Know Your Source

Truth in Labeling in the Nutritional Industry

Chances are, you’re not getting what you think…

Is it Really in the Bottle?
Everywhere you look there is exciting new research on the efficacy of nutritional supplements. Unfortunately, the average consumer does not realize that evidence seems to come out monthly showing nutritional products do not always meet label claims. It is shocking to learn that in the advanced society in which we live, so many nutritional products do not meet their label claims. In fact, many recent studies show that most of the nutritional products tested did not completely meet label claims. Buyer, beware.

Study: Only 2 of 32 Met Label Claims
In a recently published study done at the Pharmacy School at the University of Maryland, 32 bottles of chondroitin sulfate (used for arthritis and joint conditions) were purchased at pharmacies and health food stores. Only 2 of the products met label claims. In fact 14 of the 32 bottles purchased contained 10% or less of the label claim. It was also found that even the most expensive products did not meet label claims.

Study: Less than 30% of Label Claims Met
Another published study evaluated 51 antioxidant products through mail-order catalogues and health food stores. Less than 30% of all antioxidant enzyme label claims were met. What is even more shocking is that 7 of the 51 products showed no antioxidant enzyme activity at all.

Study: 10% of Products Tested Had No Measurable Amounts of Echinacea
Yet another recently published study tested 59 Echinacea-only products that were purchased in the Denver, Colorado area. The testing found that 10% of all products tested contained no measurable amount of Echinacea phytochemicals. Of the Echinacea species that were labeled as being standardized, only 43% of the products that were “standardized” met label claim?
Recently one of the Chiropractic colleges sent a bromelain product in to be tested for activity. The product had no milk clotting activity (a standard assay for bromelain activity).

Bacteria, Mold, Heavy Metal Contamination
Even if a product does meet label claims, how can you know if it has the biological properties that you want? How can you know if it is the part of the plant or even the exact species that has been shown most effective? If these shocking things are true, than what about bacteria, mold, or heavy metal contamination?

At a recent International College of Integrative Medicine Seminar, James Short, MD, showed slides of off-shore manufacturing plants and the attending healthcare professionals cringed to think of all the bacteria and mold that raw materials are processed and packaged in. Sure the manufacturer gets the product in respectable containers, clean and safely sealed. However, the conditions before it reaches the manufacturer’s hands are unknown even to the supplier who sells the raw materials.

Dr. Short compared the heavy metal content in parts per million of 11 glucosamine products. The Cumulative Toxic Metal Profile ranged from 10 parts per million to 2100 PPM. Those are huge differences and may not make an immediate difference to a healthy person, but over and extended period can add to an already toxic load. Imagine giving the 2100 PPM product to someone already burdened with heavy metals. It could be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Russian Roulette
An article by Kerry Boone in a recent Townsend Letter article emphasizes the difficulty patients have in buying quality nutritional supplements. “About 15 years ago in my practice, when I told my patients that I was recommending they take Echinacea, they would look at me blankly and say “What’s that?” Now they say: “I’m already taking Echinacea!” Many are surprised by my answer which is typically: “No, you’re not!” This survey underlines that anyone self-prescribing Echinacea is playing Russian roulette with their health and often wasting their money. This situation is even more problematical than the above study suggest because, in my view, many Echinacea products contain the wrong part of the plant, inadequate doses, or are standardized to the wrong maker’s phytochemicals.”

There is only one sure way of buying nutritional or herbal supplements. Do the research and find a holistic practitioner that scrutinizes over every product they carry. It is surprising, but most nutritional supplement manufacturing companies do not test raw material they receive from suppliers. They receive assays from the supplier that they rely upon. The studies listed above prove this to be an ineffective measure of quality.

Most supplement manufacturers don’t have the personnel, technical knowledge, or physical capacity to test the raw materials they receive. They simply encapsulate or tablet the materials and put them into bottles. Unfortunately, these are most of the products available in stores to consumers. The only guaranteed way to acquire potent and clean supplementation is through practitioners that carry pharmaceutical grade supplements that have been regulated through strict agency testing on an on-going base.

  1. Adebiwale A, Cox C Liang Z, Eddington N. Analysis of Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate Content in Marketed Products and the Caco-2 Permebility of Chondroitin Sulfate Raw Materials, JANA Spring 2000 Vol. 3, No. 1, 37-44.
  2. Bucci L, Klenda B, Stiles J, Sparks W.Truth in Labeling for Antioxidant Enzyme Products, Survey of Label Claims and product Potencies, Board of Nutrition, Palmer College of Chiropractic 1989, Daveport IA.
  3. Gilroy CM, Steiner JF, Byers T, Shapiro H, Georgian H. Echinacea and Truth in Labeling. Arch Intern Med 2003; 163(6)”699-704.
  4. Boone K. Phytotherapy Review and Commentary. Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, June 2003 43-45.

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