In a previous WellRabbit blog post, “Are All Supplement Brands Trustworthy?” our focus was on the consequences of unvetted supplements.

Throughout the blog, we provided information on the following:

  • Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA)
  • The definition of a dietary supplement according to DSHEA
  • Why you must be careful when purchasing supplements, especially online
  • Why third-party certified supplements are the gold standard of supplements

In this blog, we’ll also look at the dangers of unvetted supplements but through the lens of a new 2022 study not referenced in our previous blog.

The study specifically focuses on dietary supplements with claims of boosting or supporting a consumer’s immunity that were purchased on a large online marketplace.

Read on the learn more!

The JAMA Network Open™: An AMA, Peer-Reviewed Medical Journal

JAMA Network Open™, a monthly, open-access medical journal that covers all aspects of biomedical sciences, is one of 13 American Medical Association (AMA) peer-reviewed journals within the AMA’s JAMA Network™.

On August 10, 2022, JAMA Network Open™ published “Analysis of Select Dietary Supplement Products Marketed to Support or Boost the Immune System,” the study acting as this blog’s centerpiece.

Why Focus on Immunity-Related Dietary Supplements?

Starting in 2020, COVID-19 has caused the sales of immunity-related dietary supplements to nearly double.

In a world with COVID-19, colds, flu season, and more, it’s vital to maintain a healthy immune system. However, there are concerns over the efficacy and safety of many immunity-related products marketed through mass online marketplaces.

Most of the concerns stem from two vital points:

1. Products can be marketed with misleading and scientifically inaccurate claims.

2. There is a lack of information on any possible risks associated with these dietary supplements and their ingredients.

Thus, the 2022 JAMA Network Open™ study sought to answer the question: “Are select dietary supplement products advertised and sold to support or boost the immune system accurately labeled according to the Supplement Facts listed ingredients on product labels?”

So, what exactly did the researchers find?

The Data

In May of 2021, the researchers behind this study purchased 30 dietary supplement products with claims related to immune health from a popular online marketplace. None of the 30 products’ packaging had a third-party seal (a seal provided to products after passing inspection by a third-party lab).

After completing a thorough analysis of each product, the researchers discovered the following:

  • Labels for 13 of the 30 products were accurate.
  • Ten of those 13 products were considered “likely okay/less risky.”
  • Labels for 17 of the 30 products were inaccurate.

Of those 17 products:

  • Thirteen products were misbranded, meaning their labels listed ingredients not detected during analysis.
  • Nine products contained additional components not listed on the label, meaning researchers could not rule out the possibility that those products were adulterated.

Adulterated dietary supplements generally fall under one of two categories:

1. Economic adulteration

2. Pharmaceutical adulteration

How Was the Data Collected?

This first step in testing the validity of the supplements’ labels was to identify what ingredients the supplements contained as accurately as possible.

Thus, the researchers sent one sample of each purchased product to the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research, where highly trained laboratory staff used liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS).

While this analysis technique is relatively new, it has already gained a reputation as being the “Swiss army knife for clinical laboratories,” as noted by the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC).

The LC-MS’s sensitivity, selectivity, and accuracy have made it the premium choice among laboratory technicians for its ability to detect as little as nanogram quantities of target compounds.

The technique applies to many types of tests, including but not limited to detecting:

  • Doping agents in exhaled breath,
  • Drug tests (testing for any illegal substances),
  • And adulteration in food materials or dietary supplements.

Using LC-MS, the researchers collected near-complete, accurate results regarding the exact ingredients and amounts of each ingredient in each product sample.

Once the researchers accessed the laboratory results, they saw which labels were accurate and which were not.

This led to their next point, the importance of finding a dietary supplement with a third-party tested seal on its packaging.

Third-Party Testing for Dietary Supplements

A reputable medical professional will tell you that any dietary supplement you use should have a third-party tested seal on its packaging. These seals tell consumers that the product has been tested for quality and safety by a third-party lab and passed the inspection.

NONE of the products analyzed in this study had a third-party seal on their packaging. So, the researchers sought a method to determine the safety (more or less) of the 13 products with accurate labels.

The study used the Operation Supplement Safety Scorecard to do this.

 OPSS is a “Department of Defense dietary supplement program for the military community, leaders, healthcare providers, and DoD civilians” powered by the Consortium for Health and Military Performance (CHAMP).

While the scorecard is by no means an absolute indicator of whether a supplement is safe, it does help provide some insight for non-third-party tested supplements.

Generally, if a supplement scores a 4 or higher, it is “likely okay/less risky.” If a product scores less than 4, it is advisable to avoid it. 

Ten of the 13 products with accurate labels scored a 4 or higher on the OPSS scorecard.

The Study’s Conclusion Based on the Collected Data

After using a powerful quantitative and qualitative analytical technique to detect the types and amounts of the components in each product and DoD resources regarding dietary supplement safety, researchers concluded that quality control enforcement appears insufficient for MOST select dietary supplement products marketed for immunity support or boosting.

Use An Online Marketplace You Can Trust!

So many large online marketplaces sell much more than dietary supplements. An immense inventory of varying product types means these marketplaces often fail to regulate the dietary supplements sold through their platforms properly. This negligence leads consumers to purchase useless or dangerous supplements without knowing it.

WellRabbit is a dietary supplement and vitamin-dedicated online marketplace you can trust. We thoroughly vet all vendors on our website, many with third-party tested products.

If we vet a seller whose product does not have a third-party seal, we allow them to submit it through our Medical Doctor Research Certified Program. Products that pass the program receive an MDRC™ badge, letting you know they meet the exceedingly high standards for products sold through our marketplace.

Shop WellRabbit today and avoid the stress and anxiety of vetting your supplements.

Dr. Jeffrey Hendricks, MD

Jeffrey Hendricks, M.D., CEO Dr. Jeffrey Hendricks has an extensive research background in nutritional biochemistry and epigenetics and has developed over 1,000 nutritional products for companies in the U.S. and around the world. After spending four years at the University of Michigan’s Human Genetics Lab, he conducted research at the National Institutes of Health’s Laboratory for Gene Transfer. He’s served as a medical director in family medicine, integrative medicine, and occupational medicine, and is an advisory board member for many U.S. and international companies. The inspiration to start WellRabbit came about when helping his sister beat breast cancer, in which she took integrative medicine throughout her cancer treatment and never became ill. With WellRabbit, Dr. Hendricks has made it his mission to ensure those who are searching for quality nutritional supplements have a place they can trust. Dr. Hendricks’ clinical experience includes the treatment of over 50,000 patients, and his background, experience, and commitment to quality ideally suit his role as the Chief Executive Officer of WellRabbit.

Leave a Reply