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What’s exactly in the vitamin or supplement in your medicine cabinet? The answer may surprise you, especially if you live in the United States – where dietary supplements are not exactly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And all vitamin and supplement brand ingredients are definitely not created equal. But fear not, there are some valuable resources and tools available to ensure that you are buying the best supplements online.

Journey Into the Unknown

capsules in yellow surface

Walk into any drug store, supermarket or club store or scroll through their websites and you will be greeted by hundreds of supplements. Vitamin store websites and Amazon are even more intimidating with thousands of supplements available for your perusing. All of these options, coupled with all of the supplement ads that pop up on Instagram and Facebook advertising to help you lose weight, be happier, help immunity and more, make the simple task of finding a high quality supplement incredibly difficult.

Making it even more challenging is the lack of any government watchdog agency or the FDA regulating the vitamin and supplement industry. This lack of regulation opens the door for supplement companies to mislead the public, use cheap or ineffective ingredients and not test their products for efficacy.

Many state led and private investigations uncovered that supplement labels don’t always match the ingredients in the supplement. Following an investigation of the supplement industry in 2015, for example, the New York Attorney General concluded that 79% of supplements tested did not contain the primary ingredient listed in the label. Click here to read more about the stunning findings here. The biggest offenders were drug store brands, Walmart and GNC. While all retailers agreed to pull the questionable supplements from the shelves, without regulation, these fraudulent and misleading supplements continue to flood the market.

What Can You Do to Select Safe, Quality Supplements?

1) Talk to Your Doctor

A doctor's stethoscope

Simply ask your doctor for recommendations for the best supplements to buy online. You should be talking to your doctor anyway about any supplements that you are taking or are interested in taking – to ensure they are safe and don’t interact with any medications or health conditions. At your next doctor’s appointment or wellness visit, ask your doctor what brands that they recommend. During every visit, my documents goes through all of the supplements (and brand of supplements!) that I am currently taking. I know many doctors are not as thorough, but it doesn’t hurt to ask your doctor what brands they recommend. For what it’s worth, my doctor recommends Thorne, Pure Encapsulations and Metagenics.

2) Look for Third Party Testing Certifications

Look for labels showing NSF certification to find the best supplements online

Before purchasing supplements online, look for mentions of third party testing in the product description and on the labels. The most popular third party testing certifications are: ConsumerLab.com, NSF International, and U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP). Finding a supplement with any of these certifications shows that the supplement company is not only interested in transparency, but committed to high quality supplements that include the stated ingredients.

3. Do Your Research on ConsumerLab.com and Labdoor.com to Find the Best Supplements Online

crop doctor with pills on palm and pills bottle

Consumerlab.com, a two decade old publisher of health and wellness product test results, releases supplement test results for public consumption on their website. While they outsource the testing of products, they go way beyond supplements to include 1,300 test results on everything from olive oil, apple cider vinegar, green tea, canned tuna, and more. Experts also respond to consumer’s questions about supplements and health products. The only downside is that all of this extensive research is available behind a pay wall; consumers must subscribe to the tune of $3.95 a month for an annual membership.

Another excellent resource that you probably never heard of is labdoor.com. Like Consumerlab, Labdoor offers supplement guidance to consumers using detailed research about which supplements are highest in quality and match the information on product labels. They send top-selling supplements to a FDA-registered lab for purity and label accuracy and publish the results on their website. They include a Labdoor letter grade for each supplement, a score out of 100, and evaluate the supplements on the following categories: label accuracy, product purity, nutritional value, ingredient safety and projected efficacy. Labdoor continues to add new supplement categories regularly. And the reports are available free of charge!

So, now with some insight from your doctor and a little research, finding safe, effect and high quality supplements online is a little easier.

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