Understanding the Supplement Industry: Not All Supplements Are Equal
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
At Revelation Health, we care about the quality of the supplements we provide and your active participation and empowerment regarding knowing what’s right for your body. Rather than offering every brand available, we only support companies we’ve vetted via an expert-led health practitioner board. Our practitioner-grade supplements undergo rigorous quality and testing to ensure you're getting the highest quality ingredients.
Plus, we have health coaches certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP) available to answer your questions about health and offer weight loss and detoxification strategies and solutions to help you feel and look your best. However, the supplement industry, in general, can be daunting.
Many low-quality supplement brands found at places like GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart are full of questionable "filler-ingredients," are not tested to ensure bioavailability, and contain low quality ingredients.
The supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that uses “improved health” as its primary marketing tool. Whether you want to become faster, stronger, improve your cognitive abilities, live a long and healthy life: there is no doubt that supplements can help bridge the gap in your diet, and optimize performance. All supplements, however, are not created equal. Today we explore the many ways in which supplements can cause you harm and what to do about it!
What are Supplements?
Dietary supplements are products consumed in addition to the food in your diet to achieve a particular, usually health-orientated, outcome. They generally include ingredients like vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, and enzymes. Dietary supplements come in various forms, including tablets, soft gels, capsules, gelcaps, liquids, and powders.Although supplements fall under the general ‘health supporting’ category, in theory, many can cause more harm than good. The supplement industry’s lack of regulation may lead to an array of adverse events, including kidney failure, hepatitis, and other problems. 
Supplements can make all the difference when it comes to achieving your health goals. By understanding the eight problems with supplements and their solutions, you can start making more informed choices as a consumer and start spending your money in ways that positively impact your health and longevity.
Problem 1: The Supplement Industry is Unregulated
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have the authority to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before companies market them.  This is because supplement companies cannot make health claims. Supplement companies cannot make marketing claims to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure diseases.
Solution: Since the industry is unregulated, it makes it the consumer’s responsibility to ensure that the products they are ingesting or using are safe and appropriate for their bio-individual needs. This can be daunting for the average person since there are so many ways in which supplements can be harmful to health. But in reading this article, you are already taking back your power as a more informed consumer. When in doubt, always work with a functional medicine practitioner to help you navigate the murky waters of the supplement industry.
Problem 2: Many are Made with Synthetic Ingredients
Most supplements are synthetic (manufactured in a lab), and they are not derived from natural (real) ingredients. This is problematic because the science is limited, but suggests in many areas that synthetic forms of vitamins, for example, do not interact in the body in the same way that their natural counterparts do.
One example would be folate, which is the generic name for vitamin B9 in food. Folic acid is the human-made (synthetic) version sold as supplements and is often added to fortified foods. Although companies will sell folic acid under the umbrella of ‘vitamin B,’ many people don’t realize that folic acid interacts entirely differently in the body than folate.
Folic acid, for one, is not absorbed like naturally occurring folate is. Most of the folate you ingest is converted to its bioactive (usable) form, called 5-MTHF, in your digestive tract, before entering your bloodstream.  Unlike folate, folic acid is not easily converted to its bioactive form and requires help from the liver and other tissues. Most people cannot convert much folic acid into its usable 5-MTHF form, leading to various health concerns. 
As a vital nutrient to human health, vitamin B9 is often added to foods to ‘fortify’ them. For example, cereals are fortified with folic acid—which, as we have explored, does not actually do the job of naturally occurring folate and can even be dangerous. 
Solution: When it comes to dealing with the problem of synthetic ingredients, the best solution is choosing whole-food-based or all-natural supplements. Opting for natural supplements is not enough to guarantee that the product itself is right for you or well-made (more on this below), but it’s a good start.
That’s why at Revelation Health, we strive to be different—focusing on practitioner-grade vitamins, supplements, and superfoods that make a difference you can feel!
Our focus has always been on high-quality supplements, organic foods, and natural, healthy home and body care products.
We carry exclusive product lines like Systemic Formulas, NuMedica, True Cellular Formulas, True Cellular Detox, Complementary Prescriptions, Prescript-Assist, Interplexus, Atrantil, Byron White, DesBio, BodyBio, NutraMedix, 180 Degree Solutions, Simple Life Mom, Chinese Elements, Natural Radiance, Remedy Link, Stevita, Skinny & Co. and many more.
