Dispensary Strives for High-Quality Supplements

Thursday, February 19, 2015

You don’t have to worry about unidentified fillers showing up in the botanical and nutritional medicines available at the Bastyr Dispensary.

Despite recent news that some herbal supplements had been found to contain unlabeled ingredients such as houseplants and rice, Kathie Golden, ND, says that not all supplements are created equally.

“There really is a huge difference between what’s available in the retail market and the professional lines that we carry,” says Dr. Golden, who coordinates the committee that oversees which botanical, nutritional and homeopathic medicines are sold on the Bastyr Dispensary shelves.

“We want our patients to get better quality from the Bastyr Dispensary because we’re doctors,” she says. “We owe it to them, and we strive to meet their expectations.”

Prescriptions Don't Work Without Right Medicine 

The Bastyr Dispensary, which is located inside Bastyr Center for Natural Health, sells botanical and nutritional medicines over the counter and by prescription from licensed clinicians.

“The main purpose of the dispensary is to meet the prescribing needs of our medical students and physicians as well as physicians in the community,” Dr. Golden says. Because Bastyr Center is the teaching clinic of Bastyr University, it is important that student clinicians are able to see whether herbs that are being prescribed are actually working.

Student clinicians and Bastyr Center physicians are trained to help patients wade through the confusing supplement market by prescribing a medicine from a specific vendor and explaining why another product would or wouldn’t have the same results.

“The onus is on us as naturopathic physicians to make sure the products we’re selling contain the medicine we’re prescribing our patients,” Dr. Golden says.

How Dispensary Products Are Chosen

Bastyr’s Formulary Review Committee meets once a month to review companies that manufacture botanical and nutritional medicines. In addition to reviewing companies that are not yet sold in the dispensary, the committee also keeps tabs on the manufacturers of products currently for sale to be sure they continue to meet Bastyr’s quality assurance.

“We have a pretty tedious process by which we vet the products that we carry,” Dr. Golden says. “The whole factory needs to meet our quality assurance, not just individual products.”

Companies are expected to show that they meet the Good Manufacturing Practices required by the Food and Drug Administration by filling out a five-page questionnaire and providing documentation to back-up their answers, a process that she says typically takes about six months to complete.

“The main reason most manufacturers don’t meet our standards is that we only carry products from manufacturers who test every batch of raw material and finished products,” she says. Third-party testing is also an important requirement manufacturers must meet.

Dr. Golden points out that the quality assurance Bastyr’s Formulary Review Committee demands is based on the requirements of the Dietary Supplement Health Education Act, which gives the FDA jurisdiction over the botanical and nutritional medicine industry

“People think the dietary supplement industry is unregulated and that the FDA doesn’t have anything to do with it, but that’s not true,” Dr. Golden says. However, enforcement over the industry has yet to catch up, she says, with fewer than 200 inspections a year in an industry that encompasses thousands of manufacturers.

Is it Worth the Extra Cost?

All of these checks and balances might lead to higher-quality products, but they also can lead to a higher cost. Dr. Golden points out three areas that are important for quality assurance that also are the likely culprits of increased cost:

  • Higher-quality medicines are made with higher-quality raw materials that usually cost more.
  • Testing both the raw materials and finished products can be costly.
  • Products that are tested and don’t meet the company’s standards must be disposed of.

However, she points out that buying a medicine that doesn’t actually contain the medicine you need is much more costly: “It’s more expensive to buy something that doesn’t do the job it’s supposed to be doing.”

To talk to a naturopathic doctor about the supplements you are taking, make an appointment by calling (206) 834-4100 or go to our Make an Appointment page.