Outdated Vitamin Labels Can Be a Risky Business

by Amy Hendel, P.A. Health Writer

ConsumerLab.com has established a reputation as an independent company seeking to identify the best quality health and nutrition products through independent testing. Test results on a variety of health and nutrition products (herbal products, vitamins, minerals, supplements, prescription medications, etc.) are published on the website and can be accessed by consumers for a yearly subscription fee.

In their tests, ConsumerLab has found food and supplement products that contain:

  • Lower levels of ingredients than the label suggests;

  • Higher levels of ingredients than the label suggests;

  • Additional ingredient(s) that aren’t included on the label;

  • Contaminants, many of which are deemed dangerous or have the potential to interact unfavorably with other supplements or prescription medications in use.

As a health professional and journalist, I have had a subscription to Consumerlab.com for years. In a June 2017 column in the Huffington Post, Tod Cooperman, M.D., president of ConsumerLab.com, shared his concerns regarding the current state of the vitamin industry in the U.S. His basic position is that most consumers don’t know that current vitamin labels are largely misleading.

He references July 2016, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released new updates on Daily Values (DVs) which inform consumers as to how much of the established recommended daily allowance (RDA) a particular food or supplement provides. The updates specifically included revised (increased) DVs for eight nutrients and revised (lowered) DVs for 12 nutrients. ConsumerLab.com posted a free-to-access summary of revisions on the website.

It’s important to recognize that the FDA revisions were made based on research and findings suggesting that the older guidelines overestimated or underestimated safe daily nutrient needs. Clearly consumers should expect the new labels by now, but there’s been a delay because larger manufacturers were given until July 2018 and smaller companies were given until July 2019 to offer the new information.

Dr. Cooperman indicated that the FDA “has quietly” delayed the mandated endpoints even further with the intent of giving companies even more time (and thereby lower costs) to make the changes. Food companies actually pushed for this delay, hoping to have new food labeling (which has also been mandated) and supplement labeling revisions coincide and release at the same time. Good for them — but not so good for consumers who care about their health or unsuspecting consumers who believe they are spot-on with their current vitamin choices and usage.

Two DVs that are of particular concern are folate and vitamin D.

Vitamin D has been trending in the news quite a bit in the last few years, with ongoing discussion about “what’s the right daily dose” and many different expert opinions. The old DV for vitamin D was set at 400 I.U. daily for most adults. The new DV (currently not on labels) is 800 I.U (in 2015 it was 600 I.U. and then it was recently bumped up).

This new daily goal is based on research and findings made by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) that actually has different daily goals for the young, middle age and senior populations. So that DV information is a “general daily goal,” but consumers should talk to their doctor or a nutrition expert regarding their personal needs based on age and other lifestyle factors.

Those needs are different if you live in areas that have fewer sunlight months, or you consistently use full body sunblock. Needs might also be higher if you have certain health conditions.

Current labels, however, will say 100 percent DV if the product contains 400 I.U. of vitamin D, when based on the new DV it really only has 50 percent of the daily (new) DV. Remember you can get vitamin D from foods including oily fish, eggs, mushrooms, and from fortified foods including milk, cereals and orange juice.

If you look at folate, which is a B vitamin that you would typically find in green, leafy vegetables, the old DVs consider folic acid an equivalent to folate. But in reality, folic acid is better absorbed by the body, compared to folate, so you should need less folic acid when it’s a substitute for folate.

The new DVs reflect this absorption difference and will show higher numbers with regards to the DV of folic acid as it relates to substitution for folate. New labels on supplements still containing 400 mcg of folic acid would show a DV of 170 percent due to the recognized superior absorption.

That’s why Dr. Cooperman is pretty sure that once the new labels go into effect, you will see manufacturers cut the amount of folic acid in products to reflect the new DV (since the goal is to have an amount equal to 100 percent, and not more).

ConsumerLab.com has the new DVs and highlights all the revisions. The site also has the new RDAs and the updated daily intake goals for some of the more popular vitamins and especially B vitamins.

The reports on the site are detailed and offer up-to-date information on a number of supplements and vitamins. Let’s be clear that we are supposed to be using vitamins and minerals to “fill the gaps” in our diets. The aim should be to get most of your daily individual nutrient needs from food, supplementing or making sure you are hitting recommended levels by using vitamin and minerals as supplemental insurance. And yes, there may be cases when higher levels can help you personally with certain health risks or health conditions.

Amy Hendel, P.A.
Meet Our Writer
Amy Hendel, P.A.

Known as "The HealthGal", Amy Hendel P.A. is a medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, health coach and brand ambassador. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, find her on Twitter @Healthgal1103 and on Facebook @TheHealthGal. Check “Daily Health News” at healthgal.com. Her personal mantra? “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”