Choose Your Brand Wisely. What’s Really In Your Supplements?
Adding supplements to our daily health and training regime can help us achieve results in our health and fitness goals.
They are manufactured in the form of powders, tablets, pills or drinks and are there to supply us with the nutrients we may be unable to get from the food we eat, not to completely replace our diets.
Currently, dietary supplements is a booming multibillion dollar industry and there is a plethora of supplement brands out there, telling us that we must buy their products to achieve the results we want.
These can vary from each individual, whether it be to boost performance (endurance, muscle mass, recovery etc.), address a vitamin or mineral deficiency, weight loss goals or just increase general health.
There are many companies that really do care about our health and fitness goals and will do their best to provide quality supplements, be transparent in their practices and provide us with lots of information.
However, many supplement brands don’t care about our long-term health or performance. It’s important for us to all know what’s REALLY in our supplements and choose a reputable, honest brand.
Why does it matter?
We consume supplements EVERY DAY
Supplements are meant to be taken consistently with our daily diet for them to be beneficial in supplying us with the nutrition necessary for our health. This means we are consuming them every day, for weeks, months and even years.
Just like any small positive habit practiced everyday over a long period achieves great positive results. The same can be said for taking poor quality supplements consistently over a long period, can result in damaging effects to your health.
Just because we may not feel the negative effects of a poor quality product after a week, does not mean we won’t end up with physical or mental health problems in the long-term.
This is what also makes sugar consumption, chronic stress and lack of exercise seem “ok” in the short-term, but done consistently over the years, can lead us to serious health issues. The unseen damage, like some cancers, can be the worst.
Many countries require all food products (including supplements) to have a nutrition label on the packaging. This usually includes the main active ingredients, other added ingredients and the nutrition information.
This is great for knowing what to research to see how “pure” the product is. However, some countries (including the USA) aren’t strict with labeling or health claims.
The U.S. Food and Health Administration (FDA’s) website states that supplements “are not approved by the government for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed” and only have to be proven “unsafe” before they can be taken off the market.
None of the following, mean a product is safe or effective:
- The term ‘natural’ on the label. Even the FDA warns of the deceptiveness of this word in this article: “The FDA has considered the term “natural” to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food. However, this policy was not intended to address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation. The FDA also did not consider whether the term “natural” should describe any nutritional or other health benefit.”
- Seals of approval and reviews from independent testing companies. For example, organisations such as The Alliance for Natural Health (ANH-USA) have found that ConsumerLab, a publisher of test results and guides for dietary supplements, charges supplement companies thousands of dollars for favorable product analysis and reviews. If they fail the test, their products will not be publicized, while companies who refuse to pay the ‘voluntary’ fee, will have their failed products publicized.
- Medical and health benefit claims. An FDA article tells consumers to identify potentially tainted products, with the warning signs of: quick fixes “lose 10 pounds in one week”, use of the words “guaranteed” or “scientific breakthrough”, products marketed in foreign languages, mass emails or as herbal alternatives to FDA-approved drugs.
- It can be purchased off the shelf at any supermarket or chemist.
Inaccurate Ingredient Amounts
The amounts of ingredients stated on their labels are often incorrect as shown by independent testing companies. For example, Labdoor found CytoSport Muscle Milk’s
“total sodium was measured at 2339.4mg/serving, 358.7% over its 510mg label claim”.
In this article about the amounts of sodium in protein supplements, Labdoor’s CEO, Neil Thanendar, says:
“Many protein powders promise rapid muscle growth. Excess sodium at these levels can cause significant bloating, and may temporarily trick consumers into believing the marketing hype.”
Low Quality Ingredients
Just because a supplement has a variety of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, carbs and proteins listed on the label, does not necessarily mean they are good quality or even good for your health.
In this investigative report, Pieter Cohen, MD, an expert in the dietary supplement industry, states:
“[…] more than 140 contaminated products have been identified, but these represent only a fraction of the contaminated supplements on the market.[…]. A wide range of dietary supplements have been found to be contaminated with toxic plant material, heavy metals, or bacteria. […].”
