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Do You Know What’s in Your Dietary Supplements?

Learn more about the steps involved in verifying what is in dietary supplements.

Do You Know What’s in Your Dietary Supplements?

July 10, 2020

If you walk into any drugstore these days, you’ll find aisles stocked with supplements meant to improve health, reduce stress, or any number of other desirable results. Consumers are more interested than ever in supplements, and the market has grown exponentially to meet demand. The global supplements market is set to reach $194 billion (USD) by 2025, according to a recent report from Grand View Research.

With increased market size, it’s no surprise to see global growth in the number of dietary supplement manufacturers and distributors. This expansion makes it more crucial than ever to build transparency into the entire manufacturing process from farm to shelf. For example, mislabeled ingredients on a product label can hurt a company’s reputation. Worse, unvalidated products could cause injury or death to unsuspecting consumers and lead to criminal negligence and liability for the manufacturer. So, what is the best way to be sure of the ingredients in your dietary supplements?

If you look at the fine print on many supplement bottles, you might see a typical disclaimer: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.” According to information on the FDA website, “dietary supplements are not reviewed and approved by the FDA based on their safety and effectiveness.”

“Natural” products do not necessarily equal safe products. For example, the plant ephedra is associated with increased risk of heart problems and death, even though it has been used for thousands of years throughout Central Asia as an effective treatment for colds and flu. The FDA banned the use of ephedrine alkaloids in dietary supplements in 2004.

There are real life-or-death consequences to supplement labeling. Approximately 50,000 adverse effects such as organ damage occur yearly due to the use of dietary supplements. Further, approximately 2% of hospital admissions can be attributed to the same. A whopping 20% liver injury cases reported to the U.S. Drug Induced Liver Injury Network are attributed to herbal and dietary supplements. One research study found that fewer than half of dietary supplements tested were accurately labeled. Mislabeling occurred in 80% of products used for bodybuilding and performance enhancement, and 72% of products used for weight loss.

One effective way to help ensure high-quality products is to establish a robust supply chain qualification program. This would include an accredited third-party Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) audit certification program to check that manufacturing and distribution facilities are meeting current regulations every step of the way. Additionally, it‘s critical that ingredients listed on the label match the information on the table. This can be accomplished through third-party testing. For example, UL’s FDA-registered U.S. laboratory applies scientific methodologies to verify the accuracy of active ingredients present in dietary supplements.

Comprehensive quality test processes can also identify the presence of harmful contaminants, such as unwanted microorganisms, heavy metals, and pesticides, providing consumers with a greater level of confidence and peace of mind. Third-party verification is a crucial step in putting rigorous and thorough testing at the center of a company’s promise to customers.

Consumers are rightly wary about what they put inside their bodies, and they need help to know what’s really in the supplements they take. Companies that verify supplement labeling and have transparent sourcing will be better positioned to keep and earn consumer trust. For more information about what UL does to help verify supplements, please visit

Regulatory Compliance Testing for Dietary Supplements