If you're like millions of Americans who take a multivitamin every day "just to be sure," you may have new reasons to doubt what's inside that pill or capsule.
A report just released by ConsumerLab.com revealed that more than half of the multivitamins tested did not contain what the label claimed: Either the nutrient levels fell short or exceeded what was safe.
Of the 21 brands of multivitamins the researchers randomly selected off store shelves and tested, only 10 met the stated claims on the label or satisfied other quality standards.
Most "shocking" was the amount of lead found in one multivitamin, said Dr. Tod Cooperman, president of ConsumerLab.com, a White Plains, N.Y., company that independently evaluates dietary supplements.
The Vitamin Shoppe Multivitamins Especially for Women was found to contain 15.3 micrograms of lead per serving. Cooperman said this is more than 10 times the amount of lead permitted without a warning label in California -- the only state to regulate lead in supplements.
Excess lead may be particularly damaging to pregnant women and young children.
Cooperman believes the contamination may be attributed to the herbs used in the supplement, but "we've not heard from Vitamin Shoppe," he said.
The second most "disturbing" finding, said Cooperman, was the amount of vitamin A found in a multivitamin for children.
Hero Nutritionals Yummi Bears contained 216 percent of the labeled amount of vitamin A, delivering amounts that exceeded what's been defined as an "upper tolerable level" for children. Too much vitamin A can weaken bones and cause liver damage.
Each serving provided 5,400 international units of vitamin A in the retinol form, which is substantially more than the upper tolerable level of 2,000 IUs for children ages 1 to 3, and 3,000 IUs for children ages 4 to 8.
Judy Blatman, vice president of communications for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade association that represents the dietary supplements industry, had not seen the full report but she questioned the findings.
"With more than 150 million Americans using multivitamins and other supplements, if we had a real safety concern we would know about it," she said.
The ConsumerLab.com report also found that three brands of multivitamins did not sufficiently break apart, which means they could potentially pass through your system without being fully absorbed. Those products included Nature's Plus Especially Yours Women's Multvitamin, AARP Maturity Formula and Now Adam Superior Men's Multivitamin.
David Grotto, a registered dietitian and spokesman for the American Dietetic Association, believes the problems identified in the ConsumerLab.com report underscore the need for government oversight rather than voluntary adherence to industry-set standards.
Unlike pharmaceutical products, dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
Grotto believes an independent lab doing random testing is a good thing to help keep companies accountable. Sometimes with supplements, it's a "roll of the dice," he said.
That means you may not be getting what you're paying for. But the bigger concern, according to Grotto, is "getting what you're not paying for," such as contamination from heavy metals.