Supplement Quality

From soil-quality to manufacturing, understanding and applying quality standards when using dietary supplements is crucial to implementing an effective integrative treatment plan. 

Dietary supplementation is becoming an increasingly common practice for maintaining health and for treating specific health conditions. However, supplements are not all created equally.

While the FDA generally provides post-market regulatory oversight to help ensure supplement safety and efficacy, this is not a fire-proof way to ensure that supplements meet predetermined quality standards. For an overview of the historical regulation and approval process for existing and new dietary ingredients, please refer to our Ingredient Approval Process Diagram below.

supplement quality approval process

Quality Guide

To assist in the navigation of the supplement landscape, this guide highlights a few of the key quality considerations that can be used to make informed supplement choices. Determining what constitutes ‘quality’ requires a multi-faceted approach and may depend on individual preference. There is wide variation in the methods that determine how ingredients are sourced, produced, tested, and certified.

The following image provides an overview on how supplement ingredients can be sourced, manufactured, tested and distributed, from their origin to the consumer.

dietary supplement sourcing

Sourcing

Determining supplement quality begins with the ingredient source and the means through which the ingredient travels along the supply chain. There are several considerations to be made when considering the ingredient quality and safety within a supplement, including (REF):  

  • Location of origin and environmental conditions
  • Derivation and processing of the ingredients themselves
  • Ingredient analysis and certification; 
  • and other operational considerations.

These factors all have the potential to determine or alter the properties of the ingredient used in your supplements and can potentially change their safety or efficacy profiles (REF). Ideally, documentation of information related to these processes should be readily available.

 

Third-Party Certification

The use of third-party certifications improves confidence that specific supplement qualities have been validated, externally. They provide companies with a means to opt into improving sourcing, manufacturing, distribution, and labeling transparency by permitted independent auditors to assess particular aspects of the manufacturing process or prove that product claims are true (REF). 

As the FDA’s post-market surveillance policies allow for a minority of discreditable supplement companies to operate and to make false product claims, prior to market-release, there can be unfair, generalized distrust towards manufacturers not holding third-party certifications. This is not to say that all supplement companies lacking third-party certifications are unreliable, but independent validation of sourcing, manufacturing and distribution processes, as well as labeling claims, provides added assurance of supplement quality.

Common third-party certifications may include independent validation of:

  • Current Good Manufacturing (cGMP) compliance
  • Product potency and purity (eg. microbials, mycotoxins, heavy metals, pesticides, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, excipients, or intentional pharmaceutical adulteration)
  • Allergen claims
  • Source claims 
  • Formulation claims (eg. potency, the form of an ingredient, etc.)
  • Drug-free
  • Safe-for-sport

Knowing is better than guessing.

Third-party certifications in the dietary supplement industry are now abundant and can provide valuable assurance that quality standards are being applied.

View Third-Party Certification Guide

Key Take-Aways

Determining supplement quality takes a multi-faceted approach and may vary between individuals. With the current post-market regulatory nature of the supplement industry in the United States, practitioners and consumers alike need to be informed that supplements are not all created equally.

Variation in product sourcing and manufacturing can lead to differences in product safety and efficacy. Legally, guidelines on cGMP and certificates of analyses need to be met by supplement companies, however, third-party certifications also ensure valid claims are accurate.

Dietary Supplements: Clinical Guide

Navigating the realm of dietary supplements and natural health products can be complex and challeging.

To simplify this, we’ve created a Clinical Guide that will introduce you to the basics of quality, protocols, ingredients, and more.

View Clinical Guide