The supplement industry has quickly grown into a multi-billion dollar, majorly money-driven machine. It has grown from roughly 4,000 products on the market in 1994 to a now estimated 85,000 available products (1). Unfortunately, because of this and many other reasons, dietary supplements you find at your local drugstore are typically crap. Let’s talk about a couple of reasons why this is.

Drug Store Supplements

First, supplements start to lose potency over time. When we purchase a supplement off the shelf at local drug or grocery stores, we have no idea how long it sat there or how long ago it was made before it even made it to that shelf. You’ll find some supplements do not even have printed expiration or manufacturing dates on the product, because of the lack of regulation within the industry.

Secondly, some supplements also need to be kept cold or out of direct light. When we purchase off the store shelf as opposed to a trusted dispensary, we cannot guarantee that product was handled properly. 

Finally, inferior supplements can be packed with fillers, synthetic ingredients, and sometimes, little to none of what is actually on the label! In order to save money, many brands are using inactive forms of vitamins which are not recognized by our bodies. What does your body do with it? Pees it out! Zero benefits, you just flushed your money down the toilet and probably consumed some nasty fillers for absolutely no reason.

FDA Approval & Regulation

Most supplements do not go through any testing for safety or efficacy by the FDA. In fact, the FDA only tests about 1% of every 65,000 dietary supplements on the market. But honestly, even if they tested all of them, we would still need to be careful, but that’s a topic for another time!

The only guidelines we have in place for supplement safety by the FDA are from the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. While put in place to help regulate dietary supplements, it has many flaws.

The act states that supplements can have any amount of a vitamin or mineral so long as the daily value (DV) is listed next to it (2). For instance, I can create a supplement with 5,000 IUs of Vitamin D per capsule so long as it says 650% DV. For the average person who is not a nutrition professional, would you really understand what that means? Would you even read it? Would you assume that if you can purchase it at the store it must be safe and regulated? Do you know which vitamins and minerals can be toxic at high doses and at what doses those are? If I had to guess, the large majority of people would answer no to at least one of those questions. Because of this, it is my opinion that putting any amount of a vitamin or mineral into a supplement and releasing it for anyone to purchase is dangerous.

The act also states that new ingredients must be submitted to the FDA (2). However, in 2013 the FDA identified 55 products with new ingredients being sold that had not been submitted. They also found banned ingredients and prescription drugs in some supplements that were not even listed on the ingredient list!

Recalls and Bans

Supplement recall notices issued from 2004-2011 resulted in only 69% of those products being successfully recalled, meaning the other 31% stayed on store shelves available for the public to purchase (1). 

Damaging and dangerous ingredients make it through to consumers in supplements too frequently. An example of this is the ephedra ban in 2004. Before 2004, many supplements included ephedra in products promoting energy, weight loss, and enhanced athletic performance. After years of people taking these supplements, the FDA finally realized that ephedra was causing heart attacks, seizures, strokes, and even death.

What you can do

Here are a few things we can take away from all of this: always read the label; research the company that you are considering purchasing from; reach out to a nutrition professional for supplement recommendations. The good news is, there are many supplement companies out there that do put quality, safety, efficacy, and health at the top of their priority list. Nutrition professionals, like myself, have done extensive research on supplements and supplement companies. We are well versed on the topic and trained to provide recommendations on a bio-individual basis.

If you are reading this and you are not yet working with a nutrition professional but want to check on the products you already have, a huge first step would be to check if the brands you are using are third-party tested. The three companies that perform these tests are: USP, NSF, and Consumer Labs. Third-party testing does not ensure some important factors, such as whether the supplement uses synthetic or whole food sources. What third-party testing does ensure is that what is printed on the ingredient label is indeed accurate!

You can find more information on third-party testing and what else to look for while supplement shopping in the next blog that will be released soon; Choosing a Prenatal.

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  1. Starr, R. R. (2015, March). Too little, too late: Ineffective regulation of dietary supplements in the United States. American journal of public health. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from 
  2. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (n.d.). Dietary supplement labeling guide: Chapter IV. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from 

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