Good Health Articles

Unexpected Supplements

What’s Really in Your Bottle?

by Tavis Piattoly, MS, RD, LDN

A Gallup poll conducted in 2013 showed that half of Americans report taking vitamins or other mineral supplements which equates to approximately 160 million people. With the abundance of dietary and herbal supplements covering the shelves, have you ever wondered if the supplements you were taking really did contain what was on the label? Let’s find out.

Unregulated Industry

A supplement is a substance intended to “supplement” a diet.  However, the definitions are not clearly defined; for example, some energy drinks are food according to the FDA (Red Bull), and some are supplements because they contain ingredients like ginseng (Monster).  In the case of protein powder, it is left almost entirely up to the company to decide how they want to market the product.  The dietary supplement industry is unregulated and by being so, supplement makers do not have to scientifically prove the products they are marketing are safe for consumption, or that their products contain what is on the label.  Contamination can occur deliberately by the manufacturer (adding steroids to protein powder) or accidentally (cross contamination in the manufacturing facility). A study in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism (2015) reported that 10-15% of supplements contain prohibited substances.

What’s really in your supplements?

The New York Times reported that 80% of herbal supplements evaluated from major retail stores GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart did not contain any of the herbs listed on the label. Furthermore, a popular store brand of ginseng pills at Walgreens only contained powdered garlic and rice.

The University of Florida examined 22 calcium supplements and found 36% contained the toxic metal lead which if consumed on a regular basis could lead to anemia, high blood pressure, and brain and kidney damage.

Finally, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that out of the 274 dietary supplements recalled between 2009-2012, 67% contained one or more pharmaceutical drugs.

Can you trust the Supplement Store Staff?

In 2015, I was contacted by 3 high school coaches and 2 athletic trainers who were concerned about supplements their athletes purchased from the local supplement store. Three high school athletes were sold Prohormones (similar side effects as steroids) while another four high school athletes were sold a Pre-Workout with a stimulant banned by many professional sports.  Should we be relying on the advice of staff members who rarely have deep knowledge of nutritional science or of which products are 3rd party tested?

3rd Party Testing and Certification

NSF has been considered the gold standard in 3rd party testing, helping consumers choose safe supplements and providing measures to verify label claims against product contents, protect against the adulteration of products, and help identify substances banned for competition in the finished product.  To learn more, visit www.nsfsport.com.

How Does the Taylor Hooton Foundation Help?

With abundance of supplement brands and products on the market, it can be very difficult to know what you are taking. We are here to help. Our educational programs provide an in depth look at the supplement industry and how to navigate these products. Our nutrition program also provides strategies to properly fuel yourself and combat the need to use many supplement products.  One of the primary reasons young athletes are turning to supplements is because of poor eating habits. Their current patterns of eating lead to a lack of muscle growth and strength which causes them to look for the answer in a pill or powder. Nutrition is the missing link to optimize peak performance. By establishing proper meal timing combined with a balance of quality food choices, this will reduce their chances of looking for the answer in a supplement store.


Contact us to learn more about scheduling an educational program at your school at www.taylorhooton.org.

Related posts

How To Navigate Cold and Flu Season Like a Pro


Healthy Winter Habits to Maintain Health


4 Tips to Get High Cholesterol Under Control


Subscribe now and join the family!

Subscribe to the Good Life Family e-newsletters and automatically receive updates on new Good Life Family issues, articles, events, deals and coupons.

  • Stay up to date on the latest issues and articles
  • Get access to special deals and coupons
  • Automatically be entered in contests and giveaways
Close this popup