Long-time readers know of my fondness for and (unpaid) endorsement of ConsumerLab.com, one of the two best companies that test natural medications (herbs, vitamins, and supplements) for safety and quality. Now ConsumerLab has test results of 60 multivitamins and have shown that you can’t always judge a supplement by its label—or by its price.
“Consumers should know that multivitamins vary widely in quality,” says Tod Cooperman, M.D., President of ConsumerLab.com. “Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a lot to get a good multivitamin.”
ConsumerLab.com’s latest report on multivitamins sold in the U.S. and Canada (including three products for pets) found that the contents of the bottle don’t always match the claims on the label:
- Eight multivitamins contained less of an ingredient than claimed,
- two contained more than claimed,
- one multivitamin intended for pets was contaminated with lead,
- ‘tablets of another multivitamin failed to properly disintegrate, and
- three supplements listed ingredients in ways that did not comply with FDA requirements.
Cooperman also notes that many products contained levels of vitamins or minerals that exceed daily tolerable upper intake levels, potentially increasing the risk of side effects.
Surprisingly, there was almost NO connection between price and quality:
- Many inexpensive multivitamins (ranging in price from 3 to 14 cents per day) passed every test.
- At the same time, several relatively expensive products—some costing over 50 cents or even over $1.00 a day— failed to pass ConsumerLab.com’s review.
The review, published online, provides test results and comparisons for 60 multivitamin products.
Multivitamins are the most popular supplements in the U.S., accounting for sales of $4.8 billion in 2009 according to Nutrition Business Journal.
ConsumerLab.com tested multivitamins for key nutrients, lead contamination, and proper labeling. Tablets were also checked to make sure they would break apart properly when consumed.
Among the 48 products that earned an APPROVED rating from ConsumerLab.com, there were some true bargains.
- General Adult: One health food store brand costs just 12 cents per day.
- Women’s: A pharmacy brand and a supermarket brand each costs 6 cents per day, a relative bargain compared to a popular national brand.
- Senior Women’s: A national retail brand costs 12 cents per day.
- Prenatal: A pharmacy brand that costs just 4 cents per day was very similar to a popular national brand that costs more than seven times as much.
- Men’s: Two wholesale club brands cost a mere 3 cents per day. Interestingly, the two most expensive multis for men (costing 58 and 73 cents per day) failed testing because they contained far less vitamin A than claimed on the label.
- Seniors’ (General): A discount store brand and two wholesale club brands each costs 3 cents per day. All were very similar to a national brand that costs nearly three times as much. The most expensive product costs $1.10 per day and failed testing because it contained only 2% of its listed beta-carotene.
- Children’s: A national retail brand costs 14 cents per day, less than half the price of a popular gummy bear multivitamin.
- Among pet supplements tested by ConsumerLab.com, one product that costs 8 cents per day was APPROVED.
Two pet supplements failed. One was contaminated with 7.45 mcg of lead per tablet. This product has been tested by ConsumerLab.com in two previous reviews and the amount of lead has increased over the years. The other pet product contained 32% less vitamin A than the label claimed.
Dr. Cooperman says consumers should take stock of their personal nutritional needs before considering a multivitamin.
Using the report as a guide, they can find real value without any hidden surprises. “You can easily save $100 a year and possibly avoid problems,” he says.
In addition to the new multivitamin report, ConsumerLab.com provides a free listing of latest recommendations for vitamin and mineral intake.