Updated September 2022
Vitamins and supplements ALL have some level of heavy metals in them (even if the raw content does not, metals contaminate the product from the machinery processing). Since many people take them every day, it’s important to be aware that they may contain high levels! There is shockingly little regulation of supplements. I have a post about prenatal vitamins, but this one is about avoiding heavy metals in supplements in general.
Don’t just trust a supplement brand because they “seem clean” or natural or even organic (organic does NOT NECESSARILY mean less heavy metals)! A great thing to do is to is ask for a recent third party (not a document the company created) Certificate of Analysis (COA) that includes heavy metal analysis. That will be explained more, below the list of brands. Also, beware of companies who say things like “third party tested for heavy metals” but don’t share the actual test results.
Some of the Better Supplement Companies
When I need a supplement I look at these brands first:
-Seeking Health (they are not always low but will provide you with any COA requested, although they aren’t from a third party).
-Smartypants posts COAs (see below for explanation of what that is) for every batch so you know exactly what’s in the bottle you buy. And they do have some organic products. Amazon affiliate link: https://amzn.to/3rM1alN
⁃Nordic Naturals omegas (I’ve seen as low as 1 ppb.) have current/ for each lot COAs readily available through their website. Amazon affiliate link: https://amzn.to/3qZqAgC
-Pure Encapsulations (they are owned by Nestle, but their products are generally lower in heavy metals). They provide COAs fast, though not third party.
-Megafood is usually under prop 65 Levels but they stopped sharing COA (now that that is the case I wouldn’t use them).
-Health Ranger (his A+++ or A ++ are low but not A+ in my opinion).
-LifeExtension (they will send a COA but sometimes only testing down to Prop 65 levels).
-NutriGold has food based vitamins and they post COAs for all of their products, but I haven’t looked deeply into it. Lead looked a bit high around 270 ppb when I looked, but that was for prenatal which tends to be higher. They had many certifications for other aspects though.
-I hear Metagenics supplies COA per batch.
There are some others as well but these are the bigger main ones that have low heavy metals and not a lot of junky ingredients. Juice Plus gets asked about but they don’t share COA easily, and contain soy and other things. Here’s an older article that outlines concerns. They also are an MLM type of company which I’m always wary of, because it’s harder to trust recommendations from people who are trying to sign you up to be part of the scheme.
According to Lead Safe Mama, liquid supplements have water (or other liquid base) so that lessens the potential for higher levels of lead contamination. Do note that if the heavy metals are in ppm or ppb, that is a measure of concentration, so because the liquid is more dilute than capsules, the low ppm or ppb may be slightly misleading. Also it’s hard to do a side by side comparison of heavy metals is one product is a liquid and one is a capsule, if the data is in ppm or ppb,
How to Calculate Heavy Metals Levels
The best thing to do is ask for a COA (certificate of analysis) including heavy metals. Also, it’s best to see the actual third party lab COA; not a supplement company’s fact sheet or in house COA. Keep in mind that every batch/lot can be different, so if companies don’t provide certificates for every batch, it’s possible that what is in your bottle is different that the document they show you. also, many companies refuse to share at all, which is a red flag to me. Also the COA should be for the final product, not raw ingredients. If you want to really scrutinize a supplement company, here is a detailed questionnaire.
Note what type of number values (ppm, ppb, mcg, etc) are given and if it is per capsule or serving/dose. It is complicated, but you can also do some math to figure out exactly how much lead is in each dose. It is most useful and straightforward to know the mcg or ug per dose, (they are equivalent). The prop 65 limit is .5 ug (or mcg) of per day so you can use that as a general reference point. I consider that level to still be too high, so if you see a prop 65 warning label indicating that the levels surpass this, I definitely wouldn’t use it. If you have data in ppb (which is a measure of concentration) in products; usually I look for less than 20 ppb or as close to that as I can get. Definitely less than 100 ppb.
To convert ppm to ppb move 3 decimal places to the right. So .100 ppm equals 100 ppb.
