With unscrupulous marketers selling bogus remedies for COVID-19, the federal government had to step in and warn Americans about scammers. But manufacturers are also taking it upon themselves to keep standards high during the pandemic and beyond. After noticing its Amazon sales for the company's phosphatidylserine product had dropped, supplement manufacturer NOW launched an investigation of its own.
Phosphatidylserine is an amino acid derivative compound that is fat-soluble and found in high amounts in the brain, where it contributes to cognitive function. Some studies have found the expensive supplement ingredient can improve memory, cognitive capacity, and lower cortisol levels.
If it seems too good to be true...
After doing some digging on Amazon, NOW came across several ‘too-good-to-be-true’ prices for the supplement, some marked 70% below NOW’s already discounted prices.
Based on the label information alone, NOW identified multiple problems. The first issue they came across is discrepancies between the front label and the side panel. For instance, several brands listed their phosphatidylserine as high potency such as 500mg, on the front label (and Amazon’s keyword) panel. However, the side panel would indicate one would need to take 2-3 capsules in order to achieve that amount. Another problem they noticed was the deceptive use of 'complex' in order to show a high potency value, despite the actual potency of phosphatidylserine only being 20% of that number. NOW provided a few examples of this, as shown in the graphic below.
After being concerned about those initial findings, NOW took its probe a step further and ordered 43 samples from Amazon. For good measure, it bought about three bottles of each brand to send to the lab for testing. Using HPLC analysis, NOW tested the products via their in-house labs and independently at Eurofins Labs.
- Three of the bottles were NOW brand, with results showing 100% - 108% of label claims.
- Two samples passed potency (not included in the report).
- Two samples of other brands were discarded after results revealed 2.5 times the label potency claim. It was suspected these products were spiked with added serine in order to fool testing.
- 36 samples failed, with 17 of these products containing less than 10% of the labeled value.
“It’s surprising how many products have under 2% of label potency. That’s scary and sad,” said Dan Richard, NOW Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing. “Amazon has to find a way to raise the bar on products they sell, especially today with people buying more supplements from Amazon in order to stay healthy.”
The e-commerce titan has come under fire in recent months for selling unsubstantiated 'anti-viral' supplements.
Richard said he did notify Amazon, “NOW is sending Amazon our full third-party test results, which is what Amazon requested.”
When asked what Amazon should do in cases like this, Richard told NutraIngredients-USA that he thinks Amazon should investigate these allegations further and pending the results, should recall products as well as punish and/or expel cheating brands.
“This is only one product, but there are MANY expensive supplements being sold on Amazon and other platforms with similarly poor potencies,” said Richard, who added that the results don’t come as a surprise, based upon past experience with testing supplements sold on Amazon.
NOW’s PS probe follows previous reports of CoQ10, Acetyl-l-Carnitine and SAMe supplements that revealed alarming quality and labeling problems sold on Amazon. In fact, the findings prompted the CoQ10 Association to announce that it intends to test every CoQ10 product on the market that claims the ingredient on the label for potency and purity.
As for the bad actors out there, Richard has a simple message: “NOW intends to continue testing like this in the future until the problem is cleaned up.”