4 things to watch out for when buying supplements
Unfortunately consumers are misled every day about what is in their supplements, what they’re paying for and if they actually work. This may be because expert nutrition advice can be hard to find and navigate with trust. Our mission is to make the highest quality nutrition advice and plant-based supplements accessible, affordable and transparent, empowering people of all diets to meet their health goals.
You can read tips and advice from our nutrition experts in our articles section, and below we share four things to look out for when buying vitamins and supplements.
1. Fake reviews
You have probably read a lot about fake reviews on Amazon and this sadly is a problem across the internet, including among supplement companies.
Trustpilot is the most credible independent review website, so always look out for their logo, BUT you still need to be careful. Companies can still create and add fake customer reviews to Trustpilot, so when reading reviews on Trustpilot, always look out for a tick with the word ‘Verified’ alongside it - as shown in this image.
Reviews you can trust, verified and with the tick.
The 'Verified' and tick mean the review has been left by a customer who is reviewing a genuine experience after a purchase, which has been verified by Trustpilot. If a Trustpilot review doesn’t have ‘Verified’ and a tick alongside it, it means Trustpilot can't verify if it is a genuine experience, so it could be fake. For example, companies can buy fake email addresses and then use these to create fake reviews.
Reviews like this, without a 'verified' and tick, may be not genuine
There are a number of other review platforms such as Feefo and even Google Reviews, however unlike Trustpilot, they don’t have a method of verifying if a review is a genuine experience, so always look out for the tick and 'Verified'.
At DR.VEGAN® we use Trustpilot and all our reviews are easy to find – the good, the indifferent and the bad! We want you to be able to see them all because you deserve honesty. Our customer feedback is also invaluable in helping us improve and learn all the time, and for you in making an informed choice.
Beware of 'expert' reviews
Independent reviews can be incredibly useful when choosing a supplement. However many people are deceived by misleading review websites, which appear as credible, independent and written by experts, but are very often not.
If you’re looking for expert reviews on supplements, the best approach is generally to look for articles by well known media publications or on nutritionists’ personal websites. Which? has also created a guide to help spot a fake review.
2. Avoid nasty additives
We’ve written a lot about nasty additives in supplements and you can read more about them in these articles:
- 7 ingredients in supplements to avoid
- Check your label for these ingredients
- Animal ingredients in supplements
As a quick guide, the most common nasty ingredients in your supplements to be aware of and check your label for are:
- Titanium Dioxide - a carcinogen added to supplements to colour them white
- Talc - yes, talcum powder is used in LOTS of supplements, primarily as a bulking agent.
- Palm Oil
- Magnesium Stearate
And there are many more! Always check the ingredients list – not the nutritional table because it does not list everything in your supplement. The ingredients list is where the nasty additives, bulking and anti-caking ingredients lurk.
3. Avoid tablets, choose capsules
As a general rule, we advise people to avoid tablets wherever possible.
Tablets are very common because they are cheap to make, but they are also much more likely to contain nasty additives, bulking agents, binding agents and colouring agents. Tablets need to be bound together to hold their shape, generally by an ingredient that is artificial or synthetic, making it an unnecessary additive with no health benefit.
Often the ‘active ingredient’ - the vitamin or mineral you’re looking to derive benefit from - is of such a small size that companies will add in ‘bulking agents’ to make the tablet larger and appear more appealing. Much of the tablet is then simply a bulking agent which can have side effects, such as diarrhoea. Read more about Magnesium Stearate, a very common and unpleasant bulking agent in tablets.
Companies also colour their tablets, again using artificial or synthetic colours. Titanium dioxide, classified as a carcinogen and ‘unsafe’ by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), is very commonly used in supplements sold online, on the high street and in supermarkets to colour supplements white. Our advice is to stay clear of anything containing Titanium Dioxide!
4. False claims or 'over-claiming'
All companies obviously try to market their product as the best for you. There are a number of false claims or ‘over-claims’ to watch out for which are very deceptive. Look out for these common false claims…
You may have seen adverts for products claiming to be ‘vegan collagen’. There is no such thing as vegan collagen. Vegan collagen doesn't exist and can’t be man-made outside of the human body.
Collagen supplements can only be produced using collagen from animals, mainly cows and also fish (Marine collagen).
Vegan collagen can only be produced by humans when our bodies naturally produce collagen from three amino acids we consume directly in our diet, or when they're created from other amino acids in our body. You can learn all about collagen in this article: 'The truth about collagen'.
Natural does not necessarily mean healthy. As Maria-Paula Carrillo (MS, RDN, LD) says, “The natural claim isn't really regulated. Take a look at the ingredient list if you really want to know if what you're putting in your mouth actually came from nature."
Read more in "Healthfood buzzwords and what they mean".
Clinical trials are the bedrock of science and healthcare innovation, and their integrity is something we all need to protect and value.
Robust clinical trials can cost a company up to £15,000 per person to conduct, and add up to millions. For example, a trial of 100 people taking a particular drug or medicine will also need 100 people taking a placebo to act as the 'control group'. Such a study could easily cost at least £2.5m.
Clinical trials are so expensive due to the complexity of isolating the variables of the people taking part in the trial, such as their gender, age, weight, height, diet, hormones, health conditions and hundreds more variables. The measurement of outcomes is also extremely complex, particularly if there's a subjective element in identifying if any outcomes are directly related to the ingredient being tested or as a result of another variable that may have occurred during the trial. This is why clinical trials are big and important business.
Some supplement companies will claim a supplement with multiple ingredients is 'clinically proven', when in fact only one ingredient in the formula is clinically proven. An ingredient may be clinically proven, but it doesn't mean the formula or other ingredients in a supplement are. Companies can also use ingredients which claim to be clinically proven, but when you delve into the small print, their studies are not robust. One company recently claimed to contain a 'clinically proven' ingredient, yet on closer inspection the clinical trial data showed the trial had been conducted on just 10 people. That is most definitely not clinically proven! Other companies boast 'clinically proven' on their website yet don't provide any links to clinical trials.
These are a few simple 'watch outs' when buying supplements online or on the high street. If you're at all in doubt, you can always email our independent nutritionists at firstname.lastname@example.org who are always happy to help, or visit your local health food store or pharmacy for expert advice.
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