Effacacy of generic brand supplements...

So, as some of you know, I have a part time gig as a cosmitician in a drug store. As such, I get store brand (and others) vitamins such as Iron and Calcium at a discounted price. So, I buy them, I take them, I assume they are doing something beneificial.

Well, I was talking to an aquaintance (who happens to be a herbal supplement distributor) who has suggested that the store bought supplements are useless and I might as well be taking sugar pills and the only supplements that are useful are those from companies such as hers.

So - is she right? Am I doing myself no good by taking these vitamins and do I need to switch, or is her opinion as self-serving as it sounds?

This is just a WAG, but I think with vitamin and mineral supplements, you can be pretty confident of getting exactly what the bottle says you’re getting, no matter whose logo is on the label.

Herbal supplements, on the other hand, are a risky proposition, no matter who makes them. Can’t find the cite now, but one group of researchers found, when checking out, for example, glucosamine/chondroitin pills, that most of them had little or no chondroitin in them at all - none had more than 50% of the amount the label said they contained.

As if that all weren’t enough, herbal supplements are largely unregulated, so even if you’re getting what the label says you’re getting, there’s no guarantee that it’s going to do you any good, or even that it’s not going to do you harm. It seems to take a rash of deaths (like those linked to ephedra) before an herbal gets ordered off the market.

I’ve found some not entirely impartial websites warning of the dangers of cheap vitamins or pointing out that not all vitamins are the same. But until I can find someone not actually selling vitamins who makes that claim, I’ll consider the question is open. However, since one vitamin or mineral can exist in many different forms, it’s possible that cheap forms may be less well absorbed, but it’s equally possible that expensive forms are less well or no better absorbed.

Schiff Natural Vitamins in Scientific American article
a vitamin shop
another vitamin shop

Sooo - any other thoughts?

It was the parmacist that recommended the Calcium (Carbonate) that I’m taking. It has Vitamin D which is supposed to be important.

I’m more inclined to believe the opinion of the pharmacist who’s gone to school to learn this sort of thing, as opposed to someone hocking their own vitamins.

Soo - any other thoughts.

Well… the side of the last bottle of vitamin C I bought had all the stats for it written on the side. I’m pretty sure Health Canada mandates that that stuff is correct. I’m certain if it was wrong someone would smack them down.

I think so long as you know what you’re looking for, generic is just fine. For example, most dandruff shampoo (not that I uh… know anything about it) uses selenium as the active ingredient. If you check the side of the expensive stuff, it sez “Active ingredients: 2.5% selenium sulfide” or something. Check the side of the store brand and… surprise! “2.5% selenium sulfide”. One might be a different colour and smell like pine needles, but for all intents and purposes, it’s the same thing.

I used to work for a fairly large maker of herbal supplement products. We tested our products to make sure our label claims were accurate, to within 10%, but we were one of the few companies that did, which seems stupid to me, because even unregulated companies can be held legally responsible if their label claims are false. I think a lot of companies simply felt it was cheaper to deal with any lawsuits than to actually do the testing.

But more to the point, we made a lot of “generic” brands for various large stores side by side with our own “real” brands, using the exact same raw materials, equipment, and recipes. The generic stuff was exactly the same as the brand name stuff. I’d be surprised if that weren’t the case with vitamins. I don’t think it being generic has anything to do with it.

As far as supplements go, I think certain forms have more bioavailability than others. I have read (and will come back and cite later, if I can) that the machines that make standard vitamins make them so compact that not everyone can digest them. My husband, who is a nurse, has confirmed this by telling me that many times standard vitamins will leave elderly people’s bodies in basically the same shape they entered them. I try to find gels if I can, though I haven’t been able to find a generic. And calcium citrate, for example, has a higher bioavailability than calcium carbonate.

Also, you should look for a multivitamin without iron. Apparently, iron negatively affects the, um, efficacy of the other vitamins and/or minerals. Again, no cite right now; sorry.

I doubt the brand of the vitamins matters as much as these and other related factors.


So if I buy Centrum or One A Day or something like it at my drug store with my discount, I should get just as many useful goodies out of them as if I buy Shee-Shee-Foo-Foo Brand X Designer vitamins. Right?

As to the Iron, I have to take a supplement as I’m rather anaemic (for feminine reasons that I will not go into). (300mg Ferrous Gluconate if anyone is interested.) Am I not supposed to take it with my Calcium supplement?

Also, my pharmacist actually said that the Calcium Carbonate was more easily absorbed than the citrate stuff. You dissagree?

I’m so confused. :frowning:

There have only been a few studies of one type of calicum against another and the results are not conclusive.

As far as I can tell, unless you are a senior citizen with low stomach acid production, calcium carbonate is absorbed just as well as any other variety - and you can get your daily dosage of calcium with fewer pills.

You need to be careful not to take the calcium with food, however.

Calcium supplementation: effect on iron absorption, JD Cook, SA Dassenko and P Whittaker, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 53, 106-111, 1991