You always know what you're putting into your body, right? You might want to think twice before buying those supposedly 'all-natural supplements'. It turns out that many supplement products may not always be the same as advertised. 

Buyer Beware (Seriously...) 

For example, a lawsuit in 2015 accused GNC of putting synthetic chemicals in purportedly all-natural products. The suit also alleged that GNC obtained supplies from third-party vendors with possibly unsafe and illegal ingredients.  

Target, Walgreens, and Walmart also found themselves in hot water the same year. An investigation in New York found that four-fifths of the stores' top supplements didn't contain the herbs listed on the labels. Products had cheap substitutes such as beans, carrots, and rice. But why? We know these retail giants didn't manufacture these products. I guess they just didn't ask for (or didn't want to ask) for the supplement test results.

It's incredibly essential that supplement manufacturers create products as advertised. Customers don't want to be ripped off when they discover that they spent money on the wrong thing and the heat falls back on the retailers for selling them. For example, one brand of ginseng pills sold at Walgreens claimed to promote "physical endurance and vitality." These pills contained nothing more than rice and powdered garlic. So unless you have a carbon-engine body which runs off carbs and spice, such claims are probably inaccurate.

A Scary Dose of Reality 

What's even more concerning is that the wrong dosages or ingredients can be incredibly deadly. Some of GNC's products had unlisted amounts of soybeans and peanuts, both of which can trigger allergic reactions. A Walmart memory enhancing supplement contained wheat, making it hazardous for people with gluten restrictions. Scary stuff indeed, folks.

Melatonin supplements, a sleep aid often used by children, could be even deadlier. A study from last year examined 31 different melatonin products from 16 different brands. Researchers found that the melatonin levels ranged from 83-478% of the amount claimed on the label. That means some products had over four times the amount that was listed -- that's just crazy.

Excessive amounts of melatonin can cause nausea, dizziness, and counteract certain types of medication. Pregnant women and people with diabetes or pre-diabetes are particularly at risk. Some of the items also had traces of serotonin, which comes from melatonin degradation. This chemical is even more dangerous as it can cause fever, shivering, and even seizures.

One of the main problems is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't closely monitor these supplements. The government organization has a long history of targeting specific products. But the 2015 New York investigation was the first time the FDA ever threatened a big-name retailer with legal action for falsifying information. 

The Quest for Transparency and Standardization 

One rising player, Custom Nutra out of Hong Kong, which currently supplies to some of the top organic supplement brands in the USA, hopes to disrupt the supplement industry by changing how products are made, regulated, and advertised. Their international facility undergoes regular FDA inspection and all shipments through DOA inspection prior to their arrival with the retailer. 

Such rigorous examination has earned Custom Nutra a higher quality feedback rate from supplement distributors who's consumers surveys show better results than most other U.S. supplement manufacturers. Supplement contents are always verified by independent third-party laboratories. 

The Custom Nutra B2B experience allows retailers and distributors to seamlessly customize and check out products on their e-commerce catalog platform. Buyers know that what they order is lab-tested and made in an FDA-registered facility and all testing documents are made available. Plus, the company offers personalized private labeling for products requested by third-party clients -- Similar to the Everlane retail model, which shows material, labor, and every other cost breakdown, Custom Nutra will bring this level of transparency to customers which they absolutely want (and deserve).

Dr. Eric Huntington, President & Clinical Director of Custom Nutra had this to say on the subject of transparency with regard to ingredients in the supplement manufacturing space:

"The biggest deception within the supplement manufacturing industry is the overuse and non-quantification of supplement 'fillers' used in daily vitamin products. These are simply starch and sugar components which, when mixed with raw ingredients, can legally be stated as the full qty ingredient. 

Huntington continued, 

"This keeps vitamin manufacturing costs low and wholesale costs down. So when checking 'Nutrition Facts' on the back of a bottle, the statement of '50mg of Vitamin C' may only be 5mg of vitamin C and 45mg of starch."  

Custom Nutra is one of the few supplement manufacturers which can genuinely show test results to their retailers and distributors. The manufacturer can match product specifications like no other, which will establish a precedent for the rest of the industry to follow. It's far too easy for manufacturers to get away with creating misleading or even dangerous products. Every person has the right to know exactly what's going in their body.

Published on: Mar 27, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.