// March 08, 2024

Navigating “Trending” Supplements

Supplements spilling out of a bottle

Last year, we witnessed growing interest in consumer health and wellness products that were trending on social media. The rise of third-party online shopping platforms – think TikTok Shop, Amazon and sponsored content on Meta-owned platforms – has fostered a culture where consumers are comfortable trusting influencer recommendations, often purchasing items without critical examination of a product and its claims. For some products – like dietary supplements – an impulse buy can be dangerous.

Results from a recent survey of 564 Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) showed that nearly 82% of respondents consider TikTok the top threat when it comes to the spread of nutrition misinformation via social platforms.1 Social media and influencers may include misleading information and sweeping health claims to sell a product without considering one of the most important elements of any supplement – the quality of ingredients.

Consumer awareness and industry regulation

According to top-line data from a 2023 Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) report, 74% of U.S. adults take supplements and 55% are considered regular users.2 Unfortunately, most consumers don't have a strong understanding of how the dietary supplement industry is regulated, which can result in confusion about the role of regulatory agencies – like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – in the process. In fact, a survey by The Pew Charitable Trusts found that approximately 50% of US adults “overestimate FDA regulation of supplements.”3

The reality is that the FDA regulates dietary supplements differently than it does pharmaceutical products. Since 1994, dietary supplements have been regulated as a category of foods, meaning that they do not require FDA approval before they are sold to the public.4 The quality of dietary supplements and their ingredients are typically evaluated by the same manufacturers and suppliers that produce them, unless the manufacturers enlist a third-party organization, like U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), to test and verify the final product.5

While some dietary supplements do offer health benefits, if a supplement has not gone through a verification process, its identity, strength, composition and contaminant limit cannot be confirmed. Further, the proclaimed health benefits found on an unverified supplement’s label are not necessarily true or accurate. A recent test conducted by the U.S. FDA of nearly 70 dietary supplements for sale at major online retailers revealed that most of these products included active ingredients that were not listed on the label. This lack of transparency can lead to unwanted side effects or interactions with other drugs or supplements that someone may be taking.6 While this test evaluated just one category of supplements, the results are concerning.

Social media’s influence

Health misinformation is as old as medicine itself, but the age of social media has expanded its reach and influence. Today, eight in 10 internet users search for health information online and 74% of those people use social media to do so.7 There are almost 5 billion views of videos discussing supplements on TikTok alone.8 Without proper discretion, those seeking health guidance online may inadvertently trust false information.

Increased accessibility to health information can empower consumers to take control of their health decisions, but also increases the risk of misinformation, particularly around “trendy” supplements, with scientific claims that aren’t supported with enough research or widely accepted.9 This can lead to misconceptions that products are safer, healthier or more effective than they are.

Products that claim to be plant-based or vegan, for example, tend to be associated with the terms “healthy” or “safe” but they are not high quality by default, as plants can have both healing and harmful properties. Unverified plant-based products may still have compositions that do not match their labels, and at worst, contain undeclared ingredients or contaminants that could harm the individual taking them.10 Beyond considerations around preference, dietary restrictions, or TikTok recommendations, it is essential to choose supplements that have been verified by a third party.

Choosing a quality supplement

Dietary supplements can be extremely complex in composition and for the average consumer, it can be challenging to know what to watch out for before making a purchase. With the FDA issuing warning letters and recalls due to mislabeling, contaminations and false claims around health benefits, knowing what to look for when choosing a supplement is more important than ever.

As an independent, third-party organization dedicated to protecting public health, USP offers the industry’s most comprehensive auditing and testing program for dietary supplements to ensure that what’s on the label is what’s in the bottle. USP’s deep commitment to protecting public health through development of quality standards for medicines, dietary supplements, and foods is reinforced through our Verification programs. Whether you’re receiving recommendations from an influencer or a friend or family member, doing your due diligence and checking for a third-party verification stamp, like the USP Verified Mark, when choosing a supplement can help you feel confident that you’re choosing a quality product that you can trust.

To help consumers understand their options, USP has created a product finder tool of dietary supplements that have gone through the USP verification process, which you can access here: https://www.quality-supplements.org/usp_verified_products

Remember to talk to your healthcare provider before incorporating a new supplement into your diet to ensure you are choosing a product that’s right for you.


1 https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/affordability-and-gut-health-predicted-as-leading-food-purchase-drivers-in-2024-302061882.html 
2 https://www.crnusa.org/newsroom/three-quarters-americans-take-dietary-supplements-most-users-agree-they-are-essential 
3 https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2023/01/26/stronger-federal-oversight-of-dietary-supplements-will-protect-consumers-from-unsafe-products
4 https://www.fda.gov/food/information-consumers-using-dietary-supplements/questions-and-answers-dietary-supplements
5 About Us | Quality Supplements (quality-supplements.org)
6 https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/weight-loss-male-enhancement-and-other-products-sold-online-or-stores-may-be-dangerous 
7 https://healthcaresuccess.com/blog/healthcare-marketing/social-media-in-healthcare-7-ways-to-increase-consumer-engagement-in-2022.html 
8 https://www.tiktok.com/tag/supplements?lang=en
9 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1319016418305668
10 https://www.fda.gov/food/alerts-advisories-safety-information/fda-issues-warning-about-certain-supplements-substituted-toxic-yellow-oleander-january-2024?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery