Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Wisdom Wednesday: Supplement Quality Issues

Over the past few weeks the media has been reporting on vitamin supplement quality issues. Some studies indicate as much as 80% of OTC (over the counter) supplements do not contain the vitamins, minerals and herbs listed on the label.

To those of us in the field of nutrition, this is old news. It is very difficult to find good quality supplements in the United States. This is because the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) classifies supplements as food; therefore they are only subject to food quality standards.

Food quality standards address what should not be in food, not the ingredients themselves. It limits, but does not prohibit cockroach parts and rat feces. As a consumer, you are left to proper identify the food on your own. The concept is that most of know the difference between cauliflower and broccoli, even if we are color blind. However, that premise fails when faced with a tablet, powder, or any other processed supplement.

Europe has established very strict standards for supplements. Although these standards are voluntary, the European nutritional companies are quite diligent in meeting these standards.

Australia takes it a step further. They mandate pharmaceutical quality by law. This means that the quality and quantity of each ingredient is measured and must be uniform in each and every tablet.
I obtain 99% of my herbs from Australia. It is the only way I can be sure that I am giving my patient the proper dosage that I have determined is appropriate for their condition. Currently, I purchase blue cohosh and slippery elm bark here in the U.S. as they are not available from Australia. To minimize quality issues, I purchase the pure herb, not a blend, in bulk form direct from a wholesaler.

Proprietary blends are the most common place to find herb substitution and the addition of unknown ingredients. Some companies will use a proprietary blend of foods to add micronutrients to their product. For example, Standard Process uses a blend of 23 crops – barley, pea vine juice, alfalfa, etc. – in many of their products. However, proprietary blends of herbs and vitamins do not list the amounts of any of the ingredients and often fail to list all the products. This is where weight loss products often hide anabolic steroids and amphetamines to make their products effective. Please review my blog “Many Consumers Misled About Bogus Weight-Loss Supplements” posted on January 12, 2015.

Typically, you get what you pay for. If you buy your fish oil from Costco, then it will contain mercury. Costco is unwilling to pay the fish processing plant in Norway to remove the mercury. However, reputable companies like Carlson Laboratories do pay to have the mercury removed. Few companies can afford to test the fish oil from the supplier to see if it is truly mercury free. Those are the supplement companies I use in my practice.

Visiting a vitamin company to witness their manufacturing process goes a long way toward insuring quality supplementation. I have been to the farms in Racine, Wisconsin to see the crops growing in organic fields, and then watched the processing from field to tablet. I am yet to visit Australia to watch them process raw herbs, but it is on my bucket list.

The Bottom Line:
Research your supplements and supplement companies carefully. Just because it’s OTC and not prescription doesn’t mean it can’t be harmful or in some cases deadly. If you question a supplement, consult with a qualified nutritionist for more information.

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