Which brand should I buy?
We get this question all the time. Unfortunately, we can’t answer it. Why?
- Because we don’t test physical products. What our researchers do — all day, every day — is analyze peer-reviewed studies on supplements and nutrition.
- Because we go to great lengths to protect our integrity. As you’ve probably noticed, we don’t sell supplements, or even show ads from supplement companies, even though either option would generate a lot more money than our Examine Membership or Supplement Guides ever will — and for a lot less work, too.
In truth, we don’t even know which brands we each favor. The topic isn’t taboo, but none of us has ever seemed very interested. With time, I think we all came to the conclusion that no one brand is head and shoulders above the rest: supplement quality seems to vary within the same brand, and can go up and down over time.
All that being said, we are interested in keeping you safe. So here’s a list of steps you can take if a supplement has caught your interest:
Step 1: Look at the packaging
Look at the list of active ingredients and review the evidence behind them. The amount of each ingredient matters, of course, but so does its form (some forms of curcumin, for instance, are much better absorbed than others).
Look at the list of other ingredients. Some may be dangerous in high dosages, while others may be tied to sensitivities.
Make sure the product contains nothing you are allergic to.
Look for seals of quality.
- A supplement manufacturer can display a GMP seal on its products and website if, at the time of inspection, the equipment was up to code and all testing documentation was provided. In the United States, the FDA can do GMP inspections, but so can private companies hired by the manufacturer.
- Some private companies have their own seals, which can be displayed by the products that have passed their tests. Banned Substances Control Group, ConsumerLab, Informed Choice, Labdoor, NSF International, and United States Pharmacopeia are among the better-known companies — we don’t promote any of them, however, and cannot speak for their testing protocols.
Step 2: Visit the manufacturer’s website
Does the website display a GMP seal? Is the manufacturer transparent with its manufacturing protocols and in-house quality-control practices?
Everything else being equal, bigger companies tend to be a little safer, for three reasons:
- They are more likely to get inspected by the FDA.
- They have more money to spend on repeated testing.
- Their providers are less likely to send them ingredients they know may be contaminated, for fear of losing a big customer.
Step 3: Visit other websites
Check if the manufacturer has received warning letters from the FDA.
Several third-party companies (we mentioned six of them above) test dietary supplements, so doing a quick search to see if a product has been tested may be worthwhile. A product usually needs to be retested regularly to keep its certification.
It is very important to note that products get tested for quality, purity, potency, and composition, but not for efficacy. That is to say, a certification does not ensure the validity of any health claims made about the product.
While 23,000 dietary-supplement related ER visits may not seem like a lot when compared to something like the 647,000 deaths caused by heart disease every year in the United States, they could be easily prevented with improved education and awareness.
We can’t recommend supplement brands because we don’t test physical products. We focus on ingredient efficacy, and highly value our objectivity on that front. No outside company can advertise on the site, promote an Examine recommendation, or provide us with funding or even free samples.
Treat dietary supplements the way you would treat medication, with caution and respect for their ability to both help and harm your health.
This document was last updated on August 6, 2020.