BackOfLabel Trust Score (BOLT Score) - Common Sense Criteria for Purchasing Supplements

Want to skip ahead to the ratings? Click here. Want an even shorter explanation - go to the Buyer’s Guide. Otherwise read on for an explanation of the thinking behind our scoring criteria.

Think of the worst supplement you can buy.

To find a supplement that we want, we invert this criteria.

This is how the BOLT Score was created.

The best supplement (A Grade):

We consider ingredients but also company structure, a company's history of operation, ingredient sourcing, manufacturing locations and marketing claims. Should a company using cheap and inferior ingredients sold in a country without pre-market testing without third-party certifications have a high BackOfLabel Trust score? We don't think so.

Shouldn't ingredient efficacy be more important than company trust score?

We do consider ingredient efficacy however supplement labels are often inaccurate and don’t contain stated amounts of active ingredients. It's been our experience that after ingredient efficacy, the best indication of a quality supplement is company quality.

One day we'd like to test each batch of every supplement sold - but for now the BOLT Score is a logical alternative based on first principles methodology. We stand behind our ratings so you can make superior purchasing decisions.

Why is Company Trust important?

At every stage from supply chain provenance to manufacturing, to labelling to shipping - dietary supplement companies make a decision. That decision may or may not serve you - the customer who wants to improve their health.

An untrustworthy company will cut corners to drive profits.
An ethical company will make long-term choices that may reduce profits in the short-term but produce a superior product and cultivate brand trust in the long term.

What this looks like in practice - an untrustworthy brand will choose not to test raw materials sourced from their international suppliers prior to use - after all there is no pre-market approval required anyway.

An ethical company will have an in-house analytical lab, utilise third-party testing to educate their customers and use more expensive but effective raw ingredients. They have higher standards because they often use their products themselves.

It's crucial that consumers know which brands have these standards.

Our Scoring Process

The three main factors that determine supplement quality are

Ingredient Quality

To assess ingredient efficacy we check the best primary resources available, including the best scientific studies in Medline/Pubmed and others. Then we check sources including the Mayo Clinic, NIH, Examine.com, The Cambridge Health Alliance and more.These generally provide a clear idea of the research landscape and efficacy data. We may consider the recommendations of trusted scientific figures including Andrew Huberman Ph.D. and Dr. Pieter Cohen. M.D. These figures are unaffiliated with BackOfLabel.com however their educational resources can sometimes inform BOLT Score criteria when relevant.

We also consider product formulation; The effectiveness of a supplement can be affected by product composition, but also by the form and type of ingredients present. When companies market their magnesium supplement for sleep yet it is made of Mg. oxide (laxative) instead of magnesium glycinate - that raises alarm bells and lowers their trust score. This reiterates the importance of assessing company operations for determining supplement quality.

A note on anecdotal reports
Whilst anecdotal reports are considerably less reliable than studies – they are still valuable in many ways. For example, if a large percentage of the population has an unwanted side effect to a certain supplement or ingredient even if studies are not saying so – we consider it. Scientific research follows a bell-curve of quality and can for many ingredients is funded by manufacturers. We use common sense and diligently apply it whenever we can.

Company Operations

Company trust is assessed based on the willingness to disclose sourcing & manufacturing info and how accessible this information is. In addition, we consider company marketing claims, their manufacturing location, third-party certifications, company structure and testing requirements.

Evidence of product recalls and how they were responded to are considered in our score.

A note on company trust
At BackOfLabel, we understand the science of supplements and how they work - that's why it's a massively negative signal when a company makes promising marketing claims that don't add up. If they're willing to lie when they think they can get away with it - what else are they lying about? Decisions on Ingredient sourcing, quality control and product formulation offer avenues that a company can take to increase their bottom line at the cost of the end consumer.

We want you to purchase a great product at a fair price. The BOLT Score doesn't tell you the cheapest supplements - it finds the best ones. A score of A-B indicates a company that is transparent with a history of doing right by their customers. If a company has a C score it usually means their sourcing and manufacturing info was difficult to find or obscured - but their products are still using effective ingredients. C is a good score. D is where we begin to have questions and might not consider buying a supplement due to efficacy concerns, concerns with manufacturing origin or a lack of certifications/robust pre-market approval requirements.

Company Location

In the US, dietary supplements are legislated by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. What’s this mean? Put simply, no supplements require pre-market approval before they are sold in stores!

