Remember these five golden rules next time you’re considering a nutritional supplement


I saw a newly published report this morning that I had to comment on.

It is the result of an investigation by, and it’s about counterfeit nutritional supplements being sold online.

That is, unscrupulous sellers advertising recognised brands, but palming customers off with fake imitations containing who knows what.

Scary, isn’t it?

This report focuses on resellers operating on Amazon’s US site, but I’ve seen and heard enough to be convinced that the issue of health products not being what is claimed on the label – in other words fraud – is a gigantic one. One that leaves all of us vulnerable to ingesting things we wouldn’t choose to ingest while paying top-dollar for the privilege.

With growing numbers of health seekers willing to spend whatever we can afford on top-quality foods and supplements, this marketplace inevitably attracts a contingent of unethical businesspeople who are willing to bend the truth – either a little or a lot – in order to maximise profits.

And nowhere is this easier to pull off than with supplements. After all, when we take a processed pill, powder or capsule, we have no way of knowing what’s really in it.

We are relying 100% on the integrity of the company selling it to us.

We are assuming not only that they haven’t actively lied to us about the identity or quality of any of their ingredients, but that no one in their supply chain has lied to them either.

This second one is a biggie as I can tell you for a fact that there are businesspeople in this marketplace who are not performing even the most basic checks to ascertain that the ingredients they are buying – which are in many cases sourced from other countries and even other continents – are of the identity and quality claimed.

And if you assumed that some government department is busy protecting your interests and your health, think again. The majority of supplement products on sale are never tested by a regulator to ascertain that they are what they claim to be.

That was the bad news.

The good news is that there are also many ethical players in this marketplace.

Here are my guidelines for spotting those and avoiding the rest, and for being smart about supplements.

1. Don’t be a supplement junkie! Going overboard with supplements will do you more harm than good – your liver and kidneys have enough work to do without that. When considering adding a supplement to your regime, carefully evaluate the evidence that you need it, and don’t take any high-dose supplement unless you have had a blood test which shows you’re deficient in the nutrient or nutrients in question. If you’re vegan, you’ll need to supplement vitamins B12 and D, the long-chain omega-3 fats EPA and DHA, and possibly other nutrients, and here, too, it’s best to monitor your levels with blood tests at least once a year.

2. If you visit a nutritionist or doctor who prescribes supplements for you but hasn’t performed any tests to back up their recommendation, quiz them about why they think you need them – especially if they are also proposing to sell them to you. Many practitioners prescribe supplements they personally sell, and in some cases these are also their own brand. Worth knowing: a practitioner retailing a supplement will generally be making at least 30% of what they charge you, while one selling you their own branded product will generally make upwards of 70%.

3. Choose nutritional supplements in capsule or powder form rather than tablet form. Tablets tend to be highly synthetic and are always highly processed. The ingredients are subjected to massive pressure in the tableting process and this inevitably affects the bioavailability of the nutrients.

4. Choose supplements that are as natural as possible, and steer clear of those containing synthetic and potentially harmful fillers, binders and flow agents. A really savvy rule of thumb is to avoid anything containing magnesium stearate, the most ubiquitous synthetic additive. This is not magnesium in a form that benefits us, but a synthetic agent that is added to make the manufacturing process easier, despite concerns regarding its safety, and I wrote about it here. Most supplements contain magnesium stearate, as do most pharmaceutical drugs, and it’s even contained in some high-end nutritional product lines which position themselves as premium quality, with the prices to match. Don’t be fooled; steer clear.

5. In light of the worrying new report on, when buying supplements online it’s a sensible precaution to buy them direct from the company that created them where possible, rather than from resellers.

Following these five guidelines will help ensure that any supplements you take will benefit you rather than being, at best, a waste of your money, and at worst, a danger to your health.

Finally, my top brand recommendation for UK readers is Viridian Nutrition. Its products contain 100% active ingredients and no nasty additives, and over 40% of the range is certified organic by The Soil Association. This is the brand I use – and no, I’m not on commission.

I would love to hear from readers, in this country or elsewhere, about any brands they know of that offer high-quality, additive-free supplements. Got a hot tip? Send me a message.

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