Transparency & Honesty in the Dietary Supplement Market

The dietary supplement market is an ever-growing industry.

Competition to succeed in this industry has paved the way for companies to exploit those looking to improve health or fill a gap in their diets. Bulking agents, fillers or excipients may be added to products at a quantity way above what is required for technological reasons.

When choosing a dietary supplement ask yourself a few simple questions:

  • Can this supplement help me?

A simple blood test can also help you identify gaps in your diet. This can help towards identifying what exactly you are looking for in a supplement.

  • What does the research say about its benefits?

If in doubt about the integrity or authenticity of a dietary supplement investigate claims associated with it. In the EU there is a register of authorized health claims:

In the US there is 21 CFR 101.93.

  • How much would I take?

This will tie in to your blood test results. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is the average daily dietary intake level that is sufficient to meet the nutrient requirement of nearly all (97 to 98 percent) healthy individuals in a particular gender and life stage group (life stage considers age and, when applicable, pregnancy or lactation). The process for setting the RDA depends on being able to set an Estimated Average Requirement (EAR). The EAR is the estimation of the daily intake value of a nutrient to meet the nutrient requirement of half the healthy individuals in a life stage and gender group. The EAR plus twice the standard deviation is generally how the RDA is set.

  • When and for how long do I need it?

Do you suffer from malabsorption? Are your requirements higher than the average person? Do you suffer from food allergies — some people with allergies have a limited diet so they can’t get all the nutrients they need from food alone. Are you taking medication that is interfering with the uptake of certain micronutrients? By answering these questions, you can determine if you require long or short term supplementation. Again, a blood test can help with this. Take a test prior to staring a course of supplementation. After finishing a course take another to see hoe your levels have changed.

  • What is the bioavailability of the supplement & what is the source of the dietary ingredient?

Look into if you require other substances to help with bioavailability (for example, vitamin c helps with the uptake of iron). Also, by identifying the source of the dietary ingredient you can look into how your body will be able to absorb it. Natural forms are best as the human body can easily break these down. Red meat and oysters are the best form of zinc. Plant based zinc does not boast the same bioavailability

  • What other ingredients are in the supplement and in what concentrations?

If your dietary ingredient comprises a small amount of the capsule you may just be paying for sugar or starch. This could then adversely affect blood sugar levels. For example, oyster extract powders can contain up to 50 or 60% maltodextrin. If you are looking for a natural source of supplementation, such as oyster extract powder, be sure to select a brand that lists dietary ingredients and amounts on the label.

  • Are there any side effects?

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding be careful in what you’re taking as supplements can be dangerous to the baby. A daily prenatal vitamin has the right types and amounts of nutrients for & will also tie into getting the correct dosage. Too much of certain vitamins or minerals can cause nausea.

  • Can I take it along with my other medications?

With any type of drug, there’s always a chance that it won’t mix well with a supplement. The problems can be especially severe with prescribed medication. If you’re on any medications or have a medical condition, you should always speak with your doctor before taking any kind of supplement.

  • How much am I willing to spend?

In the dietary supplement industry, a higher cost doesn’t always mean a higher quality product. Look for products that are active ingredients only or use filler ingredients in small amounts (less than 20%). And as always, research a product before you buy.

So, what are the ingredients that you should look out for on labels?

  1. Sodium Lauryl Sulphate: Reactions between additives & sodium lauryly sulphate can form carcinogenic nitrates and dioxins. These are stored in the kidneys, heart, eyes and liver
  2. Polyethylene Glycol – can cause a host of side effects in addition to making you feel sick to your stomach. This is a major ingredient in antifreeze and brake fluid
  3. Magnesium silicate is used as an anti-caking agent or filler. It can cause issues when ingested and lung problems when inhaled.
  4. Magnesium Stearate is used as a binder or flow agent. There is controversy about this ingredient being safe for human ingestion.
  5. Titanium Dioxide is used as a colourant. It can cause small intestine, lung inflammation and possibly cancer.
  6. Carrageenan is a vegan thickening agent. Some scientific studies have shown this ingredient to cause inflammation of the digestive tract and possibly malignant tumours.
  7. Potassium Sorbate is synthetically produced & commonly used as a food preservative. Some people experience sensitivities or allergies when digesting this ingredient.
  8. Xylitol (Sweetener) Xylitol is commonly used as a sugar substitute. Birch wood or certain fruits are common sources of Xylitol. While it is considered safe for human consumption, it could be potentially lethally poisonous to your pets. So it is important to keep it away from animals. It can actually cause a sharp drop in a dog’s blood sugar that could be life-threatening.

“Good Fillers”

  1. Silicon Dioxide (Flow Agent) – helps prevent the active ingredients from clumping together by absorbing moisture. Silicon dioxide is completely natural and your body doesn’t absorb any of it. It does not react or interfere with the active ingredients in your supplements.
  2. Calcium Carbonate (Filler, Binder, Coating Agent) – commonly found in the shells of marine animals as well as eggshells.
  3. Cellulose (Binder, Filler, Coating): Cellulose is an organic compound that is a structural component of cell walls in green plants mostly used as a binder, anti caking agent or filler in supplements. Cellulose has no caloric value making it a good bulking agent. It adds weight to dietary foods which may help supplements meet a nominal weight.
  4. Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC) (Lubricant, Binder, Controlled Release) Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose or HPMC is a semi-synthetic food additive present in some supplements. In oral tablets, HPMC works to control the release of active ingredients. This allows for absorption to occur deeper in your digestive tract as the supplements are able to make it through stomach acid. A substitute for animal gelatine in vegetarian capsules is Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose.

Transparency is key. If you are unsure reach out to the manufacturer and ask for more information. Reputable manufacturers should have no issue divulging this information.

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