Mcg and Ug are both the same thing. If you view calculators to convert Micrograms per liter or ug/l To PPM, it basically says to move the decimal to the right three places, just like ppm. But to convert mcg to ppb for supplements, an example: Divide the total lead mcg (.370) by the weight of the total dose in grams (13.2). So .370 divided by 13.2 is .028 ug (which is the same as PPM). But then you move the decimal three places to the right to get ppb. So this example is 28 ppb. If the serving size is in milligrams, be sure to convert to grams first.
Or here is another way that is more complicated because it adds a step of calculating per gummy or capsule.
If the data is given as mg/ kg, that is already expressed as concentration, so is easy to concert to ppb. Just move the decimal three places to the right. Example: 0.5 mg/kg = 0.5 ppm = 500 ppb
What Are High Levels and What Laws are in Place?
Be very wary of how companies will try to make themselves sound good by vaguely referencing safety standards. The only way to know for sure is to see third party test results.
There is no certification guaranteeing low heavy metals limits. The best thing we have (but still too high of a limit in my opinion) is Proposition 65 (The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986) in the State of California affects all products sold in the state. The law maintains mechanisms for listing chemicals that are “known to the state” to cause cancer or reproductive harm, and requires any product that exposes a consumer to any such chemical to provide a “clear and reasonable warning” unless the amount present is below established “safe harbor” limits, if such have been issued. Listed chemicals include arsenic (inorganic forms); cadmium; lead; and mercury and methylmercury. Some companies put the warnings on products sold everywhere, but some do it only for the ones sold within California because that’s the only state it is required. So if you aren’t in California, you have to ask questions and can’t assume that because a product doesn’t have the warning, that it is safe. Helpful article about prop 65. I consider all of these too high:
• California Prop. 65 for Reproductive Toxin allows for 0.5 ug/day of lead. (Note that is for an entire day, so you wouldn’t want any one supplement to be that high because there is lead in food and other things that will contribute to your limit.
• California Prop. 65 for Carcinogens allows for 15 ug/day of lead
• NSF/ANSI 173 (industry certification) allows for 20 ug/day of lead
• USP limit for supplements: 10 ppm (that equals 10,000 ppb)
• Canada Natural Health Products Directorate allows for 20 ug/day of lead
• FDA daily limit for adults is 75 ug/day for lead. Note this isn’t a regulation on products. Also note it’s a huge amount! So if companies try to mention that they follow FDA guidelines, that really doesn’t mean much at all. FDA lets manufacturers establish their own upper limits.
• GMP doesn’t mean very much these days. It can still have high heavy metals. Most companies are cGMP Certified and still have contaminant issues. “manufacturers determine what, if any, heavy metal specifications are appropriate under cGMP for their ingredients and finished products, and what heavy metal tests are needed, whether to meet established specifications or for other purposes. In addition, any self-imposed heavy metal cGMP specification needs to be met by the manufacturer in order to comply with the federal cGMP rule.” -Sourcehttp://www.imjournal.com/resources/web_pdfs/0607_liva.pdf As far as “standards,” lead has to be below 2 parts per million (ppm) if they are GMP or NSF certified (which most companies are), which may sound low but that equates to 2000 parts per billion, which is very high. This isn’t an apples to apples comparison, but just to illustrate standards measured in ppb, Water is considered toxic for children (by the American Academy of Pediatrics) at levels that exceed 1 ppb. Bottled water is considered illegal for Lead content if it has more than 5 ppb. Tap water is considered to be unsafe for human consumption if it exceeds the (relatively high / not protective of human health) federal standard of 15 ppb. The limit in dried fruit is 100 ppb.
People often ask what level I look for. Basically I get the lowest I can find. I definitely wouldn’t take anything over 100 ppb, and aim more like less than 50 ppb.
