The China Syndrome: Where do your vitamins come from? By Neil E. Levin, CCN, DANLA A large number of people have been recently asking whether dietary supplement ingredients come from China, with the implication that everything from China is dangerous and adulterated. Some have been misinformed, being told that most supplements originate in China and that there may be some reason to worry about them. These people are scared and some even promise to stop buying any product made in China. How valid is this fear? While it is true that much of the domestic vitamin C supply comes from China, that is not true for most ingredients in American dietary supplements. And, believe me, American vitamin manufacturers have long been wary about buying cheap, generic ingredients from China. It has taken a lot of time and successful testing of materials for Chinese ingredients such as vitamin C to eventually penetrate the American market. Some Chinese suppliers have demonstrated a dedication and history of quality manufacturing, which in turn has established a measure of confidence in their American and European customers. These are not a few “bad apples” that are trying to sell substandard ingredients to us. These are the tried and true good guys that have a devotion to quality. Why punish them for the mistakes and misdeeds of Chinese pet food manufacturers? Guilt by association has never been my favorite prejudice. In fact, the Natural Products Association (NPA) has inaugurated a new Chinese affiliate organization, with the express purpose of establishing pre-testing and certification of select Chinese dietary supplement ingredients before they are shipped to the US. This is yet another measure intended to protect the American public by testing and screening raw materials intended for the US market. Joint ventures with European and Japanese manufacturers has recently placed brand new, state-of-the-art pharmaceutical-grade production facilities in China that meet the same exacting standards as US, European or Japanese plants that have long been associated with the highest quality ingredients. These new plants are registered with the FDA and meet current good manufacturing practices for pharmaceuticals (cGMP), with some facilities also registered as ISO compliant and kosher certified. These are not shady operations, and in some cases exceed the quality standards of older Western facilities. You could walk through them and feel like you were in a top pharmaceutical plant in Switzerland. The best US manufacturers, those who have earned the coveted GMP certification for good manufacturing practices, have quality control programs in place to evaluate both suppliers and ingredients. Testing provides a means to ensure that both vendors and ingredients are identified and approved before use. In the case of vitamin C, testing to assure that the material meets strict US standards of quality and identity for pure L-ascorbic acid is a key control point, with the material typically meeting pharmaceutical monographs for purity standards. Microbiological screening is another quality measure employed by some US manufacturers to assure safety in plant and animal derived ingredients. And some manufacturers actually help to advance the science of quality by publishing validated test methods in peer-reviewed scientific journals. These new methods include recent publications for advancing the testing of unadulterated glucosamine and chondroitin. I have a fear that the enemies of dietary supplement use and American health freedom have irresponsibly cooked up this campaign of fear to swamp US supplement companies with requests for country-of-origin information for every ingredient and to waste both their and their customers’ time chasing a red herring. As we have seen no indication of any specific problem with dietary supplements (other than television pundits apparently trying to morph legitimate pet food fears into unfounded fears of possibly tainted supplements), someone is obviously riling up American consumers in an effort to create doubts about the safe use of vitamins. Who stands to gain from this fear-mongering? The news media obviously thrives on sensational reports that make us question everyday conveniences. The medical/pharmaceutical complex is another obvious beneficiary of people being afraid to use vitamins. Self-appointed consumer advocates think that they can reduce risks by getting people to avoid “unproven” and “unregulated” natural products and therapies, hoping to get them to use “safe” medical therapies instead. These folks have failed to read the annual reports of the American Associations of Poison Control Centers, which prove that even lip balms and household cleaners are more deadly than vitamins. Don’t be fooled by reports of vague dangers from Chinese ingredients used in American dietary supplements sold by large, reputable US manufacturers. Until there is some basis in fact, I regard this as strictly a cynical attack by enemies of natural products, intended to erode our resolve to making better health choices, including the use of dietary supplements. If we fear to take our supplements, we will abandon them and be left with drugs as our only means to correct health problems amplified by nutritional deficiencies, often caused or aggravated by by our poor diets. And since over 90% of Americans fail to eat even the minimal RDA levels of nutrients, that means you!