Article edited for scientific accuracy by Illuminate Labs Blog Editor Taylor Graber MD
One of the first places that many supplement consumers turn to for guidance on product safety and efficacy (myself included) is ConsumerLab. The company performs product and category reviews, and publishes research and product testing that is accessible with a paid subscription.
The purpose of this review is to examine the methodologies behind ConsumerLab’s ratings, and assess whether their ratings are trustworthy. You can check out our review of Labdoor, the other popular supplement ratings site, here. This review will cover five categories: credentials, testing methodologies, data quality, ease-of-use and business model.
Unlike Labdoor, ConsumerLab is actually run by publicly-listed scientists. Their About page informs that the founder Tod Cooperman is an M.D., and their VP has a PhD in pharmacology/toxicology. Their whole team has impressive credentials which are relevant to their operating model. This is a good sign about their quality of work. We believe strongly that any company informing consumers about health decisions should have scientists on staff, which is why our Team has two MDs and a PhD.
2. Testing Methodologies
ConsumerLab publishes their testing methodologies on their About page, and the specific methodologies used for each product on each product review page. This is important, because transparency is woefully lacking in the supplement space at large. They primarily test for identity, strength, and purity which are the three key factors that we have a third-party lab test our supplements for as well. These are the most important factors to safety & efficacy of a supplement. ConsumerLab tests for disintegration as well, which is a more ancillary consideration.
The testing methodologies used for their herbal supplement analyses all seem appropriate. ConsumerLab uses high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) for quantitative assessment of potency, and spectroscopy (ICP-MS) for heavy metals testing. These methodologies are the industry standard, and our third-party lab partner uses the exact same methodologies to test our finished products.
3. Data Quality
One the whole, the data quality on ConsumerLab is excellent, well-referenced, and presented in a neat manner. However, in our opinion, there are some improvements that could be made. In some of their herbal supplement category reviews, ConsumerLab only tests certain subset categories for heavy metal contamination instead of all products. In their ashwagandha review, for example, they only test products containing “whole herbs” and not extract products for heavy metal contamination. You can see in the image below an “N/A” score for the heavy metals section of an ashwagandha extract product:
Lead is equally harmful whether it’s in an extract or raw powder product. We believe that it would be beneficial for consumers if ConsumerLab tested all products for heavy metal contamination.
It appears there is no way to access the raw data, which could be useful to consumers. Two supplements that “passed” heavy metals testing may have wildly varying levels of heavy metals. Consider a pregnant mother who may want to reduce her lead intake as much as possible. All things being equal, she would prefer a supplement with half the lead as another supplement, even if both “passed” testing. For this reason, we publish the raw data test results on all of our product pages.
The product category reviews on ConsumerLab are extensive. There is an entire section above their testing results with background information and review of published medical research on the supplement category, which often exceeds 1,000 words. This may be useful to some readers, but seems cumbersome in our opinion. The core value proposition of ConsumerLab is extensive test results of off-the-shelf products, and their reviews may be more accessible if they were less text-heavy. We believe that if ConsumerLab were to remove all of the information above the test results, or house it elsewhere on their site, the product testing pages would be easier to navigate.
5. Business Model
Based on the disclosures on their website, ConsumerLab seems to drive revenue in two ways: first by charging a subscription fee to users for access to their content, and second by charging a fee to manufacturers who want to take part in their certification program.
This business model creates no economic incentives for ConsumerLab to misreport test results, which is great for consumers. They make money by producing great content and test results which consumers pay to access, so it’s in their best interest to publish accurate and thorough test results.
ConsumerLab is the leading resource for unbiased supplement reviews for a reason. Their company is run by scientists and their testing is excellent. Their site helps consumers make informed decisions about the products they put in their body. While we believe there is room for minor improvements, we definitely recommend ConsumerLab to any supplement user who wants to learn more about the products they’re taking daily.
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