Buying vitamins and supplements can be confusing. How do you know if your vitamins and supplements actually contain what the labels claim?
Most of us take vitamins or natural supplements of some type. Often, we have no idea if the supplements are doing anything at all. But we continue taking them as an insurance of sort. Yet unverifiable low-priced product with “sketchy” guidance from untrained clerks lead to disappointing outcomes. Aren’t all supplements on the shelf the same? And the bottle says that it’s good for X condition, it must work, right?
Regulation and manufacturing practice
Canadian Natural Health Product Regulation with required NPNs (Natural Product Number) did not prevent instances where unknown substances were added, or something important was never included.
Health Canada recalled U-Dream, a popular natural sleep aid. The product was contaminated with a habit forming prescription sleeping pill called Zopiclone impurity 22.
Moreover, LeBlanc and colleagues published a study in 2013 testing the potency of over the counter and compounded Vitamin D products. “When we took 1 pill from each of 5 bottles with the same lot number, potency ranged from 57% to 138% of the stated amount….results for the potency of pills from different lots ranged from 9% to 140% of the stated dose on label…” (1)
Meaning: if you buy bottles with the same lot number, you get 57% to 138% of the stated amount. If you buy the same product with different lot numbers, then you are getting anywhere between 9% to 140% of the stated amount. But that’s a huge difference! So sometimes you are taking a placebo, and other times you are overdosing which can be harmful.
With globalization of businesses, some vitamins and supplements brands use multiple manufactures globally, and choices are based on pricing. The brands will simply package the products and label them. Even though the labels look the same, the quality of the products can vary greatly. While this outsourcing practice assures the cheapest price, it makes it very difficult for consumers to determine quality of the products they are getting.
Ingredient selection and process
Vitamins and herbs lose potency over time. The manufacturers must buy small lots for quick process and made available to the consumer as soon as possible. Manufacturers must also take into consideration of storage and stability. How long will the product be in a warehouse? How long will it sit on the shelf in a store? Reputable manufacturers will take many factors into consideration before placing an expiry date on their product.
The potency of the active components in a herbal supplement can vary wildly. Potency depends on plant parts used, plant harvesting time, storage length, and manufacturing process. The most reputable supplement manufacturers use herbs with a “standardized” potency, so you will know exactly how much of the active part of the herb you are getting.
As a pharmacist, I must bring up this point of pharmacokinetics – what happens to the pill after you’ve swallowed it. Manufacturers may compress all ingredients (active and inactive) into capsules or tablets. But these manufacturers may or may not test to determine how rapidly (or if at all) their products break down in the digestive tract. This important test step obviously adds cost to the product. A product gives zero benefit if is not broken down properly, then absorbed and distributed throughout the body. How would an average consumer know if any given supplement is tested or not? We don’t. But reputable manufacturers will put in the money to test their products to make sure it will work.
Professional-grade supplements are available only through licensed healthcare professionals. Companies that supply professional-grade supplements provide assurance “what is on the label is exactly what is in the bottle”. They follow the same guidelines for pharmaceutical companies regarding manufacturing to ensures purity, consistency, and quality.
The good manufacturers would not hesitate to provide you with a certificate of analysis (COA). This is a document that attests that specific goods have undergone specified testing with specified results.
Professional-grade supplement brands are not sold in big chain retail stores because these manufacturers believe that proper education and guidance by licensed healthcare professionals is vital to the proper use of their product. In fact, most manufacturers expect the health professionals to provide copies her/his license and training certificates as proof of competency for recommending their products.
I am a registered pharmacist with training in anti-aging and functional medicine. My passions is to help busy professional women like you to succeed in life by optimizing your health and cognition using functional medicine approach, and coach you on your journey to a sustainable healthy lifestyle.
Before you buy more supplements that don’t work, book a call with me.
If you already use professional grade products, you can purchase here.