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Avoid Buying Fake Supplements


By Stacey Munro, N.D.

You probably have bought some type of supplement—maybe vitamins, herbs, or probiotics—online because you heard that they are good for you.  But how can you tell if what you’re buying, especially online, is the real thing?  In 2019, Amazon alerted consumers who had purchased Align, a popular probiotic, from a third-party seller that the product was most likely counterfeit and that they needed to stop using it.  Unfortunately, this type of scamming is not limited to dietary supplements.  The difference whether you are buying a fake apple watch or a fake supplement, is that the fake supplement can harm you.

Luckily here in the US, supplements sold directly from manufacturers to retailers or the public must meet strict safety and quality control measures.  After having issues with supplements not containing the ingredients listed on the labels, some companies like CVS have instituted 3rd party independent testing.  In China, by contrast, up to 25% of health supplements sold in retail establishments are fake.  On a platform such as Amazon, third-party sellers are not regulated and there is no way to know that the products they are selling are the real thing.  Even if you are getting the “real” product from a third-party seller, there is no guarantee that it has been stored and transported properly.  Other websites besides Amazon that sell supplements may purchase products from unregulated third parties.  These include Vitacost, IHerb, and Pureformulas.com.

There are several categories of fraudulent supplements found online:

-Counterfeit products

-Expired products

-Stolen products

Counterfeit products appear to be the respected product, but usually sold at a discounted cost.  They copy package labeling, but what is inside is anyone’s guess.

Expired products can occur when supplements that are nearing expiration or have expired are repackaged and sold as new, with new (fake) expiration dates.

Stolen products can be compromised in terms of storage and quality control.  They may also be repackaged and sold as new products with new labeling.

There are a few things you can do to avoid fake supplements.  Consumers should purchase products directly from their health care provider, directly from the manufacturer, or use a reputable distribution company such as Fullscript.  Each brand carried by Fullscript must meet strict labeling, purity, and safety standards.  When dealing with a reputable retailer, they will take the necessary precautions to ensure that the products that they are selling on their shelves are of good quality and contain the ingredients on the label.  If you do buy online from Amazon, make sure it is directly from the manufacturer.