Consumers Association of Penang

Giving voice to the little people...since 1970

Supplements can hurt you – and your pocket!

Most people buy vitamin and health supplements and just take the manufacturer’s word about what’s in them. But there could be more to — or less in — your supplement than what they tell you.  And they might not even be worth your effort and money.  Lab tests confirm this.


Poor Value
In 2008, scientists from the review website, whatsinit, tested 27 brands of popular cod liver oil and omega 3 supplements sold in Britain and found that more than half do not contain the amount of active ingredients they claim on the label.

Among the findings:

-- Tesco’s High Strength Cod Liver Oil had just 79% of the active ingredient EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).

-- Boots Brain and Heart Health Omega 3 supplements contained just 84% DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and 87% EPA.

-- Seven Seas Pure Cod Liver Oil had just 87% of the active ingredient it was said to contain.

 

Although the companies refuted the findings, whatsinit.com, which claims to be the only independent website providing unbiased analysis of UK health supplements, say the test results were analysed by independent laboratories and reviewed by experts. Products were considered to have failed if they have less than 95% of the active ingredients they claimed to have.

Technical Director Dr Heidi Normanton, said: “It is well known within the industry that there is no strict regulation.

“We are providing manufacturers with every chance to improve their products and the consistency of the supplements and ensure that the next time they are tested they meet the label claim.”

In January 2007, a check on 21 brands of multivitamins on the market in the US and Canada, selected by ConsumerLab.com and tested by independent laboratories, found that just 10 met the stated claims on their labels or satisfied other quality standards.

ConsumerLab.com is a New York-based company that independently evaluates hundreds of health and nutrition products and periodically publishes reviews. Its tests, among others, revealed that one women’s product contained just 54% of the 200 mg of calcium stated on the label. (In similar tests done by the company in 2001, 6 out of 20 EPA/DHA supplements failed to pass the review due to inadequate amounts of the DHA, which ranged from 50-83% of the amounts stated on the labels. 2 of the 6 were also found to contain only 33% and 82%, respectively, of their labelled amounts of EPA.

Yet 2 of the products that failed the review made claims on their labels that their “potency” had been “tested” or “verified”, ConsumerLabs reported.)

In 2005, the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) — a government regulatory agency — issued a warning letter to a firm producing products that contained significantly less Vitamin A, Vitamin C and folic acid than claimed on the label.

In 2004, another firm received a warning letter for underweight tablets.

Toxic
The 2007 analysis of supplements by ConsumerLab.com also showed that a multivitamin for children had 216% of the labeled amount of Vitamin A in the retinol form — delivering 5,400 IU in a daily serving. That’s substantially more than the upper tolerable level set by the US Institute of Medicine of 2,000 IU for children ages 1-3 and 3,000 IU for those 4-8. Too much Vitamin A can cause bone weakening and liver abnormalities, so such a product “could be potentially doing more harm than good,” said ConsumerLab.com president, Dr Tod Cooperman.

Contaminated
Another worrisome finding made in the above analysis was lead in one women’s product tested (the same one that had less calcium than claimed) — it contained 15.3 mcg of lead per daily serving of 2 tablets. This amount of lead is more than 10 times the amount permitted without a warning in California, the only state in the US that regulates lead in supplements. On average, most American adults are exposed to about 3 mcg of lead through food, wine and other sources, he said, and while 15.3 mcg of lead per day may not be immediately toxic, the mineral is stored in the body and could build up to dangerous levels with time. “I would be concerned about a woman taking a multivitamin that contains 15.3 mcg of lead per daily serving,” said Judy Simon, a dietitian at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Among other effects, she said, lead can contribute to high blood pressure. Besides, women with high levels of lead in their bodies, who become pregnant, could pass on problems to a foetus.

Wasteful
The investigation also found that some vitamins didn’t break apart within the 30-minute standard set by the United States Pharmacopeia. One product required more than an hour to disintegrate, while another took 50 minutes. These products “could potentially go through your body without releasing all the nutrients,” Cooperman said.

Read more on Nutritional Supplements – A Waste of Time and Money, Hidden Extra’s in Your Supplement and Toxic Heavy Metals and Chemicals in Your Supplement in Utusan Konsumer March-April 2009.