It all depends on where it is sourced. Bad supplement brands will use cheap, highly processed ingredients, while good supplement brands make sure their ingredients are of a high quality and from organic and natural sources.
Look up each of the ingredients on the nutrition label and determine how they are sourced.
The difference could be amino acids sourced from organic plants (like pea, rice or whey) versus amino acids (like taurine, glycine and glutamine) derived from throwaway human hair, fingernails, feathers and fur.
Yes, this is true, it’s called “protein spiking”, which is defined in this NSF International magazine feature as “the process of adding some non-protein substance to a protein powder in order to increase the overall nitrogen content of the powder”.
Most supplements include excipients. Excipients are stabilising agents used during the manufacturing process to alter the supplements form, colour and taste, as well as allow for variations in dosage of each supplement.
They consist of fillers, binders, flow agents, acidulants, disintegrants, coatings and glazes, colouring and flavouring, and preservatives.
Excipients supposedly have no nutritional value at all. However, if you do your research, you will find that many are actually contain toxic substances that can cause damage to your body without you even knowing it.
Hard to believe? There is a lack of research regarding the long term effects of many ingredients found in most supplements because this is such a relatively new, loosely-regulated industry.
From this informative article from Natural Healthy Concepts about excipients, we’ve created a very short list of some of the main fillers used by many supplement brands.
- Magnesium Stearate is made from “soap scum” and used as a lubricating agent, but studies reveal that its regular use damages your immune system and impede nutrient absorption.
- Potassium Sorbate is a preservative used to increase shelf life. It is created synthetically and excessive use or sensitivity to this ingredient can cause nausea and indigestion.
- Calcium Carbonate is used as a diluent or a filler and can be harmful as excessive calcium can be toxic for your body.
- Silicon Dioxide aka Silica is commonly used as an anti-caking agent, it is literally sand.
- Titanium Dioxide is a chemical used as a colorant and is well known for its toxic effects on the liver and possibility of causing cancer.
- Corn and Soy can be contaminated with GMO’s containing Glyphosate (or RoundUp) which is linked to Autism, Cancer and more. 
Other negative effects of supplements and its excipients can include:
- Nasty side effects if mixed with prescription drugs.
- Heart, kidney, or liver problems, aches, allergic reactions, fatigue, nausea, pains, and vomiting.
- Vitamin or mineral overdose (typically vitamins A, D, E and K, as well as calcium and iron). You may not need supplements at all.
- Pills can irritate the esophagus.
Ultimately, it pays to do your research at the beginning of your quest for a good quality, honest supplement brand.
Talk to your medical or health professional about exactly what you need and don’t need in your system, especially if you are currently taking other prescription drugs.
Researching a supplement brand BEFORE you try their products can save you a lot of your valuable time, money and energy. Supplements are not cheap and using them, when they don’t even work, is a huge waste of time. Especially if they are damaging you.
Additionally, without doing proper research on what is really in your supplements, some have been found to be spiked with prescription or other banned drugs that could fail a person in competitive sporting drug tests.
We cannot stress enough how important it is to make sure your supplement brand is honest!
How to tell if a supplement brand is trustworthy?
1. Choose supplement brands only if they reveal ALL ingredients and nutritional information on their labels
If a brand is deliberately not revealing certain ingredients or changing the names so they sound better (eg. renaming ‘sugar’ to ‘dehydrated cane syrup’), they may be hiding something.
2. Question every ingredient on the label
Generally, the lesser amount of unrecognisable ingredients (usually fillers and excipients), the better the product. Research ALL ingredients, we may be surprised as to what is actually in the supplement and how it was sourced.
It’s best find the products whose ingredients are closest to their organic sources.
3. Certified Organic
Supplements which meet USDA certified organic standards will state “USDA Certified” and “100% Organic”.
