There is no question that the shelves of the average health food store or pharmacy are overflowing with options for “natural health products.” The unfortunate truth is, however, not all health products are created equal. Not every company is committed to producing high quality products and most are more concerned with profits and maintaining an acceptable bottom line for their share holders. As a result, many, many products are built to promote sales rather than promote health. Such is the nature of business.
This massive disparity in quality can create confusion among consumers who fall victim to slick marketing campaigns with huge budgets. In order to help navigate the sea of health products, this article will outline a few points to look for when shopping to ensure you get the most value for your money.
Quality of Ingredients: USP Grade, Food Grade & Feed Grade
Ingredients are the primary indicator of the quality of a health product. There are three basic categories of ingredients: USP Grade, Food Grade and Feed Grade. USP Grade is the highest level of quality, as it meets or exceeds requirements of the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) and indicates exceptional levels of purity. Food grade is sufficient for human consumption, but the quality is lower than that of the USP grade ingredients. Feed grade is suitable for animal consumption.
If you want to ensure that you are purchasing quality natural health products, look for “USP Grade” on the label. A company that uses this level of quality in their ingredients will certainly communicate that to its customers as those ingredients are far more expensive than the lower grades, the price difference can be greater than 10x the lower grade.
A perfect example of the importance of purity can be found in Melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone – the quality of any hormone used in any product must only be USP Grade or higher to ensure that use does not induce harmful side effects. USP Grade Melatonin can cost upwards of 12 to 15 times more than the lesser grade Chinese material.
Although this can increase the end cost significantly, products created with USP Grade ingredients can actually promote positive therapeutic change in the body, while often lesser quality ingredients do not and can, in fact, promote harm in the worst-case scenarios.
Synthetic vs Natural ingredients
There is a huge difference in the efficacy of compounds that are produced synthetically as to those that are derived from natural sources. An excellent example of this is found in common vitamin B1. When derived from a natural source, such as spirulina, the bio-availability to cells is 90% with an absorption rate of 95% to the cells. Compared to its synthetic counterpart which is derived from fossil fuels, the bio-availability drops dramatically to 25% with an absorption rate of 30% to the cells. This is an important question to ask when purchasing your health products: are they sourced naturally or synthetically? If it is not readily apparent on the packaging, a little research may be in order.
Many people have different diets based on allergies, lifestyle and religious requirements. When it comes to health products, it is important to realize that many capsules are composed of gelatin manufactured from the collagen of animal skin or bone. This can run contrary to and complicate Halal, Kosher or Vegan diets. Only capsules made of cellulose from vegetable sources are sure to comply with these lifestyle or religious choices. This is an important aspect of manufacturing that many people overlook when choosing their health products.
Matching the size of the capsule to the amount of principle ingredient is also a key consideration when looking for quality products. While it is often necessary to include some filler in capsules when the dose size of active ingredients required are minute, the capsules should be as small as possible. For example, if the active ingredient is only 3mg and the company chooses to use a 500mg (size “0”) capsule, the amount of filler required to make the capsule is 497mg!
In contrast, Life Choice Melapure Melatonin has an active ingredient of 3mg and uses size “3” (270mg) capsules for its Melatonin which are much smaller and significantly reduces the amount of filler required to fill the capsule. Now scale that over hundreds of capsules that a person consumes over a year, let alone a lifetime, and the number of fillers ingested is reduced significantly.
It is also common for large manufacturers to produce batch runs of 300 million capsules or more of a product at a time to save costs. When these large runs occur, it is nearly impossible to pre-mix the ingredients thoroughly. That means that the distribution of active ingredients mixed with fillers is far from even, resulting in widely varying dosages per capsule. If a capsule is supposed to have, for example 3 mg of active melatonin to 497 mg filler times in a size “0” capsule, at the end of a large batch run the actual dosage per capsule could be 10mg or even 0mg. One study found the following: “The actual melatonin content of those products ranged from 83% less to 478% more than the amount advertised on