Most of these select lines cannot be carried unless a qualified physician is on staff to implement correct usage and dosing to ensure the greatest outcomes.
Problem 3: They Are Contaminated
Since the supplement industry is unregulated, many products are not rigorously tested and are often contaminated with toxic ingredients. This extends across an enormous range of pollutants, from heavy metals to bacterial and fungal contamination. One study that tested 121 supplements found that 5% tested over the daily limit for arsenic, 2% had excess lead, cadmium, and aluminum, and 1% had too much mercury.  Another study found bacterial contamination in all 138 dietary supplements they tested. 
Although the FDA does not regulate the industry, they do regularly have to recall products due to the excessive dangerous nature of their ingredients. In 2019, the FDA enlisted U.S. Marshalls to seize over 300,000 containers of dietary supplements from an American company from over 500 products due to excessive lead levels. 
Solution: When choosing a supplement, opt for a company that gets their products third-party tested for quality control. Make sure to look at the year that this testing occurs to ensure that they are regularly getting re-tested. At Revelation Health, all brands are vetted and science-driven.
Problem 4: They Contain Fillers
Fillers are ingredients used to ‘bulk up’ a supplement that doesn’t add any nutritional (or economical) value to the product. Without regulation, many products contain little to none of the listed ingredients on the label.
A 2015 crackdown on top-selling brands found that 5 out of 6supplements at places like GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart did not contain ANY of the ingredients on their labels. 
That means, instead of the herbs and nutrients that you’re paying for, you are consuming fillers like:
- Rice flour
- Powdered asparagus
- Powdered house plants
- Common allergens like soy, wheat, and nuts
As a result of the 2015 investigation, the companies selling the products were served a cease and desist letter by the Attorney General’s office to stop selling tainted supplements. Other brands, however, are not going under the same scrutiny. Statistically, though, one can infer that fillers are indeed a huge problem.
Solution: When choosing a supplement, opt for a company that gets their products third-party tested for quality control. Make sure to take a look at the year that this testing occurs to ensure that they are regularly getting re-tested. Look for labels that certify their products as soy and gluten-free, and many companies will also emphasize when their products do not contain any fillers. Read the ingredients list!
Problem 5: They are Missing Nutrients or Cofactors
Many OTC supplements from big chains lack co-factors. This is primarily when the supplement is synthetically derived since it already has such low bio-availability, but is also true with some naturally-derived supplements. When we isolate ingredients, they simply do not interact with the body in the same way that food does consume whole. 
Fats, for example, generally interact with nutrients to increase the absorption and bio-availability of food. When you consume a fatty, grass-fed, and finished steak, all those natural B-vitamins are carried into the body through the fat, and your body can synthesize a large portion of the nutrients. When you consume a freeze-dried liver capsule, you may be consuming a whole-food supplement. Still, it lacks many co-factors needed to benefit optimally from the nutrient, even less so with synthetic versions of B-vitamins like the aforementioned folic acid supplements.
Solution: Some supplement companies are going above and beyond to ensure the optimal bioavailability of their high-quality ingredients. Each nutrient requires its own cofactors, so doing a little bit of research before buying an isolated supplement might be needed. A few examples, though, would be investing in a liposomal form of the nutrient (like liposomal vitamin C, that encapsulates the vitamin in fat) or a curcumin meriva that uses patented sustained-release technology for maximum absorption. [10, 11]
If you have questions regarding any supplements’ bioavailability, reach out to one of the practitioners on staff, the Revelation Health store. Our health coaches are certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP). They are available to answer your questions about health and offer weight loss and detoxification strategies and solutions to help you feel and look your best.
Problem 6: Many are Harshly Processed
Since the machinery needed to appropriately and effectively extract nutrients into supplement form is very expensive, low quality supplement companies often sacrifice their products’ quality in the name of profit. This can lead to a nutritionally-void supplement at best, and a highly toxic supplement at worse.
Fish oil is an example of a supplement that is often harshly processed, to the point of completely de-naturing the product and turning it toxic. When heat-sensitive PUFA oils found in fish are heated or manipulated with too much force, they go rancid. A fish oil supplement will then become highly inflammatory and harmful to your health. 
