Why Even Looking at Your Supplement Labels Wont Help You
How supplement companies brand themselves as Clean, Vegan, Non GMO whilst lying to your face & banking BIG profits.
As you may have noticed, one of the topics I enjoy writing about is supplements. This is the result of a lot of personal experimentation and research on that topic over the last 20 years of my life. Im now also proud to say that it is not only my passion, but my business.
www.thehonestearth.com To lead a quality life, one must be nourished with quality. We make the best plant based protein powders & supplements with sustainable ingredients from around the world.
Now I feel the time has come to talk a bit about the supplements industry and the supplements that most people are suckered into using, at the expense of their health. The most valuable thing we own is our health, and it is the one thing that we cannot replace.
In about 2 weeks I will be posting a video where I explain how tricky supplement manufacturers are and how they actually hide harmful ingredients inside flavour and sweetener ‘systems’. A flavour ‘system’ could be listed on an ingredient label as ‘natural flavouring’ but let me tell you, more often than not they are far from natural and contain chemicals and sometimes animal products. A sweetener system could be something like ‘stevia’ ‘monkfruit’ or ‘natural sweetener’ and contain things in there that the supplement manufacturer is not declaring.
If you ask these companies directly about it (as I did) they will tell you ‘flavour systems need carrier agents, like rice, corn or potato starch’. Well, if there is rice, corn, potato starch or anything else in there I expect a responsible manufacturer to list it on the ingredient label and not claim that their product is binder and filler free, because corn, potato and rice starch are 1000% binders and fillers! As well as being highly processed and made from genetically modified corn, but the manufacturers still claim that their product is Non GMO. Huh!?
The thing that I find shocking is that supplement companies like this one will brazenly tell you in their marketing material and on their packaging ‘our product is Non GMO & we use no fillers & no binders’ but the reality of the matter is they absolutely do, how do I know? Because I tested them (I will post that video soon) and I asked them directly via facebook!
Amazingly they replied to me saying that yes natural sweetener systems like the one they use contains rice, corn or potato starch which surprise surprise guys is a ‘BINDER & FILLER’, plus its definitely a GMO ingredient which their label claims their product does not contain.
My personal goal with my protein and supplements brand Honest Earth is to create an honest supplements and superfoods company that doesn’t lie to its customers. Honest Earth prioritises the optimisation of our customers health at the expense of excessive profit margins. Sadly what I see other supplements companies doing (such as the one in the pictures above) is the opposite. They unscrupulously ‘optimise their profit margins at the expense of our health’. Its not ok!
The supplements industry is worth an astounding $132 billion dollars worldwide. In the western world, 80% of people take at least one supplement. Nearly everyone in the world has heard of supplements.
But what are they, exactly?
As usual, lets start with the basics.
AS the work itself, supplement means something that is added to something else to make it better or enhance it. In the context we are talking about now, we refer to dietary supplements. And they can be defined as “a product taken orally that contains one or more ingredients (such as vitamins or amino acids) that are intended to supplement one’s diet and are not considered food”. So, it’s something that’s meant to supplement your normal nutrition by either increasing the dosage of things you are already taking or to give your body access to nutrients or substances you normally would not encounter in your diet. Most of the substances sold as supplements would not have an effect in doses we already take them in, so supplements are a concentrated version of those. All in all, sounds fine. However, when you get into the details, a lot of murky stuff starts to emerge.
There are a few dangers associated with most commercial supplements, so let’s deal with them one by one:
Lack of regulation — Who controls this?
One crucial thing that is different between let’s say pharmaceutical medication and supplements is that medication has to go through a rigorous clinical trial period before being allowed to the market (and the effects of a lot of them are disputable). Supplements do not. They don’t have to be tested all. So that has opened a big avenue for pharmaceutical companies to push all kinds of products in this market. A lot of the substances sold as supplements don’t really exist in our diet, or have ever existed. This makes them differ from the very definition of supplement, yet they fall into the same category in the eyes of the law. Many of these substances have questionable effects, and even more questionable side-effects. One statistic to note is that according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, more than 23,000 people are sent to the emergency room each year due to complications from supplement ingestion, with weight loss supplements being the number one culprit.
Another aspect to this lack of regulation is the fact that most supplements are not tested for contents before they go to market. So, the pill bottle might contain different doses or even something completely else than the advertised substance. Recently, the New York State Attorney General’s office unveiled what could potentially amount to fraud in the dietary supplement industry. The office targeted four major retailers of supplements, Target, GNC, Walgreens, and Walmart, and accused them of selling bogus supplements. The office backed their claim that the retailers were selling supplements that contained very little, or none at all, of the advertised ingredients and demanded that the supplements be removed from their shelves as they could potentially cause harm.
