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Fake Supplements Exposed: Avoid Amazon, GNC, Target, Walgreens, Walmart?

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byNick

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8 Minutes

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Fake Supplements Post Ftd
Fake Supplements Post Ftd

Supplements play a major role in health optimization and biohacking.

Since they don’t require FDA approval, companies can quickly release innovative new formulas.

At the same time, the wrong ones can lead to undesirable outcomes, ruin your day, and even poison your body.

As if that weren’t enough, the supplement market has another glaring issue…

Lack of transparency.

You have no idea what’s actually in your bottle. Or, for many of us, bottles.

Multiply this issue by 20-40 supplements that many of us take daily, and you’re all but guaranteed to run into toxicity.

Between deceptive marketing tactics, fragile supply chains, and unscrupulous third-party merchants, supplements from the wrong places often cause more harm than good.

This article exposes some of the dark sides of fake supplements, and most importantly, what you can do about it. And yes. Sadly, Amazon, GNC, Target, Walgreens, Walmart, CVS, and most of the large retailers are horrible places to buy supplements.

Real-World Supplement Toxicity You Must Know

For a lot of my life, I dismissed potential supplement quality concerns as something other people deal with.

Surely mine wouldn’t have that issue.

But they’re a whole lot more common than I initially realized.

For example, a Redditor explained his situation when he used a popular supplement from one of the major manufacturers, and it sent him to the emergency room [R].

This was just a simple single-ingredient supplement.

Another Redditor got organophosphate poisoning from their Lion’s Mane supplement. Deceptive marketing led them to believe it was a quality product made in the USA. It wasn’t, and sent this perfectly healthy biohacker to the emergency room. Twice [R].

A follow-up study compared two supplement ingredients, and found some horrific results [R].

For CoQ10, 7/8 supplement products had a dosage of <30% of what the labels claimed. Additionally, 3/8 claimed to use vegetarian capsules but really used beef-derived gelatin.

Then for quercetin, 20/24 brand contained significantly lower dosages than advertized. One contained just 4% of what the label listed.

At least you’re just mostly getting scammed.

One recent study tested 57 products from different manufacturers. These are mostly nootropic and performance-enhancing ingredients. The researchers came to the following shocking conclusion. 89% failed for claims, and 12% contained another non-disclosed banned ingredient [R].

The actual dosages within products varied from 0.02% to 334% of the amount listed on the labels. With certain ingredients, say pre-workouts, getting 334% of the expected dose can be quite dangerous. Especially if it contains stimulants.

Now this is terrifying.

This lab also screened for five different banned substances. Only five because researchers must manually screen for each. There are countless dangerous substances already prohibited by the FDA.

7/52 products contained at least one of these five ingredients banned by the FDA. One product contained 4/5 of the banned substanced they tested for.

If they had screened for ALL banned substances, we could expect them to find that half or more of the products contain at least one!

And these are just a few of the recent anecdotes I passively came across in my everyday activities. Without searching for this info.

You’d think that once this information came to light, things would change.

Despite third-parties sending these test results to major retailers like Amazon, they continue to sell normally.

Key Reasons Cheap Supplements Are Worse Than None

I use a lot of powders, pills, liquids, and gels, but I’m fully aware of the problems with dietary supplements.

The more I learn, the more careful I am with the source.

Based on a few of the ancedotes above and my personal experience, here are a few reasons I will never use most supplements.

Extreme dosage variation

Supplement labels should disclose the number of active ingredients within products.

That’s how we consumers make sure to stay within safe ranges.

What the labels show, however, may not match the contents.

One prominent example is melatonin. Researchers from the University of Guelph tested 31 products from 16 brands and found tremendous variability [R]:

  • Real content varied from 83% less to 478% more than claimed on the label
  • Some products varied by up to 465% between packages

And this is just melatonin.

New articles constantly highlight new findings show similar results from other over-the-counter supplements.

Other substances

Supplements rarely contain just one ingredient.

Unless you buy raw powders, they come in a capsule that usually has all kinds of additives used to facilitate manufacturing and cut costs.

Sometimes these are benign, and other times they’re toxic. Toxic to humans and/or to our gut microbiome.

