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Securing Supplements Safely: how to do it and what to know!

As part of the quest for better health, many are turning to the use of dietary supplements.  I use several common supplements with my patients--Vitamin D, magnesium, omega-3 and protein are among the more frequent I recommend.  With the rise of the popularity of supplements, the industry has morphed into a multi billion-dollar behemoth. Unfortunately, lurking beneath the surface of this booming market lies a dark shadow – the pervasive issue of fraud, especially prevalent in large online platforms like Amazon.

Dietary supplements, ranging from vitamins and minerals to herbal extracts and protein powders, can offer significant health benefits. Unfortunately, the lack of stringent regulations governing the supplement industry creates fertile ground for unscrupulous companies to thrive.  An estimated 23,000 emergency department visits every year are directly related to taking adulterated nutritional supplements, often from toxic ingredients such as heavy metals, steroids, and stimulants.

For example, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that some herbal supplements sold on Amazon contained unlisted ingredients, including potential allergens and even traces of pharmaceutical drugs.

Counterfeit products pose another significant threat. Fraudulent companies capitalize on the popularity of well-known supplement brands by producing knock-off versions that mimic the packaging and labeling of genuine products. Unwitting consumers purchase these counterfeit items, believing them to be authentic, only to be met with adverse health effects.

Part of the problem lies in the lack of oversight and regulation. Unlike pharmaceuticals, which undergo rigorous testing and evaluation by regulatory agencies like the FDA before they can be sold to consumers, dietary supplements are not subject to the same scrutiny. While the FDA does regulate dietary supplements, its authority is limited, and enforcement is often reactive rather than proactive.

Amazon, with its vast marketplace and millions of third-party sellers, presents a unique set of challenges in combating supplement fraud. Despite efforts to police its platform, including implementing anti-counterfeiting measures and seller verification processes, fraudulent products continue to slip through the cracks. The sheer volume of listings makes it difficult for Amazon to monitor every product effectively, leaving consumers vulnerable to exploitation.

So, what can consumers do to protect themselves from supplement fraud?

1.     Shop directly from the brand’s website or an authorized distributor or retailers.  Many brands will list authorized sellers on a “where to buy” section on their website (e.g., iHerb, FullScript, Vitacost, Thrivemarket, Vitaminshoppe).  In addition, some brands will offer the option to “Buy with Prime,” which allows you to take advantage of the free shipping associated with an Amazon Prime membership when buying the product directly from the brand.

2.     If on Amazon, check for Amazon transparency codes.  Some products purchased by Amazon can be verified using one of two smartphone apps (Amazon Shopping or Transparency).  If a brand is registered with Amazon, you can scan a product’s transparency code and confirm its authenticity.  Amazon launched this program, Project Zero, in 2019 as part of its effort to help detect and remove counterfeit products from the site.  Although more than 30,000 brands are enrolled in Project Zero, Amazon does not provide a list of participating companies or products, and brands may choose which products they enroll in the program.  Consequently, the lack of a transparency code may or may not mean the product is counterfeit.

3.     Check product reviews for reported problems.  Be concerned if reviews indicate a product contained pills of different color, shape or size than the authentic product or had misspellings on the labels. 

Bottom line: protect your health by taking the extra step of buying from the brand website or an authorized reseller or, if available, using the transparency code on Amazon.  Interested in learning more about how to navigate the supplement space? I’d love to help!  If you want to learn more, make a meet ‘n greet appointment on my website at

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