Efficacy — Do they even work?
As a result of a gigantic industry and billions of dollars of market worth, there is a constant pressure on pharmaceutical and supplement companies to innovate and create new products. Now, with the lack of regulation mentioned above, this means that many products that are brought to the market will not really be as effective as they are marketed. When examined under a scientific scope, most supplements have little to no data to suggest that they’re effective, let alone safe. They’re often backed by tenuous studies in rodents and petri dishes or tiny batches of people. And the industry is rife with hype and wishful thinking — even the evidence for multivitamins isn’t solid. There are also outright deadly scams. Basically, they will put anything in a pill and try to sell it to you for profit. When that is combined with the lack of regulation of the industry, it makes one truly afraid.
The problem of bioavailability — Its not what you eat, it’s what you absorb!
What is bioavailability? Quite simply, it is the measure of how readily a substance is absorbed by your organism after it has been ingested. For instance, a supplement with high bioavailability will be properly absorbed by the lining of the gut and go directly where it is supposed to, working its effect. A supplement with low bioavailability will wither pass through you and be excreted in your stool, or get to your blood but be filtered out by the kidneys almost immediately. That means that very little of it, if any at all, will stay in your body and actually have an effect.
Whether and which vitamins and supplements are actually bioavailable is quite literally the billion-dollar question. Vitamins sound perfect- a good for you, convenient and sure way to get the nutrients you need. Or is that too good to be true. When you think about it, it’s the bioavailability of a vitamin that might be its most important feature.
Some vitamins are more bioavailable in vitamin form, while others are not. For example, most vitamins on the market are synthetic and not naturally based from whole food sources (like mushroom extracted vitamin D for instance, I talk about it here). Of course, natural is generally best, but synthetic vitamins are actually the norm for the industry. The problem arises when the synthetic vitamins are more harmful than helpful. One particular vitamin supplement that is questionable is B vitamins. Many would never guess that many B vitamin supplements are made from petrochemicals! And there is no sure way to recognise which supplements are synthetic, except for looking for things which say “from natural sources”. One more way to potentially recognise synthetics with low bioavailability is by the dosage. If the vitamin supplement has a high or seemingly unnatural potency, the product is synthetic. For example, a product that provides 1,000 percent of vitamin C is unusually high and likely synthetic. The manufacturer does this to charge you for a high dosage, but then they know that only a fraction of that will be actually absorbed and actually have an effect!
Another issue is noting whether the vitamins are in isolated form. When you remove a vitamin part from the whole food form, you get fractionated pieces of the whole, but that has consequences. Nature intended for you to consume food in whole, natural form because all the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes together work synergistically to give your body the nutrition it requires for optimal health. Your body only absorbs a small percentage of an isolated form of a vitamin and/or mineral and it utilizes even less, so the bioavailability is greatly affected. You get the best bioavailability in whole food form or in natural supplements derived from whole foods, plants and fungi.
What is the right dosage?
Since the synthetic supplements, and especially vitamins, have different bioavailability then natural ones, no one really knows how much of them you’re supposed to take. As I said above, companies often put too much of it, much more than the amount to have any proven effect.
Another industry-wide problem is that many of the manufacturers place far more than the recommended daily dosage of vitamins into their products. This can be detrimental, as Norman Hord, an associate professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Michigan State University describes it, “excesses of all nutrients, from water, to iron, to water-soluble B vitamins, can potentially cause toxicities. People who take vitamins and minerals in amounts above the established upper limits of the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) may harm tissues where the vitamin is stored in their body…that’s why you shouldn’t take more than the recommended amount.” A study mentioned above regarding certain supplements increasing cancer risk by 25% if they were taken in excess of their recommended dose. This can be particularly dangerous for youth who take vitamin supplements meant for children.
I will write a bit more about this topic here and there as well as the video I will post covering this in more detail and showing you what to look for to know if your supplements are clean or not. For now, let’s just say that the conclusion is: Stay well away from most commercial supplements, and especially synthetic ones! Look towards smaller companies, who source and use only natural ingredients in their supplement products!
Aaron is the founder of www.thehonestearth.com To lead a quality life, one must be nourished with quality. We make the best plant based protein powders & supplements with sustainable, natural ingredients from around the world.