It’s no secret that the mainstream media has a low opinion of the dietary supplement industry. They often claim that the industry is “unregulated”, which isn’t the truth, as explained in Episode #100 of the PricePlow Podcast with Dan Fabricant of the Natural Products Association, who listed the 4 legal pillars of dietary supplement regulation:
- Pre-market ingredient safety (New Dietary Ingredient process, GRAS affirmation, etc)
- Labeling regulations (claims, nutrition/supplement facts panels, ingredient listings)
- Manufacturing quality laws (current Good Manufacturing Practices)
- Adverse event reporting (the same system prescription drugs use)
With these four pillars, lack of regulation is not the problem, and the laws — especially in terms of manufacturing quality — are as clear as they are strict.
Still, supplements are far too often sold with deceptive marketing practices and/or poor manufacturing quality — and it’s not uncommon to see one hand-in-hand with the other.
The FDA is not enforcing its laws… so who will?
It’s more accurate to say that selective or inconsistent enforcement of those regulations is the real issue. Websites like Amazon have opened the floodgates to more dietary supplement brands than the FDA can keep up with, and the Agency has done a poor job of combating quality problems at the ground level where it starts — fraudulent contract manufacturers.
While the FDA may play whack-a-mole by sending a warning letter (which has no legal teeth) to a brand, new brands can be spun up at will. The problem truly lies with the manufacturers who don’t follow the regulations established in 21 CFR 111.
Product quality issues aren’t unique to the supplement industry — poor-quality goods are all over websites like Amazon and Walmart that allow 3rd-party resellers — but it’s quite a bit more important when it comes to products you ingest.
And since the FDA, Amazon, and Walmart haven’t taken this job seriously enough, one brand has: NOW Foods.
Most Berberine Supplements Are Fake?
The perils of regulatory favoritism have been exposed yet again by a recent report on berberine supplements, published in December of 2023 by NOW Foods as part of their third-party industry testing program.
NOW periodically funds third-party batch testing of popular nutritional supplements from the widest possible selection of brands. The results provide consumers with absolutely invaluable data – which is currently almost impossible to find anywhere else – that can help them make informed decisions about where to spend their hard-earned money.
They’ve done it before, such as with magnesium glycinate, CoQ10, Quercetin, and several others, generally finding that single-ingredient formulas that run on the more expensive side are more likely to employ fraud.
33 brands tested, only 3 maintained 90% potency
For this round of testing, NOW had Alkemist Labs (run by Elan Sudberg, who was on Episode #086 of our Podcast) test berberine supplements from 33 different brands.
The testing used high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), the industry standard testing method, in order to assess product purity. And the results were bad:
- Only three brands of the 33 tested contained berberine of at least 90% potency
- Only seven brands had at least 80% potency
- 18 brands had less than 40% potency
- Shockingly, seven of the 33 brands tested had less than 1% potency
This means that if you closed your eyes and randomly selected a berberine product on Amazon, there’s a 1 in 5 chance that you’d get zero berberine. The situation really is that bad.
Where is the FDA? Will they ever do actual police work?
Given that 21% of the tested products contained virtually no berberine at all, why hasn’t the FDA pulled these products from the market? But even more importantly, why haven’t they gone up the chain to see what manufacturers bottled these?
And what’s in the capsules anyway, if it’s not berberine but is still yellow?!
Again, this isn’t the first time we’re seeing this. Why have regulators not come down hard on these fraudulent brands and manufacturers, even though several of them have been exposed repeatedly by this third-party testing program? You’ll note that none of them have sued NOW Foods, after all – nobody’s really arguing with the results.
The honest answer, as provided by Dan Fabricant in Episode #100, is that the “employees” of revolving-door government agencies in this American corporatocracy simply don’t want to be cops — even though that’s exactly what’s needed of them.
We need good old fashioned police detective work: hunting down bad guys, pinching them hard to rat on their trashy manufacturing partners, and then shut those manufacturing facilities down once and for all. Until then, none of this stops.
Don’t take our word for it – check out the FDA’s comment to NutraIngredients. Scroll to the bottom of the article and read their FDA’s response to NOW’s direct inquiry into the matter and decide for yourself whether an intelligent “subject matter expert” could possibly write such a statement in good faith.
What Do We Do About It?
There are two different groups that need to take action: industry and consumers.