Common additives include:

  • Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)
  • Silicon Dioxide
  • Titanium Dioxide
  • Magnesium Stearate
  • Sodium Ascorbate
  • Magnesium Silicate/Talc
  • Sodium Selenate
  • Modified Corn Starch
  • Hydrogenated Oils
  • Artificial Sweeteners
  • Artificial Colors
  • Artificial Dyes

First, there’s the obvious potential that you may have an intolerance, allergy, or serious adverse reaction.

Even if not, these “inactive” ingredients require additional processing/detoxification by your liver. They add useless burden to your body. And in some cases, these additives alter how well you absorb the the active ingredient.

What’s worse, is the unlisted ingredients that some products contain. You might think you’re getting melatonin when what you’re consuming is an entirely different class of nutrient.

Expired

As with food, the environment changes the shelf life and compisition of supplements.

You can sometimes see this with your naked eye. Old supplements just look different.

Supplement manufacturing practices should account for the gradual breakdown of ingredients when exposed to oxygen, light, humidity, and heat.

Sometimes, due to improper storage, problematic transportation, or just a slow period of business, you’ll unknowingly buy old supplements. Sometimes, years after their production.

In the best case scenario, that merely results in a weaker product.

Yet that’s not always the case. Some ingredients form harmful byproducts as they age.

Contaminated

Production facilities usually work with multiple different ingredients.

General protocol consists of thoroughly cleaning and sterilizing machines before every batch.

But that takes time, effort, and money. Often, manufacturers will cut corners.

Sometimes this won’t cause issues. Other times that does, and you receive a product containing undesirable bioactives.

For ingredients that exert biological effects at low doses (say 100mg or less), even trace amounts can have undesired consequences.

For natural ingredients, this may consist of mold mycotoxins and heavy metals.

These production contaminants can cause the product to do more harm than good.

Adulterated

Contamination can be an honest mistake caused by the manufacturer cutting corners.

Adulteration refers to brands intentionally adding other compounds to make their products more effective. You will not find these ingredients anywhere on the product label.

This allows them to cut costs, still create great results, and dominate the market. Yet it virtually always comes at the expense of your health.

A common example here is the spiking of “natural” testosterone boosters, SARMs, and peptides, and even pro-hormones.

You may think you’re just consuming some vitamins, minerals, and botanicals. After all, that’s what the label shows. But really, you’re feeling their secret cocktail of unmarked prohormones. That will also shut down your testosterone production and damage your liver.

It’s not just an issue for men or workout-related products. Sleep supplements sometimes contain traces of pharmaceutical sleep medications. I’ve seen adaptogens spiked with anti-anxiety medications.

And the list continues.

Depending on the spiking agent, this can cause the user to fail drug tests, get liver damage, and even experience permanent endocrine disruption.

Counterfeit Supplements Everywhere

Not all supplements are bad, but you cannot just blindly trust vendors.

Whether you’re looking for pre-workouts, memory-boosting nootropics, or health-span-increasing NAD+ boosters, the source matters.

Third-party reports have ousted even the largest marketplaces and stores for providing fake supplements.

The following are a short list of vendors I certainly try to avoid whenever possible.

GNC, Target, Walgreens, & Walmart

A 2015 report based out of New York found that GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart sold fake and potentially harmful supplements [R].

These included:

  • Walmart’s “wheat-free” and “gluten-free” ginkgo biloba contained powdered radish, houseplants, and wheat
  • Walgreens’ ginseng only contained powdered garlic and rice
  • Target’s St. John’s wort only contained powdered rice, beans, peas, and carrots
  • Target’s ginkgo biloba only contained powdered rice, beans, peas, and carrots
  • Target’s valerian root only contained powdered rice, beans, peas, and carrots
  • GNC’s herbal supplements contained unlisted allergenic fillers such as peanuts and soybeans

Just because these retailers have in-person locations, their products are not necessarily safer or more effective.

But are online shops better?

Amazon

Amazon has become the world’s largest e-commerce platform.

They also sell just about every supplement. Yet I always recommend looking elsewhere first.

Why?

First, vendors are sometimes third parties not at all affiliated with the company named on the label.

Second, the bottles you receive sometimes do not match the product images. I’ve seen this a dozen times where the bottle that arrives contains extra fillers not shown in the photos.