Solution: Although the processes vary from supplement to supplement, general concepts would highlight that low temperature and slow extractions protect the integrity of ingredients more often than not. This could look like labeling that states ‘cold-pressed’ ‘cold-extracted’ or even ‘raw,’ although not all supplements can or should be extracted using only cold methods.
Problem 7: They are Low Potency
The dosage of each ingredient is significant when it comes to achieving your health goals. This applies to too little or too much of an ingredient, but in the case of supplement quality-- generally, you would be shorted on potency.
Solution: Read the label. Understand what kind of dosage you will need to achieve your desired outcome, and then see how many servings fulfill that need. Since many low quality products consume multiple ingredients and fillers, it’s important to check the label to see how much of the bioactive ingredients are actually in each serving.
Problem 8: They are Not What You Actually Need
This point may be surprising to many, but it’s essential to get real with yourself and find out if the supplements you are investing your hard-earned money into are going to help you get closer to your goals or not.
One typical example is the greenwashing tactics that supplement companies use marketing buzzwords like ‘detox’ for products that do little to no actual detoxing. Green-supplement powders, for example, will often be labeled as detox supplements with no regard for the various detox pathways that come into play to experience true cellular detox.
Solution: Knowing if a supplement will help or harm you requires investigating the root of your health problem, concern, or challenge. Proper vibrant health requires a multi-faceted approach that integrates wisdom from various disciplines and often involves someone’s wisdom with clinical experience.
Working with a functional medicine practitioner or under the guidance of well-researched and educated supplement companies can help you better understand each supplement’s role in helping you truly achieve your health and longevity goals.
Revelation Health strives to provide solutions to confront the most pressing health challenges of today and specializes in creating natural support strategies for weight loss, diabetes, thyroid disorders, low energy, chronic pain, and digestive health.
If you ever want to know the “best” product in a category (probiotics, detox, energy, brain, sleep, and more)—all you have to do is go to Revelation Health and search. You’ll find the product that top doctors and health practitioners use to get real results for their patients and clients.
We genuinely believe that Revelation Health will become your favorite place to shop for all your natural health and wellness needs.
Although supplements are often purchased to help fortify one’s health, the reality is many low quality supplements can do more harm than good. These low quality supplements can be contaminated, contain fillers, synthetic ingredients, or low potency, be missing essential cofactors, be too harshly processed, and may not even be what an individual needs to optimize their health and wellbeing.
Understanding the nature of this industry can help consumers make more informed and conscious choices. Purchase from supplement companies that are going above and beyond to ensure the optimal bioavailability of their high-quality ingredients.
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 Tournas, Valerie H. “Microbial Contamination Of Select Dietary Supplements.” Journal of Food Safety, vol. 29, no. 3, 2009, pp. 430–442., doi:10.1111/j.1745-4565.2009.00167.x.
 Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “FDA Advises Consumers to Stop Using Certain Life Rising Supplements.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, www.fda.gov/food/dietary-supplement-products-ingredients/fda
 Schneiderman, Eric T. “Cease and Desist Notification.” DocumentCloud, Attorney General, 2 Feb. 2015, www.documentcloud.org/documents/1532311-supplements.html#document/p1.
 Webb, Michael E., et al. “Elucidating Biosynthetic Pathways for Vitamins and Cofactors.” Natural Product Reports, vol. 24, no. 5, 2007, p. 988., doi:10.1039/b703105j.
 Keller, B.c. “Liposomes in Nutrition.” Trends in Food Science & Technology, vol. 12, no. 1, 2001, pp. 25–31., doi:10.1016/s0924-2244(01)00044-9.
 Marczylo, T.H., Verschoyle, R.D., Cooke, D.N. et al. Comparison of systemic availability of curcumin with that of curcumin formulated with phosphatidylcholine. Cancer Chemother Pharmacol 60, 171–177 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00280-006-0355-x
 Kresser, Chris M.S. “The Definitive Fish Oil Buyer's Guide.” Chris Kresser, 12 Aug. 2019, chriskresser.com/the-definitive-fish-oil-buyers-guide/.
Medical Disclaimer: This article is based upon the opinions of Revelation Health. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Revelation Health and associates. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD for accuracy of the information provided, but Revelation Health encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.