Brian Wallace, Founder & President, NowSourcing
By 2019, the global supplements market made hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Out of all the online sales for these products, 77% occurred on Amazon. That is more than the top 5 specialty vitamin sellers combined. While consumers benefit from Amazon’s incredible convenience, there is a darker side to supplement shopping on Amazon: low quality products abound.
The problem with low quality supplements is their adverse health effects. People take supplements to be healthier, but in 2018, 5,486 incidents involving vitamins or dietary/herbal supplements were reported to Poison Control. 20% of liver injuries are attributed to herbal and dietary supplements. According to the results of one study, almost a third of people who take both herbal or dietary supplements and prescription medication(s) are at risk for an adverse drug interaction.
What makes Amazon’s supplements so dangerous? Many of the products sold in their marketplace are mislabeled. The most common supplement to be mislabeled is a bodybuilding supplement, which is mislabeled 82% of the time. Single and multivitamins are mislabeled 49% of the time. Mistakes on these labels can include: understating doses of the active ingredient, not listing ingredients or pharmaceuticals contained within, or listing active or inactive ingredients not present in the supplement itself. All of these mislabelings make it difficult for consumers to be informed about the supplements they ingest.
While these blatantly illegal practices are not officially allowed on Amazon, the website does not enforce FDA requirements on products it promotes. 58% of Amazon sales are made by 3rd party sellers, limiting their liability in a lawsuit. In one case, Amazon continued to list a supplement in searches after the company behind the supplement was sued by the Department of Justice for fraud. While Amazon is introducing initiatives to combat fraud on its website, they are limited in scale.
In short, one cannot trust Amazon to verify the safety of a supplement. What customers can do to arm themselves is learn about FDA regulations; understand what the FDA does and does not regulate in the supplements industry. Consider brands verified by the USP or NSF seal icon. Check the manufacturer’s website to ensure Amazon is an authorized seller of their products. Beware resellers who don’t specialize in supplements or health products. Most importantly, consult a doctor before starting any new supplement.
Being forewarned is being forearmed. Avoid the danger of falling for fake supplements.
About the Author: Brian Wallace is the Founder and President of NowSourcing, an industry leading infographic design agency in Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH which works with companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500s. Brian runs #LinkedInLocal events, hosts the Next Action Podcast, and has been named a Google Small Business Adviser for 2016-present. Follow Brian Wallace on Linked