Mislabeled Supplements

Eatology
March 27, 2015
March of Dimes March for Babies
March 27, 2015

America is in the midst of a bit of a health crisis.  With the continuation of high obesity rates and the prevalence of heart disease and diabetes continuing to rise, Americans are looking for anything that might help in the fight to get healthier.  It should come as no surprise then that many Americans are turning to supplements.  According to a government survey, more than half of all adults in the U.S. take at least one dietary supplement. 

By Carolina Keating

America is in the midst of a bit of a health crisis.  With the continuation of high obesity rates and the prevalence of heart disease and diabetes continuing to rise, Americans are looking for anything that might help in the fight to get healthier.  It should come as no surprise then that many Americans are turning to supplements.  According to a government survey, more than half of all adults in the U.S. take at least one dietary supplement. 

In February, the safety of those supplements came under scrutiny when four major retailers were accused of selling mislabeled supplements. The New York attorney general’s office ran DNA tests on supplements sold at Wal-Mart, Target, GNC, and Walgreens; all were found to be selling supplements that did not contain the ingredients advertised on the bottle.

Although the evidence sounds damning, Kimberly Burns-Childers, general manager of Brazos Natural Foods, says mislabeled supplements are much more rare than the news stories would have you believe.  “It is really not that large of a problem,” she says. “I think they are going overboard a little bit.“

Burns-Childers says that although dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA like drugs are, they still face stringent regulation in the form of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, or DSHEA.  According to DSHEA, dietary supplements are regulated much the same way as food.

“If it is mislabeled, they are risking their livelihood because that could be a major lawsuit. Everything has to be correct,” says Burns-Childers.  Additionally, most companies work hard to avoid any problems with the mislabeling of supplements by being up front and quick to react. 

“Most companies, if there is a problem, will realize and voluntarily call the FDA,” says Burns-Childers. 

In the 13 years that Burns-Childers has worked at Brazos Natural Foods, they have never had a problem with mislabeled supplements.  Burns-Childers chalks this up to the fact that all of the companies that Brazos Natural Foods works with are very open about their products. 

“I’ve visited quite a few of them and they’ll give you a tour of their facilities and tell you about the process. They are very transparent if you give them a call.  They test their products over and over again and are very stringent about the quality of their product,” she says. 

Brazos Natural Foods also makes sure to do their research before ordering from a new company. “We reach out to companies before we buy from them for the store and ask how long have you been in business? Where do you get your raw materials from? How do you test them? “

For consumers trying to avoid buying mislabeled supplements, Burns-Childers has some advice.  “Do your research on your companies.  There are always going to be companies that are not as reputable, and that’s true about anything,” she says.  “You want to know the brand, you want to know the company itself, and you want to know how willing they are to give out information.”

The FDA also wants consumers to know that supplements for the most part are very safe.  “Many dietary supplements have clean safety histories. For example, millions of Americans responsibly consume multi-vitamins and experience no ill effects,” states the FDA website. 

The FDA does have a few pieces of advice that consumers should remember when buying and taking supplements.  They suggest talking with a healthcare provider before taking supplements, doing your research and knowing that some supplements can interact with prescription medications, informing your doctor about any supplements you are taking before a surgery, and reporting any adverse effects you experience to FDA’s MedWatch program.   

Burns-Childers agrees that as long as you take the time to do some research, most dietary supplements are completely safe. “You have to trust in the product and trust in the company,” she says. “I trust our products 100%.”