Terra Sigillata

Have you had your lead today?

Now this is bloody lovely: supplement consumer watchdog ConsumerLab.com reports that some multivitamin supplements are contaminated with lead, with one at concentrations 10 times above acceptable California exposure limits. Jacqueline Stenson at MSNBC does a good job of putting this all in perspective:

Of 21 brands of multivitamins on the market in the United States and Canada selected by ConsumerLab.com and tested by independent laboratories, just 10 met the stated claims on their labels or satisfied other quality standards.

Most worrisome, according to ConsumerLab.com president Dr. Tod Cooperman, is that one product, The Vitamin Shoppe Multivitamins Especially for Women, was contaminated with lead.

Other troublesome findings:

A children’s vitamin had almost twice the labeled amount of vitamin A, a women’s vitamin had 54% the labeled amount of calcium, and another didn’t dissolve adequately for consitutents to be absorbed into the body. Even Fido wasn’t spared, as one pet vitamin contained 1.4 micrograms of lead per serving.

Lead is a particularly dangerous neurotoxin to kids under age 6, but I will leave it to health effects experts to debate whether these lead levels in supplements are harmful to adults.

Stenson’s article has some very nice value-added information: what to look for on vitamin labels, such as some assurnace that the manufacturer used procedures sanctioned by USP (the United States Pharmacopeial Convention).

How can this happen, you might ask?

Well, the very same federal regulations that permit other herbal and dietary supplements to be sold without proof of safety or efficacy also goven the sale of vitamin supplements. If there’s no one looking for problems, problems don’t exist.

Scientifically, I’ll be most interested to learn what salt of lead is present in the contaminated supplements (certain salts are more bioavailable than others) and what intended mineral component in vitamins is the most likely culprit accounting for the lead adulteration.

(Hat tip to an alert reader who is keeping me well-informed while the day job is more harried than usual).


  1. #1 anjou
    January 19, 2007

    Very troublesome and scary!!

  2. #2 Utenzi
    January 22, 2007

    I saw some coverage of this on the Today show last week. I wasn’t surprised since, like you say, the entire area of commercial supplements is plagued with shoddy manufacturing. Since the buying public isn’t aware of what’s in the pill there’s little incentive for the companies to spend the money to police themselves.

  3. #3 DuWayne
    January 23, 2007

    That is really interesting and scary. I have avoided taking vitamin supplements because my old family doctor explained that their production is not necessarily safe. He gave me a list of ones that are safe, but low and behold, they are also rather expensive. He was clear that it is far better to get vitamins from whole foods anyways, so I do my best.

    Unfortunately, it is too expensive to take myself, but on occasions when our meals do not include vitamin rich foods, I mix blue green algae, spirulina and kelp powder, with a little molasses and spread it on fish crackers, for my son’s dessert.

  4. #4 me loco
    November 16, 2009

    I lost confidence in everything, i don’t trust but my own voice, governments screwing us up, pharmaceuticals, FDA, etc… how do i know that this consumerlab.com is not another scam!! prove it!

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