Verifying what's in your vitamins and supplements

By Kristen Miranda - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Shopping for vitamins and supplements is enough to make your head spin.  You're faced with a wall of options with so many different brands, formulations, and prices.  How do you choose which is best?

Many people choose based on what little they know about what is in each pill.  They trust what is on the label.  There is government regulation on these supplements but experts will tell you it's difficult for investigators to check-up on all of the manufacturers.  That leaves the rest of us, uncertain.

"You almost need a PhD in chemistry to read some of these supplement labels," said Dr. William Obermeyer with ConsumerLab.

He runs a small lab outside of Annapolis, Maryland where he does the time-consuming and expensive job of testing supplements.

"We look at quality of the products, whether it has contaminants, whether it can release properly, so you can actually absorb all the things. Just so the consumers are getting what they think they are paying for," Obermeyer said.

ConsumerLab is a subscription web service that publishes it's test results for it's members.  One of it's most recent studies was looking at dozens of brands of fish oil.

"Overall, unfortunately, we found at least one out of four don't meet the quality criteria that we have set forth," said Obermeyer.

These researchers have found price means very little.  The higher the cost of the bottle of supplements is not directly related to it's level of quality in ConsumerLab's tests.

The frustrating conclusion is that there is no easy answer.  Few of us have the money or the scientific knowledge to test supplements on our own.  No one brand, says Obermeyer, consistently rates high.

"This is why we developed the website, to give the consumer information about quality product."

We asked Dr. Obermeyer whether buying organic vitamins and supplements is a healthier option.  His answer can be viewed in the video at the top of this page.

If you'd like to look at a sample of one of ConsumerLab's tests click here.  They're making their results on iron supplements available to WBTV viewers at that link through the end of November.

Memberships to ConsumerLab cost $30 for one year or $50 for two.