Let’s Have a Frank Discussion About Dietary Supplement Quality and Online Supplement Sales

I certainly understand why consumers choose to order their nutritional supplements online. It’s easy and convenient to order from the comfort of your home or office, especially if you have a busy lifestyle and driving in heavy traffic is an uncomfortable thought. Also, many brick-and-mortar retailers have closed their doors, either because of increased competition from online sellers like Amazon or because the business was just poorly managed. This leaves consumers no choice but to order the goods they require from an online vendor. Another reason consumers shop online is the perception that they will save money. Historically, this has been true, however with manufacturers now enforcing minimum advertised pricing policies, increased shipping costs, and online vendors increasing their margins to be more profitable, many times a product or service is actually cheaper at a retail store. We’ve encountered this in the market over the last several years. Many of our customers have reported that our prices are either comparable or cheaper than what they can purchase online. This is exciting to me because we have always worked hard to offer competitive prices on properly formulated and tested high-quality supplements from the most reputable vendors. Of course, we would never try to compete with cheap supplement products sold online from companies that lack the proper certifications, credentials, and standards, and operate dishonestly with the intention of making a quick buck and defrauding the consumer. I’ve always said that if you imagine the dietary supplement industry as a pie chart, you will discover that one slice or 25% of that pie consists of companies that produce a high-quality, research-based, therapeutically effective nutritional supplement.  Here, the obvious problem for most consumers that want to use a dietary supplement is how can they be assured that the product they’re purchasing online is safe, formulated properly for their specific needs, manufactured with high-quality ingredients that meet label claims, complies with Federal cGMP regulations, and doesn’t contain harmful additives or prescription drugs. Some may believe this is not a concern because the supplement(s) being purchased online are from a trusted, well-known brand that you’ve purchased before and have experience with, but as we will see, when you buy nutritional supplements online you can’t be 100% guaranteed that what your buying is authentic, safe, properly manufactured, and therapeutically effective!


Unfortunately, even if you think you are buying a supplement from a familiar, trusted brand it may be an imposter sold by a fraudulent company. In April of 2023, NOW Foods Inc. and Host Defense by Fungi Perfecti LLC, both reputable and well-established manufacturers of nutritional supplements, received reports that counterfeit products impersonating several of their branded supplements were being sold online. An investigation was conducted, and it was discovered that 11 NOW products and 23 Host Defense products had been counterfeited to look exactly like the original brand and were sold to consumers through Amazon.com. The counterfeit products were carefully designed to mimic the look of the authentic products. The bottle shape, child-proof lid, and label were almost identical to the original.  When the fraudulent NOW Foods products were tested, they contained white rice flour that was traced to a company in India. The fraudulent Host Defense products were found to contain both soy and gluten, common allergens that the authentic company does not use in their medicinal mushroom supplements.


Lack of quality control and dishonest labeling are significant problems that exist with online sellers of nutritional supplements. It’s extremely easy for an unscrupulous company to purchase low-quality ingredients, or even worse an inert powder like plant starch, and formulate a supplement with misleading label claims to fool the consumer into thinking they’re getting a quality supplement. This is a widespread problem that has been going on for decades. A recent analysis of bromelain supplements confirms this level of fraud. Bromelain is a proteolytic enzyme from pineapple that is used as a digestive aid and anti-inflammatory in the musculoskeletal system. Twenty bromelain supplements were purchased from Amazon and chemically assayed by a third-party lab for purity and potency. The results were abysmal:

  • 15 of the 20 samples (75%) failed to meet label claim
  • 12 out of 20 brands contained less than 10% of label claim
  • Three brands were labeled as products made in India, two were under 10% of label claim
  • Only four brands of 20 contained 100% of the label claim.

If a particular nutritional supplement has a ridiculously low price that’s an immediate clue that it could be adulterated, contain substandard material, be diluted, or contain no active ingredients.  This has been especially true for elderberry and saw palmetto supplements sold online. Unfortunately, these fraudulent products can all be traced to Chinese companies. Investigations have also shown that it’s the smaller, unknown brands that spend the most money marketing their fraudulent supplements on Amazon.com and Walmart.com.


