Deciding Between Name and Store Brand Supplements? Neither May Be the Answer

Posted on Categories Discover Magazine

As the threat of world war loomed in 1941, scientists considered how to best feed millions of American soldiers. What types of nutrients would they need? And how could foods be fortified with these nutrients and packaged into ready-to-eat meals?

Before the decade was over, scientists had identified 13 vitamins essential to human nutrition. Food historian Mark Bittman writes in Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food from Sustainable to Suicidal how the 1940s ushered in “vitamania” and consumer demand for supplements.

Vitamania still rages, and more than $55 billion worth of dietary supplements were sold in the U.S. in 2020. But does a person need to spend big money on a well-known brand? Or can a house brand from a local big box store provide the same benefits? 

Buyer Beware

Many people turn to well-known brands simply because nutraceuticals are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA prevents companies from making false promises that a supplement could cure or treat a condition. Otherwise, there is little oversight, and companies are legally allowed to sell supplements without notifying the FDA. The market is vast, so unless there is a complaint, the FDA tends not to get involved.

Instead, the FDA recommends a buyer-beware approach and advises people to speak to a physician, pharmacist, or other medical professional before taking a supplement. However, many professionals may not know the specifics about a particular supplement, whether it contains the amounts advertised or has been tainted by toxins. 

Is Brand Name Better?

Although the FDA does not regulate or test popular nutraceuticals, some researchers and private organizations have evaluated the quality of specific products., for example, has tested more than 7,000 products in more than 100 different categories, such as calcium, collagen, and magnesium.

So does spending on a big-name brand bring a health advantage over a house brand from a big box store?

“I would say that I wouldn’t trust any brand across the board,” says Tod Cooperman, founder and president. “Some brands do better with certain products.”

Certain products, for example, might not contain the level of nutrients listed on the label. Some may have less, which means the supplement isn’t providing the promised benefits. Other products might have a greater value than listed on the label, which risks toxicity.

“From a consumer perspective, you need to find the best product at the best price and not just stick to a brand,” Cooperman says. 

Are Store Brand Supplements OK?

The best product for the best price involves several factors. When considering multi-vitamins, for example, Cooperman says his lab will test to see if the product contains the ingredients promised on the label. They’ll also test for contaminants, including heavy metals such as lead. And they’ll analyze how the tablets disaggregate.

The top products in a particular category often include both big name brands but also house brands from places like Walmart or Costco.

“I would say the Big Box quality tends to be pretty good,” Cooperman says. “These large corporations put a lot of pressure on their suppliers, and they have a lot to lose if there is a problem with the product. I think that drives quality. You can get some good supplements for very little, for pennies.” 

Read More: Strange Side Effects From Supplements and What You Need to Know

Shopping for Supplements

Because the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements, there isn’t one agreed-upon figure as to which nutraceuticals are most popular with consumers. A 2020 study in Nutrients analyzed data from Google searches and found magnesium was the top searched supplement, followed by lutein (an antioxidant), protein, and iron. 

At, Cooperman says their annual survey found vitamin D was the most used supplement, followed by magnesium and fish oil.

Do I Need to Take a Supplement?

It might seem tempting to buy a bottle of a commonly used nutraceutical like magnesium or vitamin D in the hopes of improving overall health. But before doing so, Cooperman, who is also a medical doctor, recommends that people ask themselves one question — do I even need it?

“You may not need it,” Cooperman says. “But if you need it, you need to consider how much you need.”

Vitamin B12, for example, comes in different dosing strengths. The manufacturer, not the FDA, determines the doses. What works for one person might be too much for another. 

Which Supplement Should I take?

If a person decides a supplement is needed, Cooperman recommends keeping it simple.

“For simple things like magnesium, zinc, calcium, even vitamin D, try to get just the ingredient you need. I would be skeptical of proprietary blends or complexes. They don’t always disclose their ingredients,’ he says.

Shoppers are fine to opt for a house brand if it helps them save money, but Cooperman advises against Internet-only brands that aren’t manufactured by established companies. These supplements may not include the promised ingredients, and worse, they could include toxins.

“Don’t be wowed by proprietary blends or special complexes,” Cooperman says. “It is kind of a black box —there is no way to know.”

Read More: Dietary Supplements Are No Substitute For a Healthy Lifestyle

Article Sources:

Our writers at use peer-reviewed studies and high-quality sources for our articles, and our editors review them for accuracy and trustworthiness. Review the sources used below for this article:

Leave a Reply