The industry needs to fire up the lawsuits
First, it’s become very clear that the FDA has little interest in solving this problem. Nobody is getting hurt from rice flour being in your magnesium glycinate bottle, after all, and “if it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead”.
One could actually argue that the FDA is incentivized to see the supplement industry flounder. Remember, the purpose of the system is what it does. Dietary supplements have far too often clashed with their real moneymakers — the pharmaceutical industry (see the ongoing dispute over NMN) — so they’re sadly probably getting a kick out of this.
The gameplan: Roll up the dirty “comans” (contract manufacturers)
Our take? Given the FDA’s total lack of action, the good brands of the world like NOW Foods need to band together, pass the hat around, and begin suing the brands that are putting out such bad supplements. But the goal isn’t to defeat these brands: The real goal is to roll up all of their contract manufacturers in discovery — and then put those manufacturers square out of business.
Until these manufacturers are liquidated and turned into paintball arenas, where maybe they can actually serve their community a purpose, none of this will change. Just remember: it’s time to stop worrying about brands and start worrying about fraudulent manufacturers.
Consumers need to stick to trusted brands like NOW or trademarked ingredients like GlucoVantage
As for consumers, the best thing you can do to assure supplement quality is to purchase products from a reputable vendor. NOW Foods Berberine Glucose Support is the obvious choice if you want a trusted brand (we have no affiliation with NOW Foods at the time of press, but are affiliated with the stores linked on that page).
But another option is to find a better berberine ingredient — one with trade protections and testing of its own. For that, we actually have a phenomenal one named GlucoVantage.
Look For Standardized, Reputable Products Like GlucoVantage
The reason NOW had all this testing done on berberine is that there was a flurry of activity on social media last year regarding berberine’s status as “nature’s Ozempic”.
As we discussed in our article on the controversy, “Is Berberine Nature’s Ozempic? A Look at GLP-1 Agonists“, there’s actually a lot of truth to this comparison, since both substances have the common mechanism of glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) agonism.
But one of our big takeaways in that article is that if you’re serious about reaping the benefits of berberine supplementation, then you should opt for dihydroberberine (DHB), a berberine metabolite that’s vastly more effective as an oral supplement than berberine itself. It’s sold as GlucoVantage by NNB Nutrition, a PricePlow partner and sponsor of this article.
Dihydroberberine: 5x more bioavailable than regular berberine
After preclinical data showed that dihydroberberine is 5x more bioavailable than berberine, the two were put head-to-head in a human pilot study, and dihydroberberine outperformed berberine in humans as well.
Basically, dihydroberberine works better because it’s what your body converts berberine into before transporting it into the bloodstream (at which point it gets converted back to berberine).
Because the body’s berberine-to-DHB-to-berberine conversion process is sharply rate-limited, supplementation with DHB instead of berberine can bypass the bottleneck, resulting in significantly better oral bioavailability.
And when it comes to DHB, GlucoVantage is the clear brand name choice for any discerning consumer.
If you want to review the full case for going with GlucoVantage, we’ve created tons of content on this product. You can find the blog highlights here:
- GlucoVantage: Dihydroberberine for Superior Insulin Sensitivity
- Dihydroberberine: A Better Berberine
- GlucoVantage Dihydroberberine Beats Berberine in Human Trial
Or, if you’re pressed for time, check out our one-minute video summary of GlucoVantage:
There are two preferred supplements with dihydroberberine inside — one’s a bit cheeky, the other more serious:
NNB Nutrition: a trusted name in berberine
The bottom line is that GlucoVantage is a patented DHB formulation, with a lot of R&D behind it. You can trust that NNB Nutrition is going to protect their patent by monitoring the quality of any products using or claiming to use GlucoVantage. And NNB’s guarantee is that GlucoVantage is pure, unadulterated, and backed by third-party lab testing.
Conclusion: When in doubt, NOW Foods it Out
Looking over the list of berberine brands that NOW had tested, we don’t even recognize most of them, which says a lot given how much time we’ve spent in the industry.
The reality is that these no-name brands exploit the convenience and credibility of retail platforms like Amazon, which despite being trusted on account of its ubiquity in daily life, has taken no meaningful action to ensure the quality of the supplements it sells.
If you want a legitimate product, simply stick with the orange NOW Foods bottles and you won’t go wrong. But if you want to take berberine to the next level, go with a trusted industry name like NNB Nutrition’s GlucoVantage – a patented formula with just as much skin in the game.
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