Today, 68% of American adults use nutritional supplements. There’s a good reason for this, most Americans do not even come close to meeting all their nutritional needs through diet alone, especially when the majority of people are eating the Standard American Diet (SAD). When you purchase a dietary supplement online or in a grocery or drug store do you know what the “other” ingredients are and why they’re in the supplement? Do you know if the active, medicinal components of the herb or vitamin/mineral are in the product? If so, are they at a therapeutically effective dosage range? Do you know where the company is sourcing the raw materials and are those ingredients being properly tested for contaminants and adulterants? Is the company complying with Federal cGMP regulations? Is the company operating out of a warehouse somewhere in Asia?  These are important questions to ask since you are putting a substance in your mouth that is supposed to help you, but instead may be a complete waste of money, or worse yet contain an ingredient that can harm human health. Manufacturers of low-quality nutritional supplements either purchased online or from a big-box grocery or drug stores will use unnatural and potentially harmful ingredients in their formulations. Even though these are approved for use by the FDA you don’t want to ingest them. Their presence alone indicates the product is sub-standard and probably not therapeutically effective, so look out for the following additives:

  • Artificial colors-FD&C red 40, FD&C blue 2
  • Hydrogenated oils
  • Talc or magnesium silicate
  • Artificial flavors
  • Titanium Dioxide
  • Artificial preservatives
  • EDTA and its derivatives
  • Shellac and pharmaceutical glaze

One of the most common misconceptions is that dietary supplements are not regulated. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The supplement industry has long been defined and regulated by the FDA under two statutes of federal legislation: the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. Unfortunately, the FDA’s enforcement power cannot reach everywhere all the time, so it’s relatively easy for a fraudulent company to operate, at least long enough to deceive consumers out of their hard-earned money.  Lab analysis of suspected fraudulent supplements has yielded consistent results over the years. Investigators have found lead, mercury, and PCBs in fish oil products, and sildenafil (Viagra) and sibutramine (Meridia) in products marketed for weight control and sexual function respectively. This criminal activity by a handful of deceitful operators invites additional government and media scrutiny that gives the entire dietary supplement industry an unfavorable look.


At the Oregon Natural Market, we are the health food professionals and gatekeepers of quality and effectiveness.  Every dietary supplement vendor we work with has been properly vetted for raw-material testing and delivery, ingredient purity and identity, federal cGMP compliance, transparency and traceability, and industry-leading certifications. The majority of our vendors manufacture their products in the U.S. and Canada and use modern testing techniques including high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), mass spectrometry, chemical reaction tests, and DNA analysis. All of our supplement manufacturers have one or more of the following certifications: USP. U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, NPA GMP certification, NSF Dietary Supplement Certification, UL Verified, ISURA, and NSF GMP Registration. In addition, our supplement vendors invest part of their revenue into nutrition science research and fund clinical studies. The results of this research can be seen in effective, dose-specific nutritional formulations that are based on actual clinical trials.

When you choose to purchase your nutritional supplements from us not only are you supporting the health of your local community, you’re working with a 60+ year-old family-owned business that specializes in a personalized and customized experience to address your specific health needs. Our educated staff which includes a Board-Certified Clinical Nutritionist, Nutritional Therapy Practitioners, Certified Holistic Health Coach, and Certified Professional Life Coach will make sure you are getting the most accurate and honest nutrition information you need to make the best choices for your health. You can be assured that the nutritional products you leave with are 100% guaranteed for purity, quality, and effectiveness and backed by “the friendliness health food store on earth.”


Michael Chase, MS, NTP
Nutrition Science and Dietetics

DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only, and should not be construed as personal medical advice or instruction. No action should be taken based solely on the contents of this information. Individuals should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being. The statements made in this informational document have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any product discussed is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Share This Post!


Related Posts

Scroll to Top
How Can We Help You?