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Vitamins and Supplements

Vitamins and Supplements

I personally inquired at two very large vitamin/nutritional supplement companies to ask if they could truly know what was in the raw materials they used from China. Their answer was that they could not be sure. These companies just trusted the labelling that was put on the raw materials that they imported from China. This is problematic for me. Unless there is independent testing it is impossible to really know that the raw materials are unadulterated or not all what they claim to be.


Eugene Damon is senior vice president at Shuster laboratoires Inc., an independent provider of quality assurance testing for the nutritional supplement industry. Here is what he had to say about raw materials from China:


A changing world market has led manufacturers to source raw materials globally in an attempt to control costs. In 1995, only 18% of raw materials were sourced out of China. In 2005, 47% of all raw materials originated from China. China’s costs are 30–40% less than other countries and raw materials are readily available in volume.


What are some of the sourcing problems in China?

Raw materials may pass through many hands (different manufacturing sites, brokers, distributors, etc.), which makes it more difficult to verify the reliability of the source. Add to that the language and travel barriers, and it’s not surprising that there are issues with an estimated 30–40% of raw material from China entering the United States. For example, a U.S. product manufacturer of chondroitin sulfate recently tested and approved raw material preshipment samples from China, yet when the lot was received, $250,000 of it was found to have variable quality and was not usable.


What must Chinese raw material suppliers do to meet U.S. needs?

Chinese companies must first meet U.S. current good manufacturing practices (CGMPs) for the manufacturing of vitamin raw materials. Testing by the Chinese company must be with current FDA-recognized compendial test methods found in the USP or AOAC.

How can a U.S. company guarantee quality with China-sourced material?

U.S. consulting companies are now providing in-country QC/QA services including auditing plants to U.S. GMP requirements and random unannounced raw material sampling at the plants. Sampled raw materials are tested in-country by the consulting firm using compendial USP and AOAC methods.


How can a company set up an auditing function in China?

The first step would be to hire a Chinese national with a technical degree who is knowledgeable in or could be trained in GMP regulations. The ideal situation would be to have the Chinese auditor mentored by an experienced auditor whom he/she could shadow during American company audits. The auditor should also be empowered to ask probing questions in order to locate and check noncompliance in manufacturing and in the testing laboratories.


Is there a need for second- and third-party certification?

Yes. Second- and third-party certifications are more independent by definition and lack the inherent conflict of interest of an internal audit. Beyond this, a third-party certification is more in depth and of sufficient duration to certify that a company, in this case a Chinese company, can consistently manufacture a quality product.


Below is a brief description of Wellevate/Emerson Ecologics commitment to testing their vitamins. This is why I recommend these vitamins.


Quality Counts with Multivitamins


The quality debate is always an interesting one. After all, who doesn’t want quality?! We all do! And the issue of quality is especially important when it comes to multivitamin supplements because these supplements are taken by so many people. The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements estimated that in 2014 alone, Americans spent $5.7 billion just on multivitamin supplements. Multivitamin quality is also important because these supplements are meant to be taken daily for years.


While practitioners will agree that quality counts, especially when it comes to their recommendation of a multivitamin, it can be challenging for them to analyze and monitor supplement quality on an ongoing basis. That’s where the Emerson Quality Program (EQP) comes in.

“While every brand in the Emerson Ecologics’ portfolio meets the minimum quality hurdle of cGMP compliance, our quality criteria is much higher for Silver and Gold EQP partners,” explains Jaclyn Chasse, ND, Vice President of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs at Emerson Ecologics. “The quality team at Emerson verifies that our Silver and Gold partners are strictly following the policies and processes to ensure purity, potency, safety, and other issues associated with quality.”


Each quarter, Emerson chooses a top-selling product from each of the EQP partner brands and sends them to an independent lab to test for one of the following parameters:

• Heavy metals

• Solvents

• Pesticides and herbicides

• Microbiological contaminants

• Potency


Testing for ingredient identity including speciation of plants has been done as well. This ensures that herbs aren’t adulterated or “cut” with less effective, cheaper sources.


Chasse is the first to admit that testing finished products can be complex and is not without its challenges. “We use a comprehensive approach to quality testing that includes quarterly testing, manufacturer site visits, report submissions, and an open dialogue with all supplier partners,” explains Chasse. “This helps ensure that our customers can have a high degree of confidence in the quality of our supplements.” And that includes the multivitamin supplements available through Emerson.


Multivitamin supplements are deemed “multi” for a reason—they have multiple ingredients. As such, extra attention to quality is important to ensure all of the ingredients are pure and provide the promised potency.


Selected References:

Emerson Quality Program

Alschuler L. Natural Medicine Journal. 2011;3(12).

Alschuler L. Natural Medicine Journal. 2011;3(2).