One of the first places that many supplement consumers turn to for guidance on health product safety and efficacy is ConsumerLab. Their website publishes research and product testing that's available with a paid subscription.
But are ConsumerLab's ratings and testing data trustworthy? Does the company use appropriate testing methodologies? How does ConsumerLab compare to Labdoor? And who's behind ConsumerLab?
In this article we'll answer all of these questions and more as we explain what ConsumerLab tests for and the quality of their data to give our take on whether or not the service is worth the money.
We'll also compare ConsumerLab to another supplement testing site called Labdoor, explain who's behind ConsumerLab and why their respective credentials matter, and share our one major complaint about using the service.
What Does ConsumerLab Test For?
ConsumerLab primarily tests for two things in both their food and supplement reviews: label accuracy and purity.
Label accuracy testing examines whether a product actually contains what its label says it contains. As an example, if a ginseng supplement claims to provide 500 milligrams (mg) of ginseng extract standardized to 8% ginsenosides (the active phytochemical in ginseng), both of these things can be tested, and it's important both for consumer safety and for the effectiveness of the supplement to know if a product passes label accuracy tests.
Purity testing involves tests for potential contaminants, such as heavy metals and pesticides. Even if a supplement or food product is effectively dosed, it's likely worth avoiding if it contains high levels of toxins that are harmful to human health.
ConsumerLab tests some products for disintegration as well. This indicates how well a product dissolves into water, which can be important for ease-of-use.
ConsumerLab publishes the full set of data in most of their testing, which makes their site more useful to consumers than a simple "pass" or "fail" grade. As an example, in their ginseng supplement review, ConsumerLab published the ginsenoside level of each supplement, allowing consumers to see for themselves which are the most potent. Partial data from this review shown below as an example:
Our their About page, ConsumerLab outlines the specific testing methodologies used. The company uses high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) for quantitative assessment of potency, and spectroscopy (ICP-MS) for heavy metals testing.
The testing methodologies used by ConsumerLab meet the industry standard, and we commend the brand for using accurate scientific methods in their research and analysis.
Missing Test Results in Some Reviews
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 ConsumerLab herbal supplement reviews, the contaminant test results are missing.
In their ashwagandha review, for example, they test products containing “whole herbs” for heavy metal contamination, but not extracts. You can see in the image below an “N/A” score for the heavy metals section of an ashwagandha extract supplement:
Lead is equally harmful to human health whether it’s in an extract supplement or whole herb supplement.
We believe that it would be beneficial for consumers if ConsumerLab tested all products for contaminants. This data is arguably more important than the label accuracy data.
ConsumerLab also does not publish the full contaminant test results for products that "pass" testing. This is suboptimal for consumers in our opinion.
Two supplements that “passed” heavy metals testing may have wildly varying levels of heavy metals. Consider a pregnant woman who may want to reduce her lead intake as much as possible.
All things being equal, the health-conscious pregnant woman would prefer a supplement with 50% less lead than another supplement, even if both “passed” testing. This is why we urge ConsumerLab to publish the full set of contaminant data in their reviews.
ConsumerLab vs. Labdoor
Labdoor is another supplement testing site, so consumers are often curious about which resource is a better option when investigating a supplement or food product.
In our opinion, ConsumerLab is a vastly superior option to Labdoor. Here's why:
1) ConsumerLab publishes a much more comprehensive set of test results for each review than Labdoor. ConsumerLab reviews contain data on dosage, phytonutrient levels and in some cases contaminant levels (typically when contaminant levels are high).
Many Labdoor products we reviewed contained no data published at all, just rankings.
2) ConsumerLab rankings are based on objective, useful metrics like price-per-dose of a supplement, while Labdoor rankings are subjective and we consider some of their methodologies to be seriously flawed, as we documented in the above-linked review.
3) ConsumerLab is run by publicly-listed scientists, so we trust their data more. Labdoor does not clearly publish any information on their website about who manages their testing and what their credentials are.
Who Runs ConsumerLab?
ConsumerLab is run by scientists and researchers with impressive credentials.
The company's founder is an MD named Dr. Tod Cooperman who has helped guide government policy on dietary supplement regulation.
The company's VP for Research is a man named Mark Anderson who has authored 10 peer-reviewed publications and has a PhD in pharmacology/toxicology.
ConsumerLab's Senior Research Manager has a master's degree in biotechnology, and is obtaining a PhD in chemistry.
There are other medical experts on their team, and we consider it a good sign of a brand's trustworthiness and expertise when they clearly list their team members and how their respective credentials apply to the work they do.
Information Not Presented Well
Our main complaint about ConsumerLab is not about the data quality or the mission of the company. It's about the user experience of their website.
Their reviews are extremely extensive, and are a bit too wordy in our opinion. As an example, their ashwagandha review page has around 3,000 words. It contains a large amount of contextual information about ashwagandha, which is not why people use their site. We use their site to see test results on supplements and health products we're considering purchasing.
It's an inconvenience to scroll through a significant amount of poorly-laid-out text to reach the important data (the test results), and we believe ConsumerLab could provide more value to users with an extensive UX and UI redesign.
Put simply, their articles provide a significant amount of value but they look as though they were designed in 1990, and it can be frustrating for a modern internet user to engage with.
What is ConsumerLab's Quality Certification Program?
ConsumerLab has a Quality Certification Program which certifies the label accuracy and purity of supplements. Products that are certified bear the ConsumerLab seal to the right of the product title as shown in the example above.
Brands can opt-in to this program, pay a fee, and ConsumerLab will test their products and display the seal if they pass.
We consider this program to be more useful than Labdoor's program, because ConsumerLab only tests off-the-shelf supplements. This means they disallow brands from directly sending them products to test, which reduces the risk of bias or fraudulence.
When ConsumerLab tests a supplement, they're testing it after purchasing it through regular retail channels just like a consumer would.
All else being equal, we would recommend a supplement with ConsumerLab's Quality Certification Seal over a similar supplement without the seal.