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How to Tell if Supplements are Fake: <br> Identifying Genuine and Fake Supplements

With so many supplements on the market, quality standards, including accuracy and safety, can vary significantly among supplement manufacturers. Although dietary supplements are regulated in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), these regulations don’t define precise quality standards. (1) Whether they contain the wrong botanical species or are impersonating a genuine product, counterfeit supplements can cause illness and influence treatment plan success. 

Keep reading below to learn more about how to tell if supplements are fake and key indicators to look out for.

What are fake supplements?

The FDA doesn’t evaluate dietary supplement labels and ingredients before they’re sold— meaning what’s on the label isn’t always what’s in the bottle. (2)(9) Ensuring that your patients take high-quality, genuine supplements is also important for their safety. Among other concerns, fake supplements may include harmful ingredients or contaminants, such as bacteria. (1)

Fake supplements can appear similar to genuine supplements at first glance but differ significantly in ingredients and quality. Fake supplements may have:

  • Absent or improper active ingredients, such as ginseng leaves instead of roots (4)
  • A chemical substance claiming to be a dietary supplement
  • Impurities and filler ingredients not listed on the label 
  • Packaging that’s impersonating a reputable company (1)

Dangers of fake supplements 

Patients rely on practitioners, manufacturers, and retailers for health and supplement information. Fake dietary supplements may be convincingly marketed, have a price tag that attracts consumers, and even be sold at well-known retailers. Unfortunately, these big-box stores and e-commerce sites often don’t have rigorous quality standards for supplements.  (2)(5)

This oversight may expose consumers to potentially harmful chemicals or even banned substances. Fake products may contain mislabeled ingredients, toxic doses, or impurities that can cause illness, such as bacteria or mold. (1) Taking fake health supplements may cause undesirable side effects, such as chest pain, fatigue, or a rash. They can also lead to more severe reactions, such as heart, kidney, or liver damage. (6)(8)(9)

Learn more about supplement quality standards in the United States and Canada

How to tell if supplements are fake 

Identify fake supplements by performing a supplement authenticity check on any products purchased from an unknown or suspicious retail store. Examine any available resources, such as the website, capsule, or bottle. 

1. Consider the retailer 

Large stores and online retailers often have poorly defined quality standards for the supplements they sell. A study using immune supplement products purchased on Amazon found that many supplements were fake. Most of the products analyzed had inaccurate labels and misleading, non-FDA-approved claims. (2)

2. Examine the packaging 

Another way to ensure that supplements are legitimate is to examine the Supplement Facts label and packaging. Look for mistakes, misspelled words, or unfamiliar fonts on the label—this could indicate the supplement is fake. 

Good-quality supplements should have tamper-evident seals, lot numbers, expiration dates, and contact information for the brand. Third parties also certify many reputable products, which can confirm current good manufacturing practices and label claims, such as gluten-free. Newer products may also feature scannable QR codes that bring you directly to the brand’s website.

Fake supplements are often misleading, using claims such as “100% natural” or “safe” on their label or website. (9)

3. Inspect the supplement 

Fake products often have missing or additional ingredients not listed on the Supplement Facts label. (2) Whether it’s a powder or capsule, examine the supplement for an abnormally pungent smell or irregular texture. A patient taking a counterfeit product may report that the supplement has an unusual smell or bad aftertaste. 

4. Research the brand

A quick web search can further inform whether your patient is taking a genuine dietary supplement. Original supplements typically have a website with a clear brand story highlighting their ingredient sourcing and manufacturing practices. Contact and location information should also be present. Some original brand websites also list which reputable retailers carry their products. 

After your authenticity check, if you believe you’ve found a fake product, report it to the FDA. It’s up to consumers to inform the FDA of a non-compliant brand or retailer so that they can take action. (7)

Reputable dietary supplement brands are transparent about their products, which usually undergo multiple quality checks and rigorous testing.

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