Many supplement consumers consider BulkSupplements as the go-to brand for cost-efficient shopping. BulkSupplements sells products at an enormous size range (who buys turmeric extract 11 pounds at a time?), and often at industry-leading prices.
But are their supplements decent quality? How do their supplements perform in independent laboratory tests?
In this article we’ll review some BulkSupplements formulations, as well as some third-party tests of their products, and give our opinion on whether BulkSupplements is a great option for cheap supplements, or whether the brand is sacrificing quality in their efforts to maintain industry-leading prices.
One notable aspect of BulkSupplements’ site is the impressive variety. The brand sells over 100 herbal extracts alone (163 at the time of updating this article), and that category is just one subset of the Herbal Supplements section of their site.
BulkSupplements clearly aims to be a one-stop-shop for consumers, and assuming decent quality of product (which we’ll assess below), this much variety is a huge benefit for consumers.
There are some wholesale supplement sites like iHerb which sell thousands of different products manufactured by different brands, but BulkSupplements is the largest single-brand supplement store that we've reviewed on Illuminate Health.
Poor Formulation Quality
The saying “you get what you pay for” rings true when it comes to the quality of most BulkSupplements formulations in our opinion. We'll analyze a few examples below.
When we initially published this article, BulkSupplements was selling a ginkgo biloba extract product with a Supplement Facts panel showing raw ginkgo biloba powder (not an extract). Ginkgo biloba extract is a totally different finished product than ginkgo biloba. The former is much more potent and is what's used in most medical research on the plant.
This may have just been an oversight, but if so it's a huge one and a sign of a brand with poor quality control measures. BulkSupplements has since updated the Supplement Facts panel for this product (possibly because of our review highlighting this information).
Their Cinnamon Bark Extract uses the cheapest and most toxic form of cinnamon called Cassia Cinnamon (Cinnamomum Cassia). We published an entire review breaking down the different types of cinnamon and concluding which is the best cinnamon for health, and an important takeaway was that Cassia Cinnamon is high in a compound called coumarin which is toxic to humans even at moderate doses found in food and supplements.
There is a type of cinnamon called Ceylon Cinnamon (Cinnamomum Verum) which has negligible coumarin levels, and high-quality supplement brands use this type over Cassia. The fact that BulkSupplements uses Cassia Cinnamon in a cinnamon extract formulation suggests to us that the brand is prioritizing price over consumer safety and health.
BulkSupplements also sells a turmeric extract with an ideal standardization ratio based on medical research (95% curcuminoids), but fails to add black pepper extract or BioPerine, which drastically increases turmeric absorption (by up to 2,000%). It’s become an industry standard to include black pepper in a turmeric formulation, and again the fact that BulkSupplements opts not to suggests to us that the brand is mostly price-focused rather than quality-focused.
Failed Quality Testing - Ginkgo Biloba
BulkSupplements has performed poorly in third-party laboratory tests. An independent testing laboratory called ConsumerLab, which we highlighted in our consumer lab reviews article, found that BulkSupplements Ginkgo Biloba Extract was inaccurately labeled. The image above is from ConsumerLab's tests, as are all of the images in the Quality Testing and Labeling sections.
ConsumerLab tested ginkgo biloba supplements from various brands in 2018, and BulkSupplements’ ginkgo biloba extract powder was one of two products that failed testing and was assigned a “Not Approved” rating.
The testing revealed that BulkSupplements' ginkgo was only 3% as potent as advertised. ConsumerLab found only 0.98 milligrams (mg) of flavonol glycosides per 175 mg serving. Given that these compounds are the primary chemical constituents of ginkgo biloba, such a low test result suggests that BulkSupplements’ product was not nearly as potent as advertised.
We recommend a flavone glycoside concentration of 15% or greater for ginkgo biloba extract products, as this is the minimum dosage in most of the medical studies we've reviewed on the plant. The flavone glycoside concentration in BulkSupplements ginkgo was 0.6% based on ConsumerLab results.
Failed Quality Testing - Ginger
Another category where BulkSupplements failed ConsumerLab testing was with their ginger product. The brand claims that the product has 500 mg of ginger root extract, but ConsumerLab found only 1 mg of gingerols.
Gingerols are one of the main phytonutrients in ginger, so this again suggests that a BulkSupplements product is substantially underdosed.
ConsumerLab suggests in their review that this product may have been exposed to excessive heat, because it contained an "unusually dark color" and "musty aroma." We would recommend avoiding this product.
Failed Quality Testing - Holy Basil
The test results for BulkSupplements' Holy Basil supplement are even more concerning than the two reviewed previously. Not only does this product appear to be underdosed based on ConsumerLab testing, but it also has relatively high levels of toxic heavy metals.
ConsumerLab found less than 50% of the expected value of triterpenes, which is a phytonutrient in holy basil. This suggests that the product is diluted or otherwise underdosed.
Additionally, ConsumerLab reported a lead level of around 2 micrograms (mcg) per gram serving. Lead is a toxic heavy metal that should be avoided as much as possible.
Failed Labeling - Potassium
The ConsumerLab review of BulkSupplements potassium product found the opposite issue of the ginkgo: this product had a much higher dose than was listed. ConsumerLab tests revealed that there was 2.57x more potassium chloride per teaspoon than the label claim.
This is an egregious and totally unacceptable error given that potassium metabolism is directly involved in electrical signaling of the heart.
This isn’t a minor mistake like a lower-than-expected concentration of a standardized extract; this is an error that could potentially harm a consumer’s health.
Failed Quality Testing - Summary
ConsumerLab has tested 10 BulkSupplements products that we could locate at the time of updating this article, and 4 of them were not approved due to failed quality testing or labeling (the 4 highlighted in this article). A 40% failure rate in ConsumerLab testing is the highest we’ve ever seen for a brand we reviewed on Illuminate Health, and suggests that BulkSupplements does not have good quality control procedures.
We would recommend avoiding the brand entirely based on this data.
Lack of Published Testing
This should be unsurprising given the third-party test results we analyzed above, but BulkSupplements doesn’t publish any test results of their products on their website (even in-house tests).
Consequently, consumers of the brand have no way to assess whether the product they’re considering purchasing is safe and accurately labeled. Without updated batch testing consumers are left to guess whether a product is safe or not.
BulkSupplements isn't unique in this regard; the majority of supplement companies do not publish testing of their products. However we urge more companies to do so.