Choosing the Right Vitamins for YOU
By Kathleen Nguyen, BAPS, PharmD – Kathleen is a licensed Pharmacist and Principal at BumpVitamins.com
HAVE YOU EVER GONE to the vitamin aisle at your local heath or grocery store only to be overwhelmed by the hundreds of different brands and types of vitamins? Sometimes there are dozens of different bottles, all with different labels for just one vitamin. How can there be so many different options for something so straightforward as Vitamin C?
This can lead to a lot of questions, like do all vitamins have the same quality content? How are the different brands, different? Is one better than the other? How do you know which one to pick?
Unfortunately, the answer is not all that simple. Generally speaking, vitamins are considered food products and are not subject to the same rules as prescribed medications, for example. The quality and consistency of vitamins can vary greatly across brands and there are definitely some brands that are more trustworthy than others.
To determine the best brand to choose from, you have to understand what you are looking for on the bottle itself. Vitamins with a certified seal of either NSF or USP are high quality supplements and are pharmacist recommended. Below, we will help you break down the importance of seal certifications, the different types of ‘seal-of-approvals’, and why buying a vitamin with a seal is important.
Importance of Certifications
Many over the counter vitamins are not tested or regulated the way prescription drugs are. Unlike prescription drugs, vitamins and supplements do not have to undergo FDA (Food Drug Administration) approval for safety and efficacy before they are marketed and placed on the store’s shelves (1). It is the manufacturer’s responsibility to ensure the quality and consistency of the product. The lack of regulation raises concerns for not only the quality but also the safety and potency of a product.
Organizations like NSF and USP follow their own guidelines to ensure quality standards and regulation (2). If the manufacturer fulfills GMP requirements, the product will signify a seal of approval displayed on the label. Research shows that 20% of dietary supplements contain more than one unapproved constituent (3). Without a certified seal, supplements may not provide quality content and may contain contaminants or inaccurate ingredients compared to what is stated on the label; this is also known as adulteration and misbranding.
It has been reported that only 12% of dietary supplements on the shelves have been certified (1). Research has shown supplements may have contaminants which includes heavy metals, toxins, pesticides, and prescription drugs such as steroids or stimulants (4). These contaminants may have harmful effects to our health upon long term exposure.
GMP, also known as Good Manufacturing Practices, stems from the FDA and follows strict guidelines on product testing. GMP provides guidelines and standards that manufacturing facilities must comply with during the manufacturing, labeling, packaging, and handling process (5). With proper documentation and continuous product testing, manufacturers are required to meet the product’s specification without any unintentional impurities (6). This ensures the products are controlled and safe for human consumption.
GMP labeling protects supplements from adulteration or contaminants and guarantees the highest standards of efficacy, quality, and safety. Manufacturers that produce prescription drugs must comply with GMP. However, this standard is optional for dietary supplements.
NSF, also known as the National Sanitation Foundation, is an organization that follows stringent standards to protect the public health (7). NSF tests dietary supplements regularly to ensure each product complies with GMP practices. The organization retests products once per year to guarantee consistency with the manufacturing process (2). The certification seal ensures customers that the ingredients inside the bottle match with what the product is labeled. Whereas, other vitamins without the seal may have more or less than the ingredient(s) indicated. Supplements with an NSF seal have been tested and shown to be manufactured accurately and free from contaminants.
USP, also known as United States Pharmacopeia, sets one of the most respected standards of health and quality in the world. USP and NSF share very similar aspects in relation to product testing of quality, safety, and efficacy (2, 8). The major difference between the two is that USP may retest the product up to six times per year (2). USP is also a mandatory standard in the pharmaceutical industry; required for all prescription drugs but optional for dietary supplements (9). The USP seal may not appear on all prescription drugs (since all prescription drugs are required to follow USP standards) but will only appear on the dietary supplement if the manufacturer complies with all rules and regulations. Supplements with a USP seal have been tested and shown to be manufactured accurately and safe for use.
Unlike prescription drugs, dietary supplements do not need to undergo clinical trial to ensure safety and efficacy; this raises concerns for safety and quality. GMP’s standards and regulations are required for all prescription drugs but are often voluntary for dietary supplements. Because more than 77% of U.S. adults take a dietary supplement, shouldn’t we make sure supplements are safe and regulated as well as prescription drugs are (10)?
The seal of certification, either NSF or USP, can be seen as a form of communication between the manufacturer and the consumer. Dietary supplements that have a seal are proven safer and more reliable than products that do not. Without a certification, supplements may pose harmful risks due to prohibited contaminants. A seal can provide consumers a sense of trust and confidence when they are looking to buy a vitamin.
At BUMP, we care about the quality of vitamins we bring to our customers. None of our vitamins are imported from overseas. They are all made at GMP certified facilities in the United States. All of our products are tested repeatedly throughout the production process and can be trusted to be free from harmful contaminants. Every single order placed through Bump is also verified by a licensed pharmacist and filled in a local pharmacy that treats every custom vitamin routine with the same care as they do prescription medications.
Make sure to 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.
- Mathews, N. M. (2017). “Prohibited Contaminants in Dietary Supplements.”Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach,10(1), 19-30.
- Loria, K. (October 30, 2019). “How to Choose Supplements Wisely.”
- Robert H. Shmerling, M. (2019, February 05). “What’s in your supplements?”
- Costa, J. G., et al. (2019). “Contaminants: A dark side of food supplements?” Free Radical Research,53(Sup1), 1113-1135.
- Gouveia, B. G., et al. (2015). “Good manufacturing practices for medicinal products for human use.”J Pharm Bioallied Sci, 7(2), 87-96.
- Natural Products Association (accessed November 2, 2020). “Federal GMPs for Dietary Supplements.”
- National Sanitation Foundation (accessed November 2, 2020). “What Is NSF Certification?”
- United States Pharmacopeia (accessed November 2, 2020). “What the Letters “USP” Mean on the Label of Your Medicine.”
- Akabas, S. R., et al. (2016). Quality Certification Programs for Dietary Supplements.Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(9), 1370-1379.
- Council for Responsible Nutrition (accessed November 2, 2020). “Dietary Supplement Use Reaches All Time High.”