July 2019

Third-party testing on the rise

NSF recently conducted a survey that shows most people favor supplement products that are third-party certified. And just last month, CVS announced they are only stocking supplements that have third-party certification. So, what do third-party testers actually test? Are they all equal?

USP Verification Services is probably the most widely recognized third-party verifier. If a product has the USP verified mark on the label, that means the product was made in a clean and controlled facility. It also contains what it should, in the amounts it should, and doesn’t contain contaminants like lead and mercury. Right now, USP predominately verifies vitamins and minerals. Some other dietary supplements, including fish oils, glucosamine, and melatonin products, are also verified. But herbs, botanicals, and probiotics aren’t currently included in the program.

NSF is the next big name. The NSF Contents Tested and Certified program is very similar to what USP offers, but they also test herbs, botanicals, amino acids, extracts, and sports supplements. NSF International Certified for Sport, however, is much more rigorous. This program was specifically designed to help athletes make safer decisions when picking sports supplements. Several professional sports clubs including the MLB and the NHL only recommend Certified for Sport products to their athletes. And the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) just recently recognized NSF Certified for Sport supplements as lower risk products. A product with this mark goes beyond what USP offers – it’s been tested for specific substances banned by major athletic organizations – a big concern for athletes. Like USP, it also verifies that the product actually contains what is on the product label, confirms there aren’t any contaminants, and was manufactured in a GMP facility.

The bottom line is, every third-party tester isn’t the same. And some certification programs only evaluate if a product was made in a GMP facility, but don’t test the products to confirm their contents. Tell patients who are athletes to stick to NSF Certified for Sport products to best avoid banned substances. General consumers looking for vitamins, minerals, and other supplements can feel confident with products verified by USP or NSF. As consumer demand grows, it’s likely that more verification programs are going to pop up. Educate your patients about the differences so they can make well-informed decisions before purchasing any supplement. Also, make sure patients understand that just because a product has third-party certification doesn’t mean that it’s safe or effective. For details on safety and effectiveness, take advantage of the tools in Natural Medicines, including our Commercial Products Database with links to information about specific ingredients.

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