Immune Health Supplements May Not Be What They Seem

Consumers are purchasing dietary supplements that support or boost the immune system like never before.

Supporting and boosting the immune system is more important than ever amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers are turning to immune supplements to aid in the fight against the virus, and many are utilizing online retailers to purchase these dietary supplements. Seventy-seven percent of online supplement sales are made through Amazon, with e-commerce making up 15.1% of the total supplement market.

Although supplement manufacturers are responsible for making their products safe with truthful, substantiated claims, dietary supplements are not approved by the United States government or the FDA, meaning their safety and efficacy are not guaranteed.

In May 2021, researchers conducted a study evaluating 30 immune health supplements purchased through Amazon to determine if they were labeled correctly to support their claims of boosting and supporting the immune system.

Analysis of these supplements were done using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. The ingredients detected through this analysis were compared to the product’s Supplement Facts label to determine if the product was labeled accurately.

Of the 30 products tested, 13 were determined to be accurately labeled; 17 of the products listed 13 ingredients on the label that were not found during the analysis and 9 products had substances detected that were not shown on the label.

Investigators found that overall, most of the products were labeled inaccurately and were not consistent with FDA requirements pertaining to dietary supplements. In particular, they found that the ingredients that were labeled but missing typically included plant extracts, such as Aloe vera leaf, garlic bulb, and ginger root extracts, among others. The 9 products with results indicating the presence of unclaimed products included traces of Oryza sativa (black rice seed) found in 3 products; flavonoids, found in 2 products; and pantothenic acid, found in 1 product.

Of the 13 products with accurate labels, 10 were given a score of 4 or more according to the Operation Supplement Safety Scorecard. A score of 4 or more translates to being “likely okay/less risky” based on claims present on the label.

The researchers noted that the 30 products evaluated are not intended to be representative of all immune health dietary supplements.

With inaccurate and inconsistent labels, immune health supplements can be a gamble when shopping on website like Amazon. Supplement labels can be misleading, and consumers should be aware that the labeling doesn’t guarantee the inclusion or exclusion or certain ingredients.

“Most products tested had inaccurate labels, and the claims made on those labels may mislead consumers into purchasing products when information on whether they are actually beneficial is limited,” the researchers concluded. “Continued research and evidence-based educational resources will assist consumers in making informed decisions about dietary supplements.”

Reference

1. Crawford C, Avula B, Lindsey AT, et al. Analysis of Select Dietary Supplement Products Marketed to Support or Boost the Immune System. JAMA Network Open. 2022;5(8):e2226040. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.26040