Vitamin retailers are in a particularly powerful position to make sure they only offer the highest quality dietary supplements. But when it comes to deciding which supplements to carry, there is such a wide range of quality available that it can be difficult to decide which ones to choose. Below are questions retailers can ask of supplement manufacturers to help assure they only stock quality product.
First and foremost, the quality of a dietary supplement depends on the quality of the ingredients that go into it. Take the botanical astragalus, for example. When a manufacturer decides to include astragalus in a product, there are numerous options to choose from; young or old roots, leaves and stems. Each different option represents varying degrees of scientific substantiation, potency and cost. Which type of astragalus the manufacturer decides to include in the product will depend on the manufacturers’ standards for purity, quality and potency.
Because commitment to quality supplements begins with sourcing quality raw materials, one question the supplement retailer can ask the supplement manufacturers is, “What sort of quality control assessment techniques are used for your raw materials?”
What Sort of Quality Control Assessment Techniques Are Used?
There is a wide range of classical and modern analytical assessment techniques a supplement manufacturer can use to assess the quality of the ingredients they receive and eventually use. These include botany, morphology, microscopy, high-performance thin-layer chromatography (HPTLC), high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry (LC-MS), state-of-the-art inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) for heavy metal testing, spectrophotometric methods (UV-Vis, FTIR), testing for microbial contamination, and other scientifically valid methods.
Some of these test methods are required by law and others are optional. It’s a good sign when a supplement manufacturer goes above and beyond the legal requirements and those that do are happy to tell you about it often citing their policies on company websites and social media.
Once ingredient quality is ensured, the next step in the product’s trajectory is to go into manufacturing. Here, too, there is a wide range of quality to choose from. There are federal regulations establishing current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs), which provide a system of documentation and procedures to assure the ingredient’s identity, composition, quality, purity and strength. All dietary supplement manufacturers in the United States are supposed to be up to the federal standards but not all manufacturing facilities are up to code. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to cite and close facilities that are not meeting the regulations.
Therefore, because the quality of a dietary supplement depends not only on the quality of the ingredients, but also on the quality of the manufacturing facilities, another question retailers can ask is, “Are your manufacturing facilities cGMP certified?”
After you’ve gone through the questions regarding raw materials procurement and manufacturing practices, another pillar of a quality product is the people behind it. Many dietary supplements include an array of ingredients from nutraceuticals to botanicals often from all over the world, and from varying herbal traditions. Not one person can be an expert in all of these categories. In fact, just looking at botanicals alone, there are hundreds of botanicals in the Chinese pharmacopeia, hundreds from the Ayurvedic, Indian, African, American and European traditions. Becoming an expert in Chinese herbalism can take a lifetime.
Who decides which ingredients to include in a product is a critical link to its quality. Lab technicians, recent college graduates using book knowledge to guide their choices or expert and licensed practitioners, all represent a range of qualifications. The third question retailers can ask supplement manufacturers is, “Who is formulating your products?”
Who Is Formulating Your Products?
Companies that utilize a team approach to formulating, hiring qualified experts to work on the formulations as a group, certainly offer the most comprehensive approach. Conversely, using book-knowledge alone to guide ingredient choices may not offer the same depth of quality and efficacy.
The supplement manufacturing process can be complex, and the job of the supplement retailer can be tough, but by asking the right questions they can narrow their choices to supplements of the highest quality. WF
Julie Dennis has been a lecturer, writer and consultant in the natural products industry for over 20 years. Currently she lectures nationwide discussing health-related topics and intelligent usage of nutraceutical and botanical supplements. She graduated from Dr. Michael Tierra’s East West School of Herbology in 1996, contributed to major natural products industry trade publications, and assisted with editing on books including the American Botanical Council’s Clinical Guide to Herbs, and The Handbook of Clinically Tested Herbal Products, Haworth Press.
NOTE: The statements presented in this blog should not be considered medical advice or a way to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. Dietary supplements do not treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of a medical professional before adding a dietary supplement to (or removing one from) your daily regimen. WholeFoods Magazine does not endorse any specific brand or product.
Posted on WholeFoodsMagazine.com 12/28/2015