Vitamin D Supplement Labels Grossly Inaccurate About What’s Inside

Lawrence LeBlond for – Your Universe Online

With recent findings stating obese individuals may have a deficiency in vitamin D levels, more people may be inclined to take a daily supplement to ensure they are getting the proper amount in their system. However, a new study has found many people may not even be getting the recommended amount of that sunshine vitamin when they do take a daily tablet.

Researchers from Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research (KPCHR) in Portland, Oregon today released findings vitamin D sold in stores contain anywhere from 9 — 140 percent of the doses listed on the supplement´s label. Though none of the pills studied were likely to be dangerous, many contained far too little of the vitamin to effectively treat people with a deficiency, the researchers said.

Publishing their findings in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, the team tested 55 bottles of vitamin D3 (the most often recommended type) from 12 different over-the-counter (OTC) brands. While the disparities found in each brand were alarming, it was more shocking to find there was also a variation among different pills in the same bottle.

“We were surprised by the variation in potency among these vitamin D pills,” said Erin S. LeBlanc, MD, MPH, lead author and investigator of the study from KPCHR. “The biggest worry is for someone who has low levels of vitamin D in their blood. If they are consistently taking a supplement with little vitamin D in it, they could face health risks.”

Even more embarrassingly, pills from compounders were nearly as variable as the OTC brands, varying from 23 — 146 percent of the expected dose.

This finding has serious implications for many who rely on daily vitamin D supplements for their health. With the flu season in full swing, health experts are recommending people increase their vitamin D intake as it helps boost cold and flu prevention and helps those who do get sick to recover faster. And other research has shown low levels of vitamin D in the blood are linked to breast, colorectal and other cancers, heart disease, and other illnesses. And not to be forgotten, the sunshine vitamin also promotes bone health and prevents osteoporosis.

Vitamin D deficiency is much more common than most people think; as many as 50 percent of the US population could be D-deficient, according to past research. And a previous study by LeBlanc found nearly 80 percent of women 65 and older were D-deficient.

Leblanc´s finding is not the only one to surface on mislabeling and dietary content found in supplements. Other studies have found similar disparities in other supplements., in a 2009 study, discovered more than a third of multivitamins tested contained significantly more or less on some ingredients than what the labels claimed. The company also found similar results to LeBlanc´s study in a recent test of vitamin D samples.

In the brands tested by LeBlanc and her colleagues, the labels promised potencies of vitamin D ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 international units (IUs).

While the actual levels ranged from 9 to 140 percent of what was on the label, the team found when they tested five pills from each bottle and averaged results, levels were closer to 100 percent. However, in a third of the cases, the levels were still too high or too low by the standards set by the US Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), an independent testing group. LeBlanc said the closest match to 100 percent was actually in one brand carrying the USP mark.

In order for supplements to receive the USP verification mark, manufacturers must undergo annual good marketing practice audits and have their products tested for quality, potency, and purity.

“The USP verification mark may give consumers some reassurance that the amount of vitamin D in those pills is close to the amount listed on the label,” said LeBlanc. “There are not many manufacturers that have the USP mark, but it may be worth the extra effort to look for it.”

“It’s not surprising that they found a lot of products that were not meeting label claims,” John Atwater, director of the verification program at the non-profit USP, told USA Today´s Kim Painter.

Unlike drug companies, supplement makers are not required to prove their products are safe and effective before marketing and selling them. The FDA often inspects supplement plants to ensure they are using good manufacturing practices and has issued warnings in the past for regulation violations. But the FDA does not test every product, even at plants under inspection, Atwater explained.

However, companies that put out mislabeled products are still “breaking the law,” said Duffy McKay, VP of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutrition.

Several companies have pushed to be more responsible due to increased FDA and public pressure, he said. Consumers who look for well-known brands and those with seals of approval may help in the fight against bad labeling practices.

“We’re hoping that soon we’ll have a perfect record,” MacKay said. “We advocate very strongly for 100% compliance.”

LeBlanc said the study shows more needs to be done to get manufacturers of these supplements to comply.

She also cautioned this study should not discourage consumers from giving up on daily vitamin D supplements. Most health experts recommend that everyone get a minimum of 600 IUs of vitamin D daily for good health.

The problem now, is finding the one brand that has the most accurate dosage. For that, look for the USP mark.

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