12 Tips for Buying Safe Dietary Supplements

Grocery stores, pharmacies, health food shops and Internet retailers are full of dietary supplement choices. Finding a safe and effective supplement product on a crowded store shelf can seem daunting.

Here are 12 things to consider when you’re evaluating dietary supplements, inspired by and with the permission of our friends at the Council for Responsible Nutrition.

Manage your expectations.

Dietary supplements aren’t meant to have immediate or dramatic effects. They won’t treat or cure a disease. Supplements support health in important ways, but don’t confuse them for prescription drugs or a miracle in a bottle.

Don’t look for quick fixes.

Good supplements provide modest and sometimes subtle effects over long periods of time. If you take a product and experience a dramatic or immediate effect, this may be a sign you’ve taken something that’s spiked or unsafe. For your safety, stop taking the product and promptly call your doctor.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Steer clear of products making a drug-like claim or promising miracle results. You know that supplement that promises to melt pounds of fat while you relax with a cheeseburger near the pool? It’s a scam.

Look for trusted brands.

Companies with a nationally recognized store or retail brand have a lot at stake. They invest time and resources to protect their hard-to-come-by reputations.

Look for quality seals or third-party certifications.

Several certification programs independently review manufacturing processes for supplement makers. Certifying organizations such as NSF International, UL and USP provide rigorous examination. When considering Ubiquinol CoQ10 products, also look for the Kaneka Quality Seal on the label.

Only choose products that are legal.

Avoid products advertising they are “barely legal, “in limited supply” or “won’t be available much longer.” Such messages should raise concern about that product’s legality or safety.

Watch where you buy.

Often but not always, contaminated or questionable products are available exclusively online. The sites are frequently operated by “fly-by-the-night” companies that make outrageous claims. Only buy supplements from a store or website you trust or recognize.

Look for membership in an industry trade association.

Membership in trade associations, including organizations such as the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), demonstrates a company’s long-term commitment to the marketplace. You can find a full list of CRN members here.

Visit the company’s website.

A slick website doesn’t guarantee product safety or quality. But a poorly designed website might indicate the company doesn’t intend to be in business long enough to interact with its customers or build a trusted brand.

Look for product labels and ingredient lists.

Undisclosed ingredients could indicate a company is trying to hide something. Choose products where you can view the full list of ingredients.

Ask about longevity.

Longevity of a brand doesn’t guarantee quality, but it can offer confidence that the company will be around long enough to stand behind the products it sells. Look for brands that have existed for at least one year.

Beware companies that undergo name changes.

It’s okay to change your name occasionally, especially due to a merger or buy-out. But companies that constantly change their names may be looking to hide past problems.