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Understanding Supplement Label Facts – Is What’s On The Label In The Bottle?

September 22, 2021

How many of you read the Supplement Label A research letter published in The Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine (also called JAMA) highlighted concerns regarding vitamin D supplements. It was picked up by major news outlets. The researchers purchased vitamin D supplements from 12 manufacturers and sent them to an independent lab to be analyzed to determine if they were consistent with their label information. Surprising results resulted. The results showed large discrepancies – 30% of them were so that the products were either too high, or too low as per the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention.

Supplement Label Facts – The Ingredients

As with most people, I assume that if a product states it contains “x”, it is true. A one-pound bag of carrots must contain 16 ounces. The food ingredient label must accurately state that one cup contains 50 calories. Supplement panel panels must correctly state that one tablet contains 250 micrograms (mcg). It’s not so simple, it seems! What’s the deal with supplement label facts? Can you trust the label on your vitamins or supplements and feel secure when choosing Cooper Complete (vitamin D)?

Every order we receive from our manufacturing plant comes with a certificate of authenticity (COA), which goes along with the “lot”. The “lot” refers to the specific batch of product. The supplement label facts at the bottle’s side document the recipe. So, our vitamin D bottle will show that each softgel contains 25 mg (1,000 IU) Vitamin D3 in cholecalciferol.

Vitamin D: The specification states that the product must meet label claims if it contains less than 22 mcg (900 IU) or more than 43 mcg (1.750 IU). This variance may seem large (there is usually a larger allowance for overages, but not more than 10 percent variance for being below the stated level), but it isn’t.

As a home chef, I have made chocolate chip cookies many times. To make the cookies, I use a mixer to incorporate the chocolate chips into the dough. Then, I use a scoop to scoop the cookies out. Although I thoroughly mixed the dough and used a scoop to make sure each cookie was the same size, it is not uncommon for the amount of chocolate chips to differ between cookies. It’s not difficult to make vitamins from scratch. The JAMA article stated that the laboratory results for vitamin D in one pill, tablet, or capsule ranged between 9 percent and 140 percent. However, when researchers tested five bottles of each, they found levels closer to 100 percent.

Tishcon Corp. sent us a COA for a recent lot. It reported 29 mg (1,156IU) per tablet. Tishcon also tested for disintegration time, or how long it takes for softgels to break down, as well as for heavy metals (lead mercury, cadmium and arsenic) and microbiological tests for salmonella and E.coli.

To check the results, we also send several bottles to independent laboratories. Also, you can perform many different laboratory tests on different ingredients. The protocols used to perform these tests can also have an impact on the results. It’s not easy to simply say “test this product to ensure it meets the label claim.”

You can use Vitamin D alone. However, manufacturing it with multiple ingredients is difficult. It is not unusual for one ingredient in a blend to have an impact on the potency of the other.

Vitamin D has a two-year shelf life or “recommended usage by” date. It is not uncommon for the potency to decrease with time. The potency of a product can also be affected if it is stored at temperatures that are not recommended. Vitamins shouldn’t be kept in a cup holder on a car seat. It can get too hot or cold depending on where you live. It is possible and even expected that we will find a slight decrease in the level of D if we test samples closer to the end. We like an ingredient to be slightly higher than its label claim while it is fresh, so it can still meet claims at the end.

Looking back at the JAMA study, I have come to question what is being tested and what test method is being used. My understanding is that the JAMA study doesn’t test individual tablets or pills. It tests a mixture of multiple tablets. In fact, we send two bottles of any “lot” of product to ensure there is enough product to mix together and then test. Recalling the food example, I have also realized that I don’t buy packaged products (carrots or shrimp, potato chips, etc.). To ensure that the claim on the label is accurate, I should assume that the calorie count will be higher.

The contents of chocolate chip cookies vary from one brand to the next, and even home cooks can make different choices about what they contain. This is also true for supplement manufacturing facilities. These facilities can be anything from very primitive to highly-regulated FDA marvels. As consumers, we don’t know much about them. You should also talk to your supplier. It will help you learn more about the manufacturing process. Also, the steps taken to maintain consistency. Also, request a COA.