September 2022

Understanding Quality Certifications for Dietary Supplements

Product quality and consistency remains one of the biggest concerns for the dietary supplement industry. Consumers and providers alike face challenges in identifying manufacturers and products they can trust. Enter: third-party quality certifications. There’s a growing number of certifiers out there - products usually indicate if they’ve been certified with different stamps or symbols on their product labels. But they aren’t all equal. We’ve developed a new resource to help explain the differences between these programs so that providers can help guide patients towards higher quality products.

To start, it’s important to discuss Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) regulations. One of the major components of any quality certification program is ensuring products are developed in facilities that comply with GMP regulations. These require a certain standard of quality assurance and cleanliness to ensure products are consistent from batch to batch and aren’t contaminated or accidentally tainted with ingredients not included on product labels. Some third-party certification programs only require a paper review of GMP compliance, while others actually conduct an on-site audit to check that facilities are truly GMP compliant. This is an important distinction – simply conducting a paper review doesn’t provide insight into the actual implementation of stated processes.

In addition to a review of GMP policies, one of the best ways to confirm GMP compliance is to test the finished product. There are currently various approaches to doing this. Some programs only require the manufacturer to complete a self-test, while others conduct random spot checks of off-the-shelf products. And some programs go even further and analyze products to ensure they are free of specific banned ingredients, which may be crucial for athletes or military personnel. It’s also important to consider how often products are tested – some programs require annual testing, while others conduct checks every 2 years.

For botanical products, quality checks are even more complicated. There are natural inconsistencies in these ingredients, which can be exacerbated by nonstandard cultivation and harvesting practices. Small differences, such as time of year, weather, and crop location, can impact the chemical makeup of a botanical ingredient, which can alter safety and effectiveness. Good Agricultural and Collection Practice (GACP) standards from various organizations can be used as a benchmark for determining quality sourcing of botanical ingredients – this is an important factor when considering how botanical products are evaluated.

The bottom line is, not all third-party quality certifiers are equal – depending on how processes and products are analyzed, some programs really do ensure product quality while others do not. With our new Quality Certifications chart, we’re working to make these differences as clear as possible so that providers and consumers know what to look for. Check it out!

The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2024 NatMed. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited. NatMed is the leading provider of high-quality, evidence-based, clinically-relevant information on natural medicine, dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, functional foods, diets, complementary practices, CAM modalities, exercises and medical conditions. Monograph sections include interactions with herbs, drugs, foods and labs, contraindications, depletions, dosing, toxicology, adverse effects, pregnancy and lactation data, synonyms, safety and effectiveness.