This is obviously a bad thing for consumers - and has resulted in a large market for third-party certification services. At BackOfLabel we’ve collaborated with health companies to assess third-party certification service quality and consistency. What did we find? Certain labs are better than others. We assign an internal score depending on the choice of third-party certification that a brand uses. This is heavily reflected in the BOLT Score. We also consider certifications that go beyond those currently viewable in the table - those currently listed are from reputable organisations.

We also consider manufacturing facility information where available and factor in the use of third-party manufacturing contractors. Certain countries have stricter legislative environments that call for pre-market testing - this is something many consumers inherently understand and look for.

What does this all mean?

The BOLT Score is a scientific yet common-sense approach to answering the question “Is this supplement effective, safe and transparently sourced?” The BOLT Score approach is guided by a principle known as the “Lollapalooza effect” - whereby if multiple factors converge or compound to a single answer - it’s likely the correct trend - although there are always exceptions which we account for on an individual basis. We evaluate each company and brand individually.

At the same time, the BOLT Score is grounded in scientific evidence, a logical approach and high standards.

Our holistic yet rigorous methodology for assessing company quality provides consumers with the best research tool when it comes to purchasing supplements when there are no clear markers of quality to the naked eye.

BOLT SCORE GRADING

BOLT Score is a simple way to gain a snapshot of a company's entire operating history and to determine whether their products are useful or not. By considering a holistic view, BOLT Score helps ensure that your supplements are effective, safe and ethical.

BOLT ScoreCriteria
A (Superior)

“Highly transparent company, Strong Efficacy, Numerous Reputable Certifications”

  • Ingredient: Strong Scientific Efficacy
  • Company: Highly transparent Sourcing (Supplier Info, Country)
  • Third-Party Certified
  • Long History of Trustworthy Behaviour (No recalls)
  • Safe
  • Typically from a country with stricter legislation
B (Excellent)

“Transparent company, Strong Efficacy, Reputable Certification”

  • Ingredient: Strong Scientific Efficacy
  • Company: Transparent Sourcing (Country)
  • Third-Party Certified
  • Long History of Trustworthy Behaviour (No recalls)
  • Safe
  • Often from a country with stricter legislation
C (Good)

“Attempt at transparency, Moderate Efficacy of Ingredients, Reputable Certification”

  • Ingredient: Moderate - Strong Scientific Efficacy
  • Company: Transparent Sourcing (Sometimes Country)
  • Third-Party Certified
  • Safe
  • Sometimes from a country with stricter legislation
D (Fair)

“Usually A safe but typically ineffective product - A company at this level usually has a concern with regards to 1) lacking ingredient evidence 2) inadequate product certifications 3) Obscures manufacturing info typically a private label brand”

  • Ingredient: Weak - Moderate Scientific Efficacy
  • Company: Attempt at Transparent Sourcing, Hard to Find Info
  • Generally Third-Party Certified
  • Safe
  • Usually not from a country with stricter legislation
E (Poor)

“Any one of: May fail tests, their website doesn't work, hides info on manufacturing or uses proprietary blends with poor ingredients, no third party certification or pre-market testing. E does not mean a product is not necessarily unsafe or doesn't work.”

  • Ingredient: Weak Scientific Efficacy
  • Company: Very difficult to find sourcing info
  • Not third party certified
  • Likely Safe
  • Rarely from a country with stricter legislation
F (Fail)

“Indicates a product is either 1) Homeopathy or MLM 2) Has aggressive side effects 3) Makes Unsubstantiated Marketing Claims (Eg. Best Weight Loss Product) 4) Has no online presence or information available 5) History of Recall and/or Misleading Consumers”

  • Ingredient: Limited Scientific Efficacy
  • Company: Very difficult to find sourcing info/no sourcing info
  • Likely Safe
  • Rarely from a country with stricter legislation
  • Sometimes unethical and preys upon uninformed consumers

Typically we recommend A-C to be purchased but early adopters may consider D rated brands with less evidence. E Ratings are given to companies that have information disclosure issues.

The difference between B-C is almost always due to ingredient efficacy evidence in the science but as a general rule, these companies also obscure their manufacturing and sourcing info to a greater extent. We recommend purchasing from A-B rated companies wherever possible however C rated companies still make products that work. When we get into D ratings there are ingredient efficacy concerns or a lack of pre-market approval in combination with limited third-party certifications indicating lack of oversight. D products may still work and in many cases make effective products but we can’t verify their claims easily. E products have concerns with ingredient efficacy but aren’t unethical - they’re simply addressing market demand.

A (BOLT Score) - Buyer’s Guide