A Smart Guide to Buying Supplements

By Tod Cooperman, MD, President, ConsumerLab.comConsumerLab.com is offering a 24-hour free pass to Dr. Oz viewers. Visit ConsumerLab.com/DoctorOz now and get immediate access to ConsumerLab.com’s unbiased testing of fish oil, ginseng and St. John’s Wort supplements.

Posted on | By Tod Cooperman, MD

American and Asian ginseng have been shown to help the body prevent flu-like illness. Some evidence also suggests improved well-being and sexual function with Asian ginseng.

Forty-five percent of ginseng in our lab tests failed for either not containing the required amount of ginseng compounds or for being contaminated with lead.


  • Generally look for American or Asian (often sold as “Korean”) ginseng, as these have the most clinical evidence supporting their effectiveness. A daily dose typically provides at least 200 mg of an extract or 1000 to 2000 mg (1 to 2 grams) of a dried plant powder.
  • Real ginseng should contain several milligrams of natural ginsenoside compounds, but supplements often fall short.
  • Of the products tested, Spring Valley’s Korean Ginseng is among those that passed all of ConsumerLab.com’s tests.

Probiotics are live microorganisms (in most cases, bacteria) that are similar to the beneficial microorganisms naturally found in the human gut. These “good bacteria” are used to prevent and alleviate many different conditions but particularly those that affect the gastrointestinal tract. Probiotics have been shown to help regulate digestion and treat vaginal infection.

Scam: Probiotics are filled with living microorganisms that can die if the product is not properly made, shipped and stored. Of the 13 products we tested, more than half of the products did not contain the labeled amount of probiotics, and one contained as little as 7% of its listed amount.


  • Watch for an asterisk on the packaging. Scamming companies will often claim a certain number of CFUs (Colony Forming Units) on their label, using an asterisk to footnote that this was the number “at the time of manufacture.” Be aware that an amount of probiotics listed “at time of manufacture” doesn’t tell you how many you’ll get when purchased, which can be much lower.
  • Probiotics that have been shown to work in irritable bowel syndrome, vaginal infections, and antibiotic-related diarrhea typically provide 1 billion or more live organisms per day, although this may vary and be somewhat lower for children.
  • Keep probiotics in a cool, dry place out of sunlight. If ordered online, request refrigerated shipping.
  • Of the products tested, AdvoCare’s Probiotic Restore is one that contained the amount of CFUs promised on the label.

Article written by Tod Cooperman, MD
President, ConsumerLab.com