Quality is Key
As discussed on our About Supplements page, supplements have an extraordinarily impressive record of safety, especially when compared to pharmaceuticals. Consider for example that common, over-the-counter meds now account for over 10,000 deaths PER YEAR in the U.S. ALONE! For some information on The Safety of Supplements, click here.
And for some information on the Efficacy and Safety of Supplements as presented by Andrew Saul, PhD to the government of Canada, House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, regarding natural health product safety (Ottawa, May 12, 2005) click here.Nevertheless, and as we elaborate on our About Supplements page, there are reasons why a person might not get the benefit they should or could out of the supplements they are taking. The most important reason has to do with quality of product - and the integrity of the manufacturer/producer.
We found out
the hard way that the single most important factor in supplements was
QUALITY. After experiencing initial success with carefully planned
programs, we began to notice very erratic, and disappointing results.
of money, frustration and literally tons of reading later we discovered
some behind-the-scenes problems within the
supplement industry that were the root of
our personal travails. We have since derived small comfort in the
knowledge that some very prominent, nationally recognized natural
health advocates such as Andrew Weil and Jonathan Wright discovered (in
rather public ways) over time and through experience similar problems
with the supplement industry.
Much or all of these problems have to do
with competitive pressures, political manueverings, and lax oversight
of regulations already in place. Here is a very brief outline of
consumer might be up against:
- A sampling of three dozen probiotic products from health store shelves, including several leading brands found that fewer than 20% of the products sampled delivered the number of viable organisms guaranteed on the labels. Several leading brands fell short by 90% or more and several contained bacteria not indicated on the label. One even harbored pathogenic bacteria.
- Another sampling of the newly popular SAMe found that out of seven major brands tested two contained NO SAMe, one contained the wrong form of SAMe and only two contained 100% of the SAMe that was listed on the label.
- An evaluation by Consumer Reports of Echinacea and ginkgo supplements, for example, identified considerable variation in the contents of different brands, as well as among different samples of the same brands.
Wort began to get a lot of media attention a few years ago, world supplies ran short. A number of companies were found to have substituted St. John’s Wort with other substances including drugs. (While watered down formulas will mostly damage a person’s pocketbook, the same is not true if undisclosed drugs have been added.) Then in 1998 the St. John’s Times commissioned independent lab tests to be performed on 10 of the nation’s leading brands of Los Angeles Wort. Three of the 10 brands that were tested had no more than half the potency listed on the label, four had less than 90% of the potency listed. St. John’s
- One testing laboratory reported that half of the glucosamine/chondroitin (anti-arthritis) products it sampled did not contain as much chondroitin as was listed on the label, perhaps because this substance costs four times as much as glucosamine. . . .The testing laboratory also found supplements of saw palmetto, gingko biloba, and echinacea to contain less of those substances than listed on the product labels
- The California Director of Health in 2000 issued a warning for consumers that five specific herbal products contain two potentially dangerous prescription drugs that are not listed on the label.
- A Dateline story found that 5 out of the 8 herbal products tested contained ingredients not on the label.
- Herb products often can contain the wrong parts of the herb, many can be irradiated and/or contaminated with heavy metals and a variety of other substances, many are mishandled during the production process which reduces effectiveness and potency, and sometimes the herbs themselves can be misidentified because of growing techniques and hybridization, etc.
- One well-publicized study on the effect of beta-carotene supplements on smokers which “found” that betacarotene was of no benefit and a potential cause of harm for smokers was later revealed to have used tablets (supplied by the well-known Hoffman LaRoche) which contained NO betacarotene.
- A 60 Minutes interview done in 2001 with the nationally acclaimed holistic Dr. Andrew Weil revealed that the ingredients found in the brand name supplements Dr. Weil had been recommending varied widely between what was claimed on the label and what was actually found through independent testing. In a subsequent interveiw on Larry King Live Dr. Weil stated “the quality of commonly available supplements is abysmal at best.”
Our own experience coupled with information such as the above has led us to conclude that the vast majority of supplements in the marketplace today are essentially a waste of time AND money. As the above examples indicate, fraud and a variety of deceptive practices are rife throughout the industry, and you cannot count on so-called protections, including "Seal of approvals" and other "guarantees" - which are in reality awarded for a fee through trade groups such as the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) and the National Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA) - to protect you. Consider for example the types of products promoted by these groups, and the types of foods. How much of it is from small producers and small family farmers, in its healthiest unprocessed forms?
Further, when you follow the money to its end point, you find that all the natural foods/supplement trade associations worldwide are controlled from the top down by pharmaceutical interests (whose main priority is maximizing drug profits, and most certainly not the effectiveness of specific natural supplements) Just as problematic is the fact that the larger supplement companies dominate the trade associations, and their primary interest is market share - whether or not said coveted market share comes at the expense of the consumer.
While there are a number of very good supplement companies, the process of finding them is difficult at best for even the most attuned practioner, but it is especially difficult for the average consumer. Even when good, reliable companies are found the competition is so intense that often they are driven out of business or taken over by larger companies, particularly drug companies where profits become paramount.
This is why we have come to rely on specific products from a select number of relatively small, independently owned and managed companies we find to be reliable, consistant and dedicated to deliver products vastly superior to most, and often any of what is found in the marketplace today. While these products and companies are NOT typically found in health food stores or online vitamin shops, they also do NOT require a physician's license to acquire their products. This, together with the kind of quality they offer, makes them an excellent choice for discerning consumers who want to become truly involved in (and in this way truly benefit from) their own health program.
For information on building your own multivitamin/mineral program read one or preferrably more of the books below - or take our test for "Targeting Personal Needs" :
Our favorites are currently out of print: Superfitness Beyond Vitamins: The Bible of Super Supplements by Michael Rosenbaum, M.D. and Dominic Bosco, and also The New Supernutrition by Richard Passwater, Ph.D. It would in our opinion be worth the effort to seek out copies of these two books.
As a good crosscheck:
The Right Dose The full title is The Right Dose: How to Take Vitamins and Minerals Safely by Patricia Hausman, M.S. (somewhat dated but still useful, read the intro)
Also see the following:
The New Nutrition The full title isThe New Nutrition: Medicine for the Millenium: Your Personal guide to Optimal Health by Michael Colgan. M.D.
Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide, compiled by the Burton Goldberg Group, appropriate sections
The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book by Shari Lieberman, Ph.D. and Nancy Bruning
Earl Mindell's New Vitamin Bible, revised edition by Earl Mindell, R.Ph., Ph.D
A Beginner's Introduction to Vitamins The full title isA Beginner's Introduction to Vitamins: The Fundamental Necessities for Growth and Maintenance of Life by Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D.
Dr. Atkin's Vita-Nutrient Solution The full title is Dr. Atkin's Vita-Nutrient Solution: Nature's Answer to Drugs by Robert Atkins, M.D. (a bit complex and directed to the already ill, but still useful)