WHITE PLAINS, NEW YORK – – Over 30% of multivitamins recently selected for testing by ConsumerLab.com were found to contain significantly more or less ingredient than claimed or were contaminated with lead. In addition, several products (including three for children) exceeded tolerable upper limits established by the Institute of Medicine for ingredients such as vitamin A, folic acid, niacin and zinc. Multivitamins are the most popular supplement in the U.S., with sales of $4.5 billion in 2007 according to Nutrition Business Journal.
Among twenty-nine products for adults and children that ConsumerLab.com selected, tests showed that eight failed to meet their label claims or other quality standards and twelve others provided levels that may be too high for healthy individuals.
Most Children’s Multis Too High in Vitamin A
Three of four popular children’s supplements selected exceeded tolerable intake levels for vitamin A as retinol.? For example, at the suggested daily serving for children over four years of age, one product provided 5,000 IU of vitamin A. The Institute of Medicine recommends a daily allowance (RDA) of only 1,300 IU for children ages four to eight and an Upper Tolerable Intake Level (UL) of 3,000 IU. Excess vitamin A in the retinol form is of concern as it may, in the short term, cause nausea and blurred vision, and, long-term, lead to bone softening and liver problems. ULs for niacin and zinc were also exceeded by some of the products for young children. Excess niacin may cause skin tingling and flushing and high levels of zinc can cause immune deficiency and anemia.
In addition, many supplements like these generally provide an “overage” of ingredient, i.e., more than the listed amount of ingredient to make sure that the product maintains potency over its shelf-life. Although an accepted practice, actual levels may be up to 50% higher than on the label.
A reason why so many children’s vitamins exceed the newer recommended levels is that they are designed to meet “100%” of the Daily Values (DVs) which were last updated in 1968 and have yet to be re-set by the FDA.? The out-dated DVs for vitamin A on supplement labels are actually two to three times higher than the newer RDAs and exceed tolerable intake levels for young children (see table below).
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A INTAKE (in IUs)
Daily Value (DV)
1 – 3
4 – 8
9 – 13
14 - 18
Several products for adults also exceeded ULs for certain ingredients, particularly niacin.
Mixed Problems with Men’s Multis
Two of three men’s multis failed to pass testing. One contained 258.8% of its folic acid, yielding 2,070 mcg per day. The RDA for folic acid is only 400 mcg per day and the upper tolerable level (UL) for folic acid is 1,000 mcg. Higher intake can make it difficult to detect severe vitamin B-12 deficiency.? In addition, folic acid supplementation at 1,000 mcg per day has been associated with a more than twofold increase in prostate cancer risk. Another men’s multivitamin contained 1.62 mcg of lead per daily serving. Although this amount is unlikely to be harmful in itself, lead exposure should be avoided. The State of California requires warning labels on supplements that provide more than 0.5 mcg of lead per day.
Some General Multis Provide Less Ingredient Than Claimed
Two out of five general multis were short on ingredient: one provided only 50% of its claimed folic acid and the other had only 69.8% of its calcium.
Variety of Multivitamins Short on Vitamin A
Among four women’s multis selected, one provided only 66.1% of its claimed vitamin A; one of five seniors’ multivitamins selected contained only 44.1% of its vitamin A; and among three prenatal vitamins, one was short on vitamin A.
Too Much Folic Acid in a Vitamin Water
One of three vitamin waters selected contained fifteen times its claimed amount of folic acid. Although the label notes that there are 2.5 servings per bottle, ConsumerLab.com cautioned that drinking one bottle would provide 1,500 mcg of folic acid – an amount over the upper tolerable level for adults (discussed above). Children should not get more than 300 to 600 mcg of folic acid per day – the amount in less than half a bottle of this product.
Problems with Pet Supplements
In addition to supplements for people, ConsumerLab.com selected two pet supplements for testing, but neither passed. One contained only 46% of the vitamin A and 54.7% of its claimed minimum amount of calcium. Another was contaminated with 6.45 mcg of lead per tablet. This is several times higher than the amount of lead (1.41 mcg) ConsumerLab.com found to be in this same product in 2007. Contamination limits for dogs are not well defined, but, as reference, the FDA notes that children should not be exposed to more than 6 mcg of lead per day and, as noted above, California requires warning labels on supplements for human use that contain over 0.5 mcg of lead per day.
“Consumers need to be aware that problems with multivitamins are common.” said Tod Cooperman, M.D., President of ConsumerLab.com. “Just as important, people need to determine their need for a supplement, factoring in other sources of nutrients in their diets.”? ConsumerLab.com’s new report includes the latest recommended daily intake levels and upper tolerable limits for vitamins and minerals.
The new report is available at www.consumerlab.com/reviews/Multivitamin_Multimineral_Supplements/multivitamins/. The report provides results for forty-nine supplements of which ConsumerLab.com selected thirty-one (discussed above). Eighteen others that have passed testing through CL's Voluntary Certification Program are included in the report. Also listed are two products similar to ones that passed but sold under different brand names.
Brands included in the report are All One, Carlson, Centrum, CVS, Eniva, Equate (Wal-Mart), Flintstones, Garden of Life, Glaceau Vitamin Water, GNC, Halo Purely for Pets, Jamieson, Juice Plus, Kirkland (Costco), Life Extension, Li’l Critters Gummy Vites, Member’s Mark (Sam’s Club), Metagenics, Multi-betic, Natrol, Nature Made, Nature’s Bounty, Nature’s Plus, NOW, NSI (Vitacost), One-A-Day, Opti-Men, Pet Tabs, Pregnancy Plus, Propel, Pure Encapsulations, Puritan’s Pride, Purity Products, Rainbow Light, Rite Aid, Sobe Life Water, Solgar, Swanson, Target, Trader Darwin’s (Trader Joe’s), TwinLab, USANA, Vitamin World, Weil, and Yummi Bears (Hero Nutritionals), 21st Century Pet Nutrition.