Michael Lelah, Ph.D., Technical Director, NOW Foods
Many times we are asked: “Can you provide me with a third-party analysis of your products?”
Well, let's talk about analyses, what they mean, how good they are, and who is certified to do the testing.
First, why do an analysis? There are three reasons to do an analysis: to confirm the presence of an ingredient, the potency of an ingredient, or the safety of an ingredient.
In some cases, just knowing that the correct ingredient is present is all we can do. For example, there are no standard quantitative analytical methods available for ingredients, such as powdered herbs, for example. But we can test to make sure they are present, and then you are assured of getting what we promise on the label.
We have hundreds of standard quantitative methods in our stable of tests. This means that we can test for the exact concentration of these active markers.
Testing for safety reasons is done when we know that there can be contaminants in certain ingredients, such as melatonin. We do this, too. We have a very well-equipped lab with HPLCs (these are sophisticated analytical instruments that can measure components in most of our ingredients) and more "alphabet soup" instrumentation like FT-IR, UV, GC, AA, etc, that run 24 hours a day.
We have a trained professional staff that follow GMPs (Good Manufacturing Procedures) to test our products. Our QC (Quality Control) checks every lot of product we make and we have a production history for every bottle. Our methods are world-class. Our glucosamine sulfate method was recently accepted as an Official Method by the AOAC (this is the group responsible for providing the FDA with Official Methods). This method was developed in our own labs by our expert scientific staff.
Now that you know we have the capability and professionalism to do the testing, why, you ask, do we test internally and do only limited testing at third-party labs? Well, one answer is the "matrix effect". Dietary supplements do not contain one ingredient; they usually contain a few, and sometimes they contain a hundred ingredients, such as in a comprehensive multivitamin formula.
In the very scientific field of analytical testing, the presence of other ingredients causes problems. The rest of the ingredient matrix can affect the test for a specific ingredient. This is called interference. This is a problem. In our labs we develop and adapt the analytical methods specifically for our special matrices. Thus we attack the problems and solve them. Since we have a highly trained analytical staff and we know our ingredients well, we can do this most effectively.
A third party lab does not do this. They just break the capsule or tablet apart and test. This may or may not give an accurate answer. We know our products, so we can test them in ways that produce more accurate results than outside labs can provide.
Of course, this may not be true for all dietary supplement manufacturers. The quality of the lab and of the scientific personnel reading and interpreting the test results are key factors in determining whether the lab is capable of generating accurate test results from a variety of mixed ingredients. NOW’s QC Department is capable of doing the most meaningful testing to assure that our products meet the highest quality standards.