It’s easy to buy almost anything over the internet. And considering the price cuts that true “warehouse retailers” can offer, it’s often less expensive to buy products online. But just like you wouldn’t want to get “discount antibiotics” off of an online marketplace (and you can’t, anyway), it’s an equally sketchy market for nutritional supplements and herbs. There are safe ways to buy online, but it mean turning down some seemingly good deals.
Over the last year, investigations of online retailers and scientific studies of their products have revealed the prevalence of counterfeit supplements. The market must be very attractive to counterfeiters: An expensive product with a good reputation can be reasonably well faked with some bottles, a label printer and pills filled with whatever looks most like the original. Even some mainstream supplement manufacturers have been caught selling less-than pure products.
Supplement fakery falls into a few basic categories.
- Dilution – Some supplements contain a diluted version of the product they are selling, cut with inert ingredients.
- Substitution – The herb or compound supposed to be in the pill is from an entirely different plant which is less expensive and more available.
- Repurposing – The actual product is acquired from the manufacturer (legally or illegally) after it has expired or is discarded for other reasons and re-bottled as “new”.
The best way to get a reliable, safe product is through your doctor’s office, but we recognize that we don’t have everything under the sun, and we don’t always have it in stock. So, other than buying your supplements directly from your doctor’s office, how can you find the recommended supplements elsewhere, possibly at a discount?
1) Only buy from recognizable businesses – if they’re selling on eBay or Amazon, they should also have their own website that also sells items – with industry certifications and a BBB rating.
2) Only buy brands recommended by your doctor. Not all brands are equally committed to product purity. Products that your doctor sells are either only available to doctor’s offices (so beware finding them elsewhere if it says that on the bottle!) or are of equally high quality with rigorous testing. If you wish to purchase another brand’s version of a recommended product, check with your doctor.
3) If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Prices varying by more than 15% from the cost at your doctor’s office or from the manufacturer’s website are more likely to be counterfeit. Honest retailers need honest profit to run their business; shady resellers can offer a greater discount on product that isn’t what it seems.
We understand that the prices of some supplements seem prohibitive, and we don’t mean to dissuade anyone from shopping around. If there is a less expensive way to get what your doctor wants you to have – go for it! But we also want to make sure our patients are using safe and effective products. The price tag for these products includes research, high-quality ingredients and independent third-party testing for purity and contamination. That’s why we use them!
Some further reading: