results of the lab tests confirm what we’ve suspected for a long time – that the industry is rife with poor manufacturing processes and quality control. Unfortunately, most people who buy supplements can’t really trust whether they’re getting what the label claims. Popular media capitalizes often on confusing and contradictory herbal supplement research, but it appears the confusion is simply due to poor quality supplements rather than poor quality evidence!

Second, it’s fantastic that governing body is finally taking some action to hold supplement companies accountable for the quality and contents of their products. Herbal supplements and supplements in general have been neglected for a long time by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), with the vast majority of FDA quality control and oversight being devoted to the pharmaceutical industry.  Though excessive or inept government oversight can damage an industry, a basic guarantee of quality and label accuracy would only help the supplement industry gain credibility and consumer’s confidence. Hopefully this is the beginning of a movement to ensure that supplements actually do what they say, and contain what they claim to contain. 

Twenty-six years ago, Dr. den Boer found that he needed to do this policing himself.  He did not originally plan to provide supplements directly to his patients, but he discovered that his patients simply were not getting well the way he was used to seeing with supplements from Europe. He decided to conduct an experiment, and purchased three different vitamin C supplements off the shelves of nearby stores and sent them to a laboratory for testing.  The results were shocking; none of the bottles met their claimed dose of vitamin C, and some had as little as 20% of the vitamin C advertised. Further research also raised concerns about the bioavailability, or degree to which the body can absorb nutrients, of some of the different vitamin C forms in the bottles.  The combination of poor absorbability and low actual amounts of vitamin C were enough to render the supplements virtually useless!

Following his investigation, Dr. den Boer founded Nature’s Remedies with the highest quality nutraceuticals, based on personal factory inspections, multiple lab testing procedures, and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certifications.  Once his patients started using these products and actually absorbing the high quality ingredients, he found the wellness results he was looking for – and so did his patients!  

Supplement quality is a very important issue, and it’s important that people who take supplements know what goes into them, how they work, and how they’re tested.  In the coming weeks, you’ll see a series of posts about supplement quality control, including the supplement industry in general, lab testing, and a behind-the-scenes look at a few companies that are trying to change the whole circumstance.  You will also see a behind-the-scenes glimpse here at DBC and Nature’s Remedies to show how we ensure that every supplement meets the highest of standards for our patients. Stay tuned! 
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