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What is a quality multivitamin supplement?

~ by Karen Lily, BSc (March 2018)

Quality in multi-vitamins is an important, diverse and complex subject. I will do my best to explain this issue simply to help people find the best multivitamin brands. So how do we know if we are buying a quality vitamin?

First we need to define what a quality supplement is. Quality is:

  1. Safety
    1. label accuracy
    2. lack of contaminants, e.g. lead, cadmium, pesticides, GMOs
    3. does not exceed upper intake levels
  2. Optimum levels of nutrients for the individual
  3. Correct variety of nutrients for the individual
  4. Ability of nutrients to disintegrate and to be absorbed
  5. Safety of non-active ingredients
  6. Assurance that the nutrients have remained stable during storage, packing and shipping processes

All of the above, except for numbers 2 and 3, can, or are, being monitored by governments to some degree and by private laboratories for some brands. Some people already have a good idea of the optimum level and variety of nutrients they need for their age and health conditions. Otherwise these can be determined by a health professional.

If you have a good idea of the nutrients you want, Vitamin Inspector is a great tool to help you to work out which bottle suits you best.

How is supplement quality monitored?

Governments carry out:
  • safety recalls
  • random inspections of plant and procedures
  • some product testing
  • risk assessment
Certifications from private labs, which can include some or all of:
  • label accuracy
  • absence of contaminants
  • uniformity between bottles and between batches
  • safety and suitability of levels and variety of nutrients for average people
  • inspection of plant and procedures

Government Quality Standards and Certifications for Multi Vitamins in the USA and Australia

In both America and Australia multi-vitamin supplements are regulated for safety by government bodies. These are the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US, and the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) in Australia.

Both the FDA and the TGA set guidelines for Current Good Manufacturing Processes (cGMP) which are formulated to assure end to end quality in manufacturing, testing, record keeping and for dealing with complaints. They have legal authority to deal with manufacturers that violate standards or provide unsafe products.

Large molecule

Summary of government regulation of complementary medicine (including multi-vitamins) - USA and Australia

Procedure
FDA (USA)
TGA (Australia)
Conducts inspections of supplement manufacturing plant
Not routinely but according to risk assessment
Not routinely but according to risk assessment
Approves new supplements before they go to market
No
Yes. The TGA does a risk assessment on complementary medicines. It keeps a register of those that it allows to be supplied in Australia. This indicates that the TGA thinks they pose a low risk of adverse effects when used in accordance with directions.
Conducts inspections of supplement manufacturing plant
Not routinely but according to risk assessment
Not routinely but according to risk assessment
Tests products
Not routinely but according to risk assessment, e.g. after complaints and randomly
Not routinely but according to risk assessment, e.g. after complaints and randomly
Requires approval of new dietary ingredients
Yes
Yes
Provides a database of recalled products

So, while the supplement industry is regulated:

  • multi-vitamins are not tested by the government routinely
  • plants and procedures are not routinely inspected for compliance with current Good Manufacturing Processes (cGMP).

This makes it difficult for the consumer to ascertain the quality of multi-vitamins and has given rise to private organisations and laboratories that test multi-vitamins and inspect production facilities. The following private organisations conduct testing on multi-vitamins or auditing of manufacturing processes and facilities for cGMP.

Private laboratories that conduct testing on vitamin supplements and/or manufacturers

Organisation
Product mark(s)
Test methods
Testing frequency

ConsumerLab logo
Products
Every 2 or 3 years they select a number of supplements in a category for comparison and testing.
Also, on application by manufacturer with payment of a fee.
Products
They test multi-vitamins that are popular in the USA and rank them according to a wide variety of factors.
Also, on application by manufacturer with payment of a fee.

NSF mark of approval
Products
cGMP
On application by manufacturer with payment of a fee, then randomly.
After complaints

NPA - TruLabel mark
NPA - cGMP certified label
Products
cGMP
On application by manufacturer with payment of a fee, then randomly.
After complaints

NPA - TruLabel mark
Products
cGMP
On application by manufacturer with payment of a fee, and then yearly.

Summary of quality certifications and standards for those brands listed at Vitamin Inspector1

Footnotes

  1. We are not permitted to display information from some private laboratories.