There have been several disturbing stories in the news lately about the poor quality of many supplements sold over the counter. The extent of the problem is highlighted by the places where these products are sold, including Wal-Mart, Walgreens, GNC, Target, CVS Pharmacy and Rite Aid.

In general, it is very difficult for a consumer to know if a supplement is as good as it says it is by looking at the label. Of course, everybody claims to have the highest quality supplements, but the data shows that this is rarely the case.

However, there are some tell-tale signs that you can look for to tell if your supplements should be left on the shelf. This three part series will highlight some things you can look out for and resources you can use to make sure you are getting a high quality product.

Expiration date

Everything that is natural degrades with time; this is especially true of herbs and botanicals (which are plants after all). If there is not an expiration date prominently displayed on your supplements (and if that expiration date is more than one year away), leave it on the shelf; it has plenty of preservatives in it to sit there a while.


Minerals need to be bound to something in order for them to remain stable. Some of these compounds are easier than others to dissolve in the stomach and for the body to use. In fact, so compounds are so tightly bound that they aren’t really useful at all in the body. If your supplement contains a lot of minerals that ‘oxides’ or ‘carbonates’ (i.e., magnesium oxide, zinc oxide, calcium carbonate, etc.) you won’t get much use out of them because they are going to pass right through you. However, if the minerals are labeled as ‘glycinate’, ‘aspartate’, citrate’ or ‘amino acid chelates (from Albion Labs)’ they are likely to be better quality and readily useable by the body.

Find out more things to look for in Part 2 of this series.