Third, in extreme cases, the supplements are 100 percent fake. Meaning that the Amazon seller printed the labels and filled the bottles with unknown ingredients.

Fake sellers use bots and other tools to fabricate thousands of reviews for their counterfeit products that often contain zero of the ingredients they claim on the label [R].

This occurred with P&G’s Align probiotic, and countless times since [R].

Amazon did ban a bunch of Chinese sellers for this back in 2021, but the problem persists [R].

It’s such an issue that two new initiatives (Project Zero and their new Counterfeit Crimes Unit) seek to address it.

I only buy products on Amazon where I can measure quality with my naked eye.

So how do you get high-quality supplements?

How to Verify Your Supplements Are Legit

You have multiple options to get great supplements at reasonable prices.

How to find legit supplements:

  • Official third-party certification
  • Aftermarket lab testing
  • Smart choices

The first is to look for a third-party verification seal either by US Pharmacopeia (USP) or NSF International.

These products have undergone rigorous testing and are virtually guaranteed to be clean and exactly what you think you’re getting. The primary issue is that, due to cost and ingredient standards, these databases contain few products. The ones listed are often expensive too.

Services like LabDoor, ConsumerLab, and Examine all perform their independent supplement testing to inform the public.

Again, each of these services suffers from a limited database. Due to funding and the sheer number of products, they can only afford to test specific products on occasion. Your batch will differ from what these services tested.

Another option is to purchase supplements directly from trusted companies and those that post their third-party laboratory Certificates of Analysis (CoA) for every batch of products sold.

By cutting out the middlemen, you get a good price and reduce the potential for counterfeit supplements. This is the route I generally take.

The best, highest-quality, trustworthy supplement brands

Whenever I buy supplements, I always try to purchase directly from the brand itself.

Not only do I get to use coupon codes that get me better deals, but I’m also more likely to get exactly what I’m buying. And nothing more.

I use a ton of different products. Many are produced by companies that only specialize in one thing. Paying for shipping sucks, so I try to stick to a few trustworthy brands whenever possible:

  • Neurohacker/Qualia
  • BiOptimizers
  • Nootopia
  • Biostack Labs
  • Paleovalley
  • Thorne

Neurohacker is the company behind one of the original and top brain-enhancing supplements on Earth. They bring a system’s biology approach to product formulation, making sure to provide the body with all the necessary raw materials. And to target the right pathways.

You’ll find their Qualia line of products ranked among the highest in the industry. Each boasts a comprehensive list of ingredients in the best possible form. Best of all, in addition to testing the products for safety, they also run real-world studies on their formulas.

BiOptimizers for potent performance supplements. I use their blood sugar support, proteolytic & digestive enzymes, magnesium, sleep support, and pre/pro/synbiotic products most days. Check out my ultimate BiOptimizers supplements review.

Nootopia is my go-to for customized brain-boosting supplement formulas. These things are incredibly powerful yet still safe. They also have the best all-in-one natural product called CollaGenius. Check out my Nootopia nootropics review for more info.

Paleovalley is ideal if you want the highest-quality, whole-foods based supplements. Look no further than Paleovalley. I use them for my grass-fed whey protein, vitamin C complex, turmeric, electrolytes, grass-fed organ complex, and fish roe.

Thorne has the absolute cleanest supplements on the market. They’re trusted by Olympians, pro athletes, military, and anyone that can’t afford to compromise on quality. Thorne has a massive catalogue of products.

I take products from each these companies daily.

Avoid Fake Supplements & Get The Real Stuff

A lot of what you hear about the “danger of supplements” or that “supplements don’t work” stems from the origin of the supplement.

Fake supplements are everywhere, and yes, they truly don’t work.

As GNC’s $2M settlement showed, bad supplements can cause serious harm or even death [R].

I avoid third-party merchants like GNC, Target, Walgreens, Walmart, and even Amazon as much as possible.

Countless exposés and private investigations have revealed that these retailers are a hotspot of bad products.

Instead, always buy directly from the manufacturer.

You can use promo codes and save significantly, and you’re more likely to get legit supplements.

How do you avoid dangerous fake supplements? Let me know in the comments below!

Post Tags: Beginner, Biohacking, Nutrition, Supplements

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