NOW’s tests reveal almost half of ALA products purchased on Amazon were understrength

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

©Getty Images - FTiare
©Getty Images - FTiare

Related tags Weight management Gmps Quality assurance

Almost half of ALA supplements purchased on Amazon were understrength, the latest round of testing by supplement manufacturer NOW reveals.

In October the company, which is based in Bloomingdale, IL, purchased two bottles of ALA (alpha-lipoic acid) each of supplements sold by 13 different brands on Amazon.  Most of the products claimed a 600 mg dosage on the label, with one product claiming 300 mg and another claiming 250 mg. NOW tested the products both in its internal lab and also sent samples to contract laboratory Eurofins for analysis.

Weight management aid

Alpha-lipoic acid supplements (not to be confused with another ALA, alpha linolenic acid, an omega-3 ingredient) are often marketed as weight management aids. Lipoic acid is a medium-chain fatty acid that has two sulfur atoms at one end of the chain. The body generally produces enough lipoic acid to supply the enzymes that require it for proper function. It is a cofactor for some mitochondrial enzymes.  When taken as a dietary supplement, properties may include the stimulation of glucose metabolism, antioxidant defenses and anti-inflammatory responses. 

Research published just this year shows the ingredient’s potential in helping obese subjects lose weight​. Subjects in the study showed a 5% reduciton in overall weight and a 9% reduction in body fat levels.

Six products understrength; two below 10% of active

NOW's test results showed that six of the 13 products had less than 75% of the amount of ALA stated on the label.  Two products had 70% of label claim, one had 56%, two had 37% and two products essentially had little to none of the active ingredient. One product tested at 8%, the other at 5%.

But of the seven products that tested in the satisfactory range, results were actually better than expected, said Dan Richard, NOW's vice president of global sales and marketing.  One product had 87% of the stated label amount, and the other six products all came in with more than 90% of the label amount.  Still, Richard noted none of the products (except NOW’s own brand which was included for comparison) met the legal GMP standard of at least 100% of the label amount still remaining at the end of shelf life. 

NOW made the results of this latest round of testing public yesterday.  The company has previously done similar testing on CoQ10, Acetyl-l-Carnitine, SAMe and Phosphatidyl Serine products that it purchased on Amazon. While the ALA products generally performed better than did these other categories in terms of how much of the active ingredient they contained, the overall mediocre to poor quality of theses products being sold on Amazon should be an issue for the entire industry, Richard said.

“Results were actually better than expected compared to prior reports, where average potencies were often below 50% of label claims, but given that many consumers rely on Amazon for dietary supplement purchases, the finding of significant quality concerns in every category we have tested raises profound concerns,” ​Richard said.  

NOW’s conservative overage policy

NOW’s product tested with 110% of the label amount, which Richard said reflects the company’s conservative policy on calculating dosages.  ALA is quite stable, Richard said, which means for the worst performing products in this test it’s unlikely that they contained 100% of the active ingredient at any time during their manufacture.

ALA is fairly stable, so these should not be losing potency as a problem.  NOW adds 5% overage, which is much less than other products where we add more overage to cover for known losses, such as probiotics or some B-vitamins,”​ Richard said.

“NOW adds 5% overage as a rule PLUS we formulate our blends to use the most conservative calculations possible.  So if ALA purity is 96-99% pure, we will formulate to assume 96% is the purity even if we test it higher.  So we basically “double-add” overages for this and many of our products,”​ he added.

Amazon essentially mum on future actions

As with the previous rounds of product testing, Richard said NOW forwarded the results on to Amazon.  To date the company said it has received no response on any of the testing results from the retailing giant outisde of the following statement Richard forwarded on to NutraIngredients-USA​:

These reports are reviewed by our internal teams; however, we’re unable to comment on internal actions taken based on findings.”

Amazon is now marketing its own brand of supplements and owns Whole Foods Markets, where a significant number of supplements are sold off the shelf. Given that, Richard said it’s unlikely the company will decide to drop supplement sales altogether as being too messy or risky.  But he said NOW is still hopeful that Amazon will at least take action against repeat offenders.

Our hope is simply that when Amazon is made aware of third-party, public testing failures, that Amazon should do their own recall (or re-testing) and stop selling repeat offender brands.  It’s one thing if a brand is 20% low in potency and it happens once, and quite another to be 80% below potency and repeated, or have little to none of the supplement [ingredient] the consumer bought in good faith,” ​Richard said.

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