Nine Joint Health Supplements Fail ConsumerLab.com Quality Review

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New tests reveal lead contamination, missing ingredients and other problems in supplements for people as well as for dogs, cats and horses. Review lists supplements that failed as well as passed quality review for glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM.

Joint health supplements reviewed by ConsumerLab.com

To cut costs, some manufacturers may withhold chondroitin, which is expensive, or buy poor quality material 'certified' with a non-specific test for chondroitin. It is similar to how dog foods were contaminated with melamine -- which looks like protein in non-specific tests.

Nine supplements for osteoarthritis that ConsumerLab.com recently selected for testing were found to be contaminated with lead, lack all or some of a key ingredient or have other quality problems. The findings were confirmed in a second independent laboratory. The supplements tested included those for people as well as for veterinary use. Many other products passed ConsumerLab.com's tests, which focused on joint health supplements containing glucosamine, chondroitin, and/or MSM.

Osteoarthritis affects an estimated 20.7 million adults in the United States, making it the most common type of arthritis. Supplements made with glucosamine and/or chondroitin may reduce symptoms by helping to maintain and repair cartilage. These products have become top selling supplements, accounting for $831 million in U.S. sales in 2007 according figures from Nutrition Business Journal. These ingredients, as well as MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) are also commonly used to treat osteoarthritis (also known as degenerative joint disease) in dogs, cats, and horses. These products are part of an expanding U.S. pet supplement market estimated at $923 million in 2007 by Nutrition Business Journal.

Among supplements for people, four supplements were found to be contaminated with lead -- likely to have originated from glucosamine in the supplements, which is made from shrimp or crab shells. Two of these supplements also lacked chondroitin, a particularly expensive ingredient derived from animal cartilage. One of these contained only 5.6% of its chondroitin while the other had no detectable amount. One of the lead contaminated supplements also failed to break apart properly in disintegration testing. Mislabeling of sodium content was the reason for a fifth supplement to fail the review of the supplements for people.

While there is minimal government oversight of the quality of dietary supplements for human use, there is even less oversight of supplements for animals - which the FDA generally considers to be unapproved drugs. ConsumerLab.com found the following problems among joint health supplements for animals:

  • A supplement sold in capsules contained only 17% of the promised chondroitin, similar to ConsumerLab.com's findings for the same product in 2007 - at which time the distributor stated that it was voluntarily recalling the product. Apparently, it has continued to sell faulty product.
  • A chicken treat provided only 6% of the claimed glucosamine and only 15.9% of the claimed chondroitin. Each treat provided only about one milligram (mg) of each of these two ingredients - insignificant amounts compared to several hundred milligrams in most other products.
  • Two different liquid supplements provided, respectively, only 5.4% and 15.9% of the labeled amount of chondroitin.

Commenting on the lack of chondroitin in some products, Dr. William Obermeyer, ConsumerLab.com's Vice President for Research and a former chemist in the U.S. FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, noted, "To cut costs, some manufacturers may withhold chondroitin, which is expensive, or buy poor quality material 'certified' with a non-specific test for chondroitin. It is similar to how dog foods were contaminated with melamine -- which looks like protein in non-specific tests." ConsumerLab.com avoided this issue by analyzing products with a highly specific test for chondroitin based on high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC).

The results were published in two separate reports:

The joint health supplements review for people provides findings for the twenty-one supplements that ConsumerLab.com selected for testing, including the five products that failed testing and sixteen that met quality standards. That report additionally lists seventeen products that recently passed the same testing in ConsumerLab.com's Voluntary Certification Program, and two products similar to those that passed testing. Brands included in the report are Advanced BioSolutions (Dr. Stephen Sinatra), Avoca ASU, BioGenesis, Cosamin, CVS, Drinkables, Elations, Estroven, FeelAnew, Finest Natural (Walgreens), GNC TriFlex, Joint Juice, Kirkland (Costco), Life Extension, MegaFood, Member's Mark (Sam's Club), MRM, Nature Made Triple Flex, NOW Foods, NSI (Vitacost), Nutri-Supreme, Osteo Bi-Flex (Rexall Sundown), Puritan's Pride, Schiff, Shaklee, SISU, Solgar, Source Naturals, Spring Valley (Wal-Mart), Swanson, Trigosamine (PatentHEALTH), Vitamin Shoppe, Vitamin World, Wellesse, and 21st Century.

The review of joint health supplements for pets and horses provides findings for the six products that ConsumerLab.com selected for testing including the four that failed testing and two that met quality standards. The report additionally lists ten products that recently passed the same testing in ConsumerLab.com's Voluntary Certification Program. Brands included in the new report are Cosequin, Curaflex, Dogswell, GLC, Joint Complete, Joint Max, K-9 Liquid Health, Nutri-Vet, Resources, Springtime, Synovi, and 21st Century.

In addition to test results, both reports provide product comparisons, quality ratings, and information regarding the proper selection and use of glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM supplements, including differences among the chemical forms of these ingredients. Reviews of other popular types of supplements are also available at http://www.consumerlab.com.

ConsumerLab.com is a leading provider of consumer information and independent evaluations of products that affect health and nutrition. Subscription to ConsumerLab.com is available online. The company is privately held and based in Westchester, New York. It has no ownership from, or interest in, companies that manufacture, distribute, or sell consumer products.

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