The use of natural health products (NHPs) is widespread and continues to increase around the world. In Canada alone, supplement use is a daily practice for millions of Canadians, while 77% of US adults take dietary supplements. From multivitamins to protein supplements and herbal products, there is a vast selection of NHPs to choose from at local pharmacies, health food stores, and online.
Although these products are numerous and easily accessible, have you ever stopped to think about the quality of the supplements you are purchasing? Are you and your family consuming products that are regulated and safe to take? Questioning quality of NHPs is extremely important as concerns of supplement adulteration are on the rise. With source ingredients and finished products coming from around the world, there are multiple concerns that products may contain cheap ingredients, impurities, and possibly pharmaceutical drugs.
An analysis of the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) warnings from 2007 to 2016 showed that unapproved pharmaceutical ingredients were identified in 776 dietary supplements, especially with products commonly marketed for sexual enhancement, weight loss, or muscle building. Common pharma-ceutical adulterants can include appetite suppressors, stimulants, antidepressants, anxiolytics, diuretics, laxatives, anabolic steroids, and prohormones.
As a mom and naturopathic doctor, supplement quality is extremely important to me since adulterated and unregulated upplements can lead to possible adverse events and significant health risks. Without a doubt, the health of my family and my patients is vital. Therefore, I always seek to recommend and use products that are safe, accurately labelled, contaminant free, and responsibly produced. When looking for high-quality supplements, here are a few key features to look for.
An analysis of the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) warnings from 2007 to 2016 showed that unapproved pharmaceutical ingredients were identified in 776 dietary supplements.
First off, become an educated buyer and research the company and brands you are interested in purchasing. Are these companies reputable and reliable? Avoid companies that have poor quality control and unsafe manufacturing practices. You can investigate whether a particular company follows Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), has a history of recalls or complaints, can scientifically support product claims, and provide exceptional customer service policies and service.
Good Labelling Practices
Being a reputable manufacturer also means being transparent, and good labelling practices will show this. Product labels are a point of interaction between you and the natural health product. Labels should clearly and accurately identify brand, the product name, and its claims; active and inactive ingredients; strength, dosage, cautions, and contraindications; potential allergens; expiry dates and storage instructions. In addition, labels should indicate the product’s lot number, an important indicator of quality control.
Natural Product Number (NPN)
In Canada, product labels will also provide an eight-digit NPN. Canadian regulations are among the strictest guidelines in the world. Supplements sold in Canada must be licensed by the Natural and Non-prescription Health Products Directorate (NNHPD) where they will be given a NPN. The NPN indicates that the product has been assessed and found to be safe and effective with accurate label claims.
Since ingredients and finished products are coming from all over the world, it’s crucial that products are analyzed and tested for allergens, pesticides, solvents, GMOs, heavy metals, microbes, and pharmaceutical agents. Analytical methodologies that detect these impurities are critical to ensuring product quality and protecting public health. One organization that verifies the safety, quality, and integrity of natural health and food products is ISURA®. ISURA is an independent, Canadian, not-for-profit analytical testing and certification organization. To analyze raw materials and ingredients, ISURA utilizes state-of-the-art high-performance equipment such as mass spectrometry, nuclear magnetic resonance, and DNA sequencing among others. Mass spectrometry works to detect over 700 contaminants! Testing with ISURA helps confirm that products are authentic, pure, potent, and made with manufacturers that follow GMP. ISURA performs contaminant testing above and beyond Canadian guidelines.
Visit isura.ca for more information.
Looking for quality should be your number one priority when choosing natural health products for you and your family. Remember price does not always verify product quality, so whether online or in store, be careful of overpriced supplements. In addition to using reputable companies and brands, reviewing product labels and ensuring third-party testing, shop where you will find knowledgeable staff to answer your important questions.
- Use of Nutritional Supplements, 2015. Accessed May 27, 2020: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-625-x/2017001/article/14831-eng.htm
- Dietary Supplement Use Reaches All Time High. Accessed September 8, 2020: https://www.crnusa.org/newsroom/dietary-supplement-use-reaches-all-time-high
- Cohen PA. The FDA and Adulterated Supplements—Dereliction of Duty. JAMA Netw Open.2018; 1(6):e183329.
- Maughan Quality Assurance Issues in the Use of Dietary Supplements, with Special Reference to Protein Supplements. J. Nutr. 2013; 143:1843S-1847S.
- Rocha T, Amaral JS and Oliveira MBP. Adulteration of Dietary Supplements by the Illegal Addition of Synthetic Drugs: A Review. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 2016; 15:43-62.
- Tucker J, Fischer T, Upjohn L, et al. Unapproved pharmaceutical ingredients included in dietary supplements associated with US Food and Drug Administration warnings. JAMA Netw Open. 2018; 1(6): e183337.