As detailed in the United States Department of Agriculture website, to be labeled organic, 95% of the supplement must meet the following standards:
- All produce grown in soil free of synthetic pesticide and fertilizer
- No synthetics at all, unless on a USDA-certified list
- No GMOs
- No antibiotics or growth hormones
4. Check the company’s history and reputation
Google the brand name and do some background research. The more transparent a company is about their practices (where and how their products are sourced, how they are tested, proof of safety and effectiveness), the more we will know whether we can trust them to provide high quality products.
For example Thorne Research provide an entire section on their website to educate you on everything they do, from supplement research and statistics, educational resources, their own clinical trials and quality control.
5. Independant Testing Certifications
There are independent organisations that do product and practice testing and inspections to give their stamp of quality on a supplement product.
Natural Products Association (NPA, formerly NNFA)
U. S. Pharmacopoeia (USP)
Emerson Ecologics – Emerson Quality Program (EQP)
6. Go to the company directly
Any honest and reputable business who care about their customers should be happy to talk to you about their product. By doing this you can get a feel of the type of company they are, how much they know about their product, but most importantly, if they care about you.
If they are good, they will know what type of person their product is aimed at, and will do their best to determine whether their product is right for you.
Can we ever be guaranteed safety with supplements?
We at Ali Fitness, believe supplements have a great purpose in this world, where athletes with busy lifestyles, depend on their bodies to sustain them through heavy training on a daily basis.
We are lucky to have the convenience of getting the nutrition our bodies require that we cannot get from our diets. Due to our comprehensive and diligent research, we like to think we can trust the brands that we have chosen to provide us this important addition to our (and our family’s) lifestyles.
However, even after doing all of my own research to find an honest, reputable supplement brand, I found a major distressing mistake in a Vitamin C supplement I purchased. It was a Now Foods, Chewable C-500, 100 pack of tablets, ordered from the international nutritional supplement online retailer, iHerb.
I found two completely different tablets stuck to the bottom of the container.
|Picture taken of actual Now Foods, Chewable C-500||The two mysterious tablets found at the bottom of the same C-500 bottle|
This is very dangerous, as this Vitamin C tablet is usually given to my 3 year old child. Who knows what these different looking capsules could be? What could be inside them?
They could cause serious harm to a child, and adult on prescribed medication or any person it wasn’t meant for. I sent a message on the contact form to iHerb, explaining how distressed I was at what was found in the supplement container.
I thought iHerb would be apologetic, understanding and quick to take action, instead they replied as though it wasn’t much of an issue. At first, they said “sorry for your inconvenience”, then requested a photo and suggested I contact the manufacturer. Only after I asked what compensation would be received, did they say they had refunded $7.45 for the two different tablets.
I then contacted Now Foods, the manufacturer, who replied saying the pills possibly changed colour due to “high humidity or temperature changes”. This is ridiculous because, as you can see in the pictures, the two tablets are obviously not just a different colour, they are a completely different shape!
Regardless, they replied “NOW cannot have internationally shipped products returned to the US for testing but we can use your photos to file a product quality report and investigate your concerns further”. Unfortunately, Now Foods haven’t gotten back to me about compensation or a guarantee it won’t happen again in the future.
To me, this is unacceptable and not appropriate action any person would expect from a reputable company that supposedly cares about their customers and their products.
This shows us we can never be too careful with supplements or put unconditional trust in any one company. This incident with our “trusted” retailer and brand, left me a little shocked and disappointed.
Taking supplements to compliment your health and training CAN truly maximise your body’s performance, increasing your overall wellbeing and quality of life… ONLY if you choose the right product and brand for you.
There are many amazing supplement brands out there that provide quality products and who really care about your health and performance, but there are more out there who couldn’t care less.
It is extremely important to choose the right brand, not just so you achieve the results you want, but also so that you do not damage your body and long term health.
Be aware and educate yourself, as there are currently limited regulations regarding what brands are allowed to sell you.
Do your research, look at the ingredients and choose a good brand of supplements.
- Mercola. (2013, June 9). Monsanto’s Roundup Herbicide May Be Most Important Factor in Development of Autism and Other Chronic Disease. Retrieved August 18, 2016 from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/06/09/monsanto-roundup-herbicide.aspx