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3 Red Flags to Watch Out For When Buying Supplements

Supplement red flags

As you stroll down the pharmacy aisle, you’ll face hundreds of supplements with countless brands and manufacturers. It’s a dizzying sight. How do you pick out the best ones? What should you keep an eye out for? Are there certain indicators to help you decipher which supplement stands out from the rest?

There’s a sea of vitamins out there, many claiming to offer the same benefits. However, it’s important to remember that the FDA does not regulate vitamins and supplements in the same way as medications. This could potentially lead to harmful health consequences. So, what can you discern just by examining the bottle or label? Here are some red flags you should be wary of before purchasing supplements.

Watch Out For Supplements Promising Weight Loss, Energy, Or Muscle Building

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been warning customers about weight loss, muscle building, and energy products. They have been found to have ingredients that may pose a significant risk. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), about 80% of the products tested contained ingredients that were not listed on the label. In 2016, the FDA issued 36 notifications to the public not to purchase specific weight-loss products due to a hidden drug ingredient. The FDA compiles a complete list and updates the notification regularly under ‘Tainted Weight Loss Products.’

These contaminants may include prescription drugs, controlled substances, steroids, hormones, stimulants, or other unstudied chemicals being used in research. These contaminants may cause serious side effects and can interact with your medication, damaging your organs and becoming life-threatening. 

If It’s Too Good To Be True, It Probably Isn’t

Many people will jump at any opportunity when supplements are advertised as a ‘new scientific breakthrough’ or a ‘quick fix’ to weight loss or better health. Many are too excited to get started and see the supplement’s effects than to look at the other side and see how harmful the supplement may be.

The majority of the time, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. Most likely, these supplements are not safe and probably won’t work as they say they do. Many supplements also lack scientific evidence and research. Those that evidently do have data may have a single small study or sample size, no reputable sources, data based on an animal study, or data skewed from the manufacturer’s sponsorship. 

Avoid Unrealistic Claims

Did you know that supplements often make unrealistic claims? You may see labels stating they are ‘all natural,’ ‘can prevent and treat diseases’, or are ‘clinically proven.’ However, it’s important to note that supplements should not claim to prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure diseases. The FDA does not evaluate or approve the claims or labeling before marketing. It is the manufacturer’s responsibility to ensure the supplement’s safety and efficacy.

Other supplements that claim they are ‘all natural’ may sound appealing and safe, but all-natural doesn’t always mean they are safe. Some natural supplements such as kava, ginkgo biloba, and St. John’s wort can cause drug interactions and are often advised against for certain individuals. It is always important to check with your pharmacist or doctor before you take a supplement, including natural herbs.

What Are Some Supplement Green Flags?

Now you know of supplement red flags, what are the green flags? How do you tell if supplements are safe? Below are the two best ways to reduce your risk of contaminated and harmful products.

Look For Third Party Testing & GMP Approved

One of the best ways to tell if a supplement is safe is ensuring the label has a certified GMP (good manufacturing practices) label. The seal ensures that the vitamin and supplements follow strict FDA guidelines on product testing, which ensures the manufacturing facilities must comply with manufacturing, labeling, packaging, and handling. This ensures the product is safe for consumption without any impurities.

Check Online Databases & Research

Figuring out the purity of supplements requires more research through third-party testing and high-risk companies. Sites such as FDA’s Health Fraud Product Database show potentially hazardous products marketed to consumers. Despite FDA warnings, retailers are selling supplements with contaminants or harmful, illegal ingredients over the counter.


Labels and marketing of vitamins are not always what they seem. Research has shown that 20% of dietary supplements contain more than one unapproved constituent. These contaminants may include heavy metals, toxins, pesticides, and prescription drugs such as steroids or stimulants, which may have harmful effects on our health.

The best thing to do for your health before starting a supplement is to seek professional guidance to ensure there is a clear nutritional benefit. Healthcare professionals such as doctors and pharmacists are able to provide you with educational information and any questions you may have. Pharmacists are a good resource to ensure there are no drug interactions with the medications you are taking. It is important to be aware of your supplements to understand where they come from.

Tell your doctor, pharmacist, and other healthcare providers about any dietary supplements and medicines you take. They can tell you if those dietary supplements might interact or interfere with your prescription or over-the-counter medicines or if the medicines might interfere with how your body absorbs, uses, or breaks down nutrients.

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