Counterfeit Supplements, Amazon and Your Health

By Samantha Gilbert, FNC, CHNP, CNC     Last updated on January 2nd, 2022

Buying supplements on Amazon is fast and easy. Who doesn’t want same or next day delivery? But the dark side of buying on Amazon is a wide variety of counterfeit products from questionable suppliers that can lead to devastating outcomes. And to make matters worse, scarcity marketing and influencer hype create conditions that drive people to Amazon where counterfeit supplements thrive and are often tainted with questionable ingredients and phony labeling.

Why You Should Never Buy Supplements On Amazon

I’ve been noticing this trend for quite some time, which is why I caution against buying supplements (including skincare and make-up) from Amazon. The Make-up Mayhem episode from Netflix’s Broken series details the dark side of this trend. Counterfeit makeup products thrive on Amazon and are often tainted with bacteria, lead, arsenic, and other toxic ingredients that come from cheap, filthy, “labs” in China and other parts of Asia. In this episode, New York City dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe shares an alarming trend of skin conditions she didn’t see before the advent of counterfeit cosmetics, which is why I’m following suit with what I see in my own clients with counterfeit supplements.

Counterfeit and expired products are a real risk at third-party marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay because it’s big money. In fact, suppliers will often purchase their products from Amazon and have them assayed, only to find out it’s not their product!

According to former FDA special agent Gary Collins, “Little do they know that these “bargain” vitamins and capsules are worthless at best, and at worst may cost them and their children their health, and possibly their lives. The fact is, it costs money to make quality dietary supplements such as vitamins, protein powders, fish oil capsules, energy bars, herbal blends, or sports nutrition products. But if you have no morals and know how truly under-regulated the supplement industry is in America, you can make huge amounts of money selling dangerous counterfeit and expired supplement products. How? You undercut the price of legitimate supplement companies. Cheaper wins. And the consumer loses. Why should you believe me? For many years, not too long ago, I worked in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as a Special Agent. I’ve been behind the curtain of the supplement industry – way behind – so what I say is not based on some far-fetched conspiracy theory. I was there and witnessed it firsthand.”

3 Ways Supplements Are Sold At Bargan Prices:

  • They are counterfeit and probably dangerous.
  • They are useless expired products that have been repackaged as new.
  • They are stolen products released on the black market without any quality control.

Stories of dark grey magnesium powder, obvious bogus labels, and negative side-effects (that go beyond the scope of a normal detox response) are common things I hear from my clients. A few years ago I purchased a face cream from Amazon that looked “off” so I contacted the manufacturer and found out it was two years old with a label that was not their own. Even Amazon admits they sell fake supplements.

I appreciate that discounts are helpful when you are on a budget, but they are not worth it if they compromise your health, make your current condition worse, and sabotage the healing process.

Why Professional Grade Supplements Are Worth The Price

There are five major categories of supplements: consumer-grade, generic, natural, professional-grade, and opportunistic (MLM). In general, each successive category is more expensive than the previous one. To a large extent, higher prices reflect better quality but not always – there is plenty of expensive junk, too.

Professional-grade supplements (nutraceuticals) are sold by doctors, nutritionists, chiropractors, dietitians, physical therapists, personal trainers, and others. Professional-grade nutraceuticals are the category I sell to my clients and are generally the only supplements I recommend.

The main reason is that the quality and purity of bulk raw materials are tested by an independent or internal lab with corresponding MSDS (material safety data sheets). For example, a company I routinely work with, Thorne Research, received a batch of fish oil. After internal testing, it was revealed that the fish oil contained toxic levels of mercury and other contaminants, so they sent the entire order back to the supplier.

Professional-grade nutraceuticals are free of the stabilizers, preservatives, excipients, glazes, sweeteners, artificial colorings, binders, deodorizers, and other substances consumer-grade supplements use to shape and hold them together such as croscarmellose sodium, hypromellose, crospovidone, FD&C Red #40 Lake, polyethylene glycol, resin, corn starch, titanium dioxide, and FD&C Blue #2 Lake to name a few.

The formulations of consumer-grade supplements are based on outdated Recommended Daily Allowances and are made from the cheapest, least efficient components in an effort to maximize profit, and are optimized for extended shelf life. To mask oxidation, spoilage, odor, and discoloration these manufacturers use artificial colorings, preservatives, and glazes. Centrum and Nature’s Way are examples of consumer-grade supplements.

It’s clear to me that professional-grade counterfeit supplements are being replaced with consumer-grade supplements at best, and who knows what at worst (dark grey magnesium powder, anyone?). When I switch clients to verified professional-grade nutraceuticals, they tend to respond better and heal faster. It also makes the process of helping them a lot easier because I know exactly what I’m working with.

How To Avoid Counterfeit Supplements

Watch out for anything marked out or cut out of the label, broken seals, and expired products.  Pay attention to changes in appearance and smell from prior orders.  Also, check for customer service or return information before ordering.

In summary, I don’t recommend buying supplements (as well as skincare and make-up) from Amazon. It’s just not worth the risk. However, if this is your only option, be sure to check who the supplier is (that they are not a third-party seller or bogus supplement company) and what else they sell. For example, it’s questionable to see supplements being sold with electronics, dog food, and clothing.

Additionally, most people don’t realize that many supplement storefronts on Amazon are not Amazon, and some could literally be doing business out of a garage, which is something I’ve encountered. If it’s a legitimate Amazon account the manufacturer is using as a selling platform, reach out to them for verification before making a purchase. The safer option is to buy directly from their website. It’s unfortunate we live in a world of bait and switch, but your health is worth the extra effort.

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3 thoughts on “Counterfeit Supplements, Amazon and Your Health”

  1. Omg ! All I can say thank god for people like you who are out there to protect us from the cruel people out there !

  2. This is such an important topic, and there are a zillion ways that counterfeits are showing up on Amazon. NOW foods (a supplement brand) found it was impossible to compete on Amazon, but could also recognize that other companies couldn’t possibly be offering real products so cheaply. They invested in testing several products, and identifying some of the counterfeiting approaches. Many products on Amazon didn’t contain much of the ingredients they claimed, or they had labels that were designed to mis-lead. Here’s more information https://www.nowfoods.com/healthy-living/articles/now-recognized-testing-supplements-amazon

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