Your supplements may not be what you think they are

fish_oil_pbs_frontlineYou’ve told us that most of your pantries are packed with multivitamins, fish oil supplements, and probiotics—but do you know what’s really in each capsule?

Last night’s episode of PBS’s Frontline (in collaboration with The New York Times) tackled that subject—a tough one, since the companies producing vitamins and supplements are under no obligation to prove their products are safe before putting them on the U.S. market.

So when PBS reached out to supplement manufacturers asking them to prove that their labels were accurate by submitting certificates of analysis from an independent party, 90 percent (!) of the companies didn’t even respond. (We can vouch for this wall of silence—we’ve had similar frustrations in our own reporting.)

The Frontline episode also investigated large outbreaks of disease that were tied to contaminated vitamins and fat-burning supplements, including a workout supplement that was linked to more than 70 cases of liver damage—yikes! (Consider this your friendly reminder that there is no magic weight loss pill, no matter what that late-night infomercial promises.)

In the case of fish oil—which Americans spend $1.3 billion on each year—studies show that nearly three-quarters of supplements don’t have the amount of omega-3s promised on the label, the PBS report shows.

These issues are starting to get the attention of the Justice Department, and retailers from megachain GNC to your neighborhood health food spot would like to see more transparency. But for now, we’re left wondering: Is our daily regimen what we think it is? (Think about that as you watch a clip of the episode below.) —Alison Feller

Is anyone else thinking of cooking salmon tonight?


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