Clark Howard

Warning: The Only Way To Trust Dietary Supplements and Herbal Remedies

If you take supplements to strengthen your immune system or get more nutrition in your diet, you're far from alone. The dietary supplement market is projected to reach $170 billion by 2034.

According to money expert Clark Howard, the supplements and herbal remedies' promise of well-being comes with a caution we all would do well to heed.

“There’s a lot of characters in the dietary supplements / herbal remedies market that are not on the up and up,” Clark says. “And they will put stuff in them that isn’t on the label and they will put things on the label that aren’t actually in them. And there will also be different dosages than what they say.”

Clark's words are true: Federal regulators frequently published reports about unscrupulous companies that hawk "real" dietary supplements that end up being fake. But how can you know what's what?

Take Herbal Remedies or Dietary Supplements? Read This

Clark says before you take any supplements — including those added to smoothies — you should know whether the ingredients have been certified or not by a third party.

At Clark.com, we’re not doctors but we want you to be as healthy and informed as you can be about what you pay for and put inside your body.

In this article, we’ll tell you about third-party certification for dietary supplements and how you can tell if a product meets the standards.

What Is Third-Party Certification?

Third-party certification means that an independent program has reviewed and attested to a particular substance’s quality and manufacturing process. In other words, the contents and what’s on the label match.

Note that a third-party certification does not vouch for the effectiveness of a product.

While all medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must pass clinical trials to prove their efficacy, that's not the case with dietary supplements and herbal remedies. To increase consumer confidence, a medical community-trusted nonprofit organization called the United States Pharmacopoeia (USP) created the USP Dietary Supplement Verification Program (DSVP), a voluntary system that allows herbal remedy manufacturers to meet standards that would give them the USP verified label or "mark."

With a verified mark from the USP, one of several third-party certifiers for dietary supplements, consumers can know that the product is what it says it is on the label. But again, this program is voluntary for dietary supplements, so not all products will have it.

If the supplement does have the USP verified mark, according to the organization's website, it means that the product:

  • Contains the ingredients listed on the label, in the declared potency and amounts.
  • Does not contain harmful levels of contaminants.
  • Will break down and be absorbed into the body within a specified amount of time.
  • Has been manufactured in accordance with FDA sanitary and safety procedures.

Third-Party Certifications To Look For

"There's USP and others, where the manufacturers of those items have actually voluntarily submitted to independent testing to make sure the items are what they say they are," he says.

If a dietary supplement is certified, it gets a verified seal, which could differ, along with the certification process, depending on the third party that did the vetting. Here are some of the most common ones:

Certification ProgramDetailsVerified Certification Seals*
USPUSP Dietary Supplement Verification Program sets standards for dietary supplementsUSP verified mark
NSFFormerly the National Sanitation Foundation, which now just goes by NSFNSF seal
BSCGNational Sanitation Foundation certifies drug free substances and other productsBSCG seal
ConsumerLab.comConsumer advocate for product testing, reviews and certificationsConsumer Lab CL Seal

*Note that the color or design of the seals may slightly differ based on the specific product.

What To Do Before You Buy a Dietary Supplement

Talk To Your Doctor

Physicians are not as judgmental as they used to be when it comes to dietary supplements, Clark says.

“A lot of times, people wouldn’t tell a doctor during a visit because they’d be embarrassed and feel like they’d get an eye roll,” Clark says, adding that these days it could be a safety issue if you’re not transparent with your doctor.

“Tell them what you’re taking because they may prescribe a regular prescription that could interact with it,” Clark says.

Do Your Research

Be as informed as possible about any dietary supplements or health-related products you’re thinking about taking.

Know How To Report a Problem

According to the FDA, if you get ill from taking a supplement, the first thing you should do is seek medical help, including going to your doctor. After that, "you or your health care provider can report the adverse event to FDA by submitting a report through the Safety Reporting Portal."

Final Thoughts

Clark wants you to protect yourself by making sure the dietary supplements you consume have been certified.

If you look in your cupboard and find supplements without the verified seals, but instead have a disclaimer that says, “This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease,” you may wonder what it means.

The FDA says that the disclaimer just means the manufacturer did not submit the supplement through a voluntary certification process and the label must make clear that it is not intended as medicinal in any way.

As for Clark, he says to help him sleep, “I used to take these melatonin gummy-type of things but they had no third-party certification on them, so now I take these other ones that do have it.”

Have you seen another third-party certification on dietary supplements? Let us know in our Clark.com Community.

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