News and Notes from The Johnson Center

Q & A: Are all supplements the same? Does brand name matter?

JCCHD | Tue, June 19, 2012 | [Autism Treatment][Healthcare][Q and A ]

Along with a healthy diet, the use of nutritional supplements can provide a strong foundation to build and promote health. At The Johnson Center, we do our best to ensure that any supplements we recommend are of the highest quality. Ingredients, delivery method (liquid, powder, or tablet), and potency of vitamin supplements can vary dramatically from brand to brand.

Supplement SandwichThe nutritional supplement industry has been growing rapidly over the past decade. In the United States alone, there are well over 1,000 supplement manufacturers. These manufacturers can range from an enthusiastic person putting raw materials into capsules inside their garage to a large corporation that uses high-tech equipment similar to pharmaceutical companies.

Unfortunately, there are no guidelines to regulate the process of supplement manufacturing. There are some organizations that certify the production of supplements. These organizations include: the United States Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA), and the Natural Products Association (NPA). Many of these organizations follow the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) guidelines that have been established by the FDA, which provide product principles and testing to ensure quality of supplements. Of all these, TGA is viewed as having the most stringent guidelines. Although a manufacturer may be following these guidelines, only some of their products or batches will be approved, while others are not. 

The manufacturer should be able to provide information about each product, including ingredients, the amount/dosage, and the source used. It is important to know the manufacturer’s suppliers; make sure that the manufacturer is getting third-party testing and validation on their products and ask for the data from this testing before making supplement choices. For example, as a consumer you need to confirm that any fish oil or fish-oil-derived products that have been prescribed have been screened for heavy metal contamination.  Understanding ingredients is especially important if your child is on any type of restricted diet, as some supplements may contain ingredients such gluten, casein, or soy.

When it comes to supplements, the expression, “you get what you pay for,” really does apply. Nevertheless, there are some supplements whose quality does not match the high price. Ideally, there should be a middle ground between the price, quality, and efficacy of supplements. Looking for supplements can be a difficult task, which is why your practitioner at The Johnson Center will often recommend specific supplements for your child.  We thoroughly research the brands we recommend and stock, to help make the supplement-buying process easier for you (these are offered at below-retail prices; any profit derived is put into our grant programs for families in need, but you are not required to buy your supplements from us).

Supplement safety and efficacy is one area where doing your homework (or having a trusted clinician who does their homework) can make all the difference. High-quality supplements are a critical component of an individualized and meaningful intervention plan.