A scary thing is that COA’s are only part of the process. Testing really should be done upon completion, in addition to the COA, in my opinion. Most companies microtest for bacteria after production but very few test for heavy metals post production. Different manufacturing facilities have different protocols as well, some great and some not so great. The machines used for the final production stages could contaminate the product.
Levels for Specific Supplements
-A few to be especially cautious about are calcium, zinc, magnesium, green powders, botanicals (single herb or herb combinations in extract, powder, capsule, or tablet forms), products derived from shellfish (eg, glucosamine and chitin), fulvic acid, other products marketed as “binders” such as bentonite, and protein powders (I’ll try to add more about that here later or make a separate post).
-I’ve read that probiotics are generally low risk for lead. For Needed brand Pre/Probiotic: 26 ppb (December 2021).
-Vitamin C: Revitalize Wellness has the lowest lead level I’ve seen for Ascorbic acid (20ppb). They will send COA by email. I mix about a teaspoon with about a cup of water and keep it in the fridge and take a sip with each meal. I don’t mind the taste but I’d say it’s a bit sour, similar to lemon water. I am going to try to orange flavor of this (because of the ingredients) for my daughter.
For a food based vitamin C, All the ones I looked into were surprisingly high except:
-Healthforce Truly Natural Vitamin C acerola was 23 ppb in Nov 2020.
-Perfect Supplements organic Baobab powder was 56 ppb last time I checked. I have used this one.
-Zinc: Be aware that ALL zinc has lead! Pure Encapsulations Zinc 15 (Amazon affiliate link: https://amzn.to/3rPA2C7) is the lowest I’ve heard of.
-Nova Scotia Organics acerola caplets at .01 ug. They also make children’s chewables but I didn’t like the additional ingredients in both products.
-Garden of Life Living Vitamin C, from a 12/ 2020 internal document (not third party): .0746 mcg per serving.
-Iron: One with low metals I found is Seeking Health Optimal Iron Plus Cofactors.
-Liver supplement: Perfect Supplements Desiccated liver. Amazon Associates link: https://amzn.to/3tSjSuB
-B12: Seeking Health Active B12 with L-5 MTHF has low metals.
-Glutathione: Seeking Health Liposomal Glutathione Plus has low metals.
-Collagen. There are a few guides out there that compare heavy metals testing. One specific brand I got testing for is Needed brand: .005 mcg lead per serving. Another lot number was .1 mcg lead per serving. (Both from March 2022). Serving size is 15g.
-Magnesium. Last time I looked into it, Pure Encapsulations Magnesium glycinate was lowest.
-Creatine monohydrate. Pure Encapsulations 20 ppb (Feb 2022). Bulk Supplements 21ppb (April 2022).
-Mary Ruth’s Liquid Morning Multivitamin, Raspberry. I didn’t see the date of the COA but the expiration for he product tested was 6/2022. A serving of 1 fl oz = 29.6 mL. 0.106 ppm = 0.106 ug/ml. So one serving is 0.106ug/ml * 29.6ml = 3 ug. That’s a lot of lead (six times prop 65 serving limit). For reference, the prop 65 warning is 0.5 ug per serving. The FDA recommends women of childbearing age consume less than 8.8 ug of lead per day from all dietary sources. It was also a bit suspect that their COA are internally created and aren’t third party. After following up with this COA, customer service said they shouldn’t have shared it.
Tips for Absorbing Less Lead
One tip I have is to take your supplements with food, because any food in your stomach will help you absorb less metals.
This is a helpful article about which nutrients help remove lead from the body, which increase or decrease lead absorption, and possible dangers (other than lead) of supplements.
See my other blogs about lead for more tips.
Don’t Forget Other Toxicants
Be sure to check labels for all ingredients, including inactive ones. Avoid additives such as maltodextrin.
For any supplementation, be sure you actually need it, since all supplements do have some level of lead and potential other contaminants.
This link is about kids supplements. I don’t agree with everything she says, and keep in mind she is ok with prop 65 levels, whereas I don’t think it does not limit heavy metals enough. Interesting info though.
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