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Not All Dietary Supplements Are Created Equal

Written by Dr. Group, DC Founder
A supplement aisle at a grocery store.

Purchasing dietary supplements you can trust can be tricky. Many manufacturers of nutraceuticals put their efforts into marketing and fancy labels, instead of placing the majority of their resources into creating a product of quality. The simple truth is that not all vitamins are created equal, and this article is intended to make you aware of some of the factors to keep in mind when making a purchasing decision.

Deceptive Labeling

Reading a label carefully and understanding what the label means is important when purchasing any product – especially vitamins. Some supplements don’t even contain what’s listed on the label. [1] The standards under which a vitamin or mineral is manufactured vary greatly from one company to another. Most companies don’t even manufacture their own product and just relabel someone else's formula and call it their own. Quality is the biggest factor in whether a supplement is absorbed and utilized by the body.

Understanding Mineral Potency

The elemental amount of calcium refers to the exact weight or potency of calcium a formula provides. The same is true for all other minerals. Some labels clearly list the elemental weight and are therefore simple to understand. For example, the elemental weight of a calcium supplement would be labeled as 250 mg of calcium contained within the supplement. If the calcium is combined with amino acids, like amino acid chelate, and it is given a general amount that doesn’t specify the calcium amount only, you must discern that the amount of calcium you are receiving is a bit more ambiguous.

A consumer would assume that a vitamin contains 100% potency from when it was manufactured. The fact is, only 90% of the vitamin potency listed on the label has to be in a product at the time of shipping. A vitamin starts losing its potency the minute it's made. If not manufactured properly, a vitamin can be up to 50% weaker by the time you purchase the product. There are only minimal government guidelines, not requirements, regarding product storage (light, temperature, moisture, etc.), inventory rotation, particle granulation, or product coating, all of which affect the potency and quality of a vitamin.

Even though vitamins are perishable items, manufacturers are not required to prove that their products last for an extended period of time. Remember: light, heat, moisture, and oxidation rapidly destroy vitamin potency. After a vitamin is manufactured, vitamin companies are not required to conduct shelf life testing to see how product potency is affected over time.

Natural vs. Synthetic

The word natural can, unfortunately, sometimes be misleading. In the case of vitamin E, a manufacturer can use a blend of 10% natural vitamin E and 90% synthetic vitamin E and still label the product natural vitamin E. Using synthetic vitamin E, which is 40% cheaper, a manufacturer can greatly reduce the quality of a product to reduce his manufacturing cost.

To protect the consumer, a manufacturer should properly list the chemical name in the contents description. Natural vitamin E should be labeled ‘d-tocopherol’ and synthetic should be labeled ‘dl-tocopherol.’ [2] Natural vitamins have been regarded as having a 36% higher potency rate compared with their synthetic counterpart. Studies involving human subjects show that natural vitamin E is probably twice as effective as synthetic vitamin E. [3]

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Are Your Vitamins Releasing the Energy You Need?

Since most vitamins cannot be manufactured in the body, they must be supplied by our diet. Vitamins are essential for releasing energy in foods, but our food supply does not guarantee an abundant source of nutrients. Therefore, it is best to eat a mostly raw diet with a wide variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. This guarantees an assortment of essential vitamins that is helpful for the increased energy and feeling of well-being you are seeking.

The decrease in energy from the lack of proper nutrition sometimes surfaces in obvious forms; scurvy and rickets being prime examples. Often, the symptoms of a vitamin deficiency are much more subtle. Vitamin B12 deficiency, for example, takes years to become apparent, often disguising itself in the form of lethargy, depression, and neuropsychiatric symptoms. [4]

Always purchase vitamins and other dietary supplements from companies you can trust. How do you know you can trust them? They produce all of their own products themselves, sourcing only high-quality, organic ingredients.

References (4)
  1. David Kroll. New York AG Fires Round 2 Against Herbal Dietary Supplement Makers. Forbes.
  2. Maret G. Traber, Ph.D., Scott W. Leonard. The Alpha-tocopherol Transfer Protein and Vitamin E Adequacy. Oregon State University. The Linus Pauling Institute.
  3. Philip L. Harris, James L. Jensen, Milton Joffe, and Karl E. Mason. Biological Activity of Natural and Synthetic Tocopherols. The Journal of Biological Chemistry. 1944, 156:491-498.
  4. Langan RC, Zawistoski KJ. Update on vitamin B12 deficiency. Am Fam Physician. 2011 Jun 15;83(12):1425-30.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.


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