A while back I laid out a few things about the safety, or lack there of, in supplements. Many companies don’t do any testing or if they do, their testing is not thorough. Some even do testing and acknowledge that their products contain lead but they are okay with it because its within FDA guidelines. I find that unacceptable!
I then went on to talk about how a supplement is produced. From gathering the raw materials in the fields, to putting it on a shelf, is a complicated process with lots of room for error. Many companies don’t have the budget to produce high quality supplements. Sure, they may use “high quality” ingredients but what is to say that those are not contaminated. These days it’s hard to find things that aren’t contaminated and if they are, they need to remove the contaminants. So now we will get into a little about how companies analyze supplements, if they do at all.
There are several expensive pieces of equipment needed in order to do quality testing on products. These machines start at 50K and that’s the economy model at an educational discount. None of this is required at all by government agencies! To analyze quality you need to make a substantial investment for just the basic equipment and since it’s not required not many companies do. Here is a list of some of the equipment they use:
- IR– Infrared Spectroscopy– used to identify and study chemicals
- GC– Gas Chromatography– typically tests the purity of a particular substance
- MS– Mass Spectrometry– 250K to over a million- gives a picture of the mass based chemical composition of the sample
- HPLC– High Pressure Liquid Chromatography-Very common instruments and can be 100-250K- used to separate, identify, and quantify each component of a mixture
- Mixtures of these like GC/MS or LC/MS–
You also need to have high quality individuals analyzing the data from this equipment and running the tests. This should be done by scientists and ones that are trained in this area. Manufacturers can choose to analyze raw materials, ingredients, formulations, all of the above or nothing at all. Be very careful when you investigate quality!!! The companies have clever language. I read one that said they test their formulation. That is great but what about all the ingredients and batches of the formulation? Ask for specifics when a company says they do “testing.” What exactly do they test for and what do they test (ingredients, formulations, etc.)?
So what should we be concerned about? Supplements are commonly contaminated with heavy metals (lead), pesticides (foreign and domestic), other herbs and natural products, and microbes/fungus. Sure some of these things are “naturally” occurring in the environment but that doesn’t mean I want to ingest them on a daily basis! Some companies have their own fields and they don’t use any pesticides on the raw ingredient. Even though they don’t use pesticides doesn’t mean there isn’t an industrial plant nearby that is contaminating the area and they won’t know unless they test. Also if an ingredient comes from a foreign source they may only test for pesticides used in the US but many of the nasty chemicals are outlawed here but not elsewhere! So they need to test for US and foreign pesticides on raw materials. The National Center for Natural Products Research has done tests and can actually tell where an ingredient is from just based on what it’s contaminated with.
So maybe now you are thinking, well what’s the big deal? We have toxins all around us and so what if a few are in our supplements? Well, those contaminants can cause issues with allergies in anyone but especially for people that already have allergy issues, food allergies, or are taking medicine for allergies. Contamination can cause breathing issues as well as GI issues. Quality doesn’t come cheap and so we need to pay for quality.
Even if you do all this testing there is an issue of standardization. Mixtures are complex and difficult to compare. It’s also difficult to identify active ingredients versus inactive ingredients. There is also variation in nomenclature, which is a system of naming these ingredients. So what? Well there are regular names and latin names and names vary by country too! You have to know what you are talking about and there are variations in names of an ingredient. If you are getting something from another country you want to make sure you are getting what you think you are getting. Another issues is say ginseng for instance, there are several types of ginseng: Chinese ginseng, Asian Ginseng, Korean Ginseng, all very high quality and expensive and then there is Siberian Ginseng, which is a weed and looks like ginseng but is not real. Companies will substitute it because its cheap.
As you can see there is a lot that goes into making a supplement and it scares me greatly that so many people just buy a product because it’s inexpensive or they’ve heard great things about it. I care about YOU and I want you to be healthy but sometimes you’re better off taking NOTHING than to take something that isn’t of quality! As I continue with these posts I will give you more things to look for.