There is an overwhelming amount of choice when it comes to supplements. For many consumers, the question becomes where to start?
"Vitamin E starts here and there are additional choices here on the following shelf," explains Alicia Geeslin to a customer at Earthfare.
That's the issue. Two shelves for one supplement.
"It is a little overwhelming likely for the regular consumer coming in. Probably the most common question would be where do I start?" says Geeslin.
We choose based on what little we know, about what's in each pill, trusting what's on the label. They are regulated by the FDA but the sheer number on the market makes it tough for investigators to check up on all manufacturers.
"You almost need a PhD in chemistry to read some of these supplement labels," says Dr. William Obermyer.
Tucked away in a small lab outside of Annapolis, Maryland, Obermeyer does some time consuming and expensive work.
"We look at quality of the products. Whether it has contaminants, whether it can release properly, so you can actually absorb all the things. Just so the consumers are getting what they think they are paying for," says Obermyer.
He's the chief researcher at Consumer Lab, a subscription web service that publishes it's test results for it's members. We wanted answers from the Doctor. How do we make good choices about supplements?
Some of his test results are encouraging.
"Most of the multi vitamins are good out there," says Obermyer.
Some were not. Like testing on dozens of brands of fish oil.
"Overall unfortunately we find at least one out of four don't meet the quality criteria that we have," says Obermeyer.
Some had too many contaminants. Some went rancid which causes you to burp that nasty fish oil flavor. Some released their contents too early, some too late.
Heart health pills, tested to see how long they take to break down in your stomach. One brand went fast, the other still in tact after five hours of testing.
"Some of the disintegration problems that we've had have been so dramatic that you actually had to take a hammer to a pill a tablet to actually break it apart," says Obermeyer.
"So if you have to do that, the pill will just go through and be what is considered a bed pan bullet. And will go right through you and you will not absorb anything."
Not a danger, just a waste of your money. In fact, these researchers have found price means very little.
"In many cases the higher the price doesn't indicate a better quality product.," says Obermeyer.
Ultimately, there's no easy answer. Not one brand, Obermeyer says, consistently rates high.
"This is why we developed the website. To give the consumer information about quality product," explains Obermeyer.
But the website isn't free, talking to your doctor is.
"Seek the counsel of their physician , pharmacist, practitioner, to make sure whatever we have to offer is compatible with their current regimen," says Geeslin.
Because asking good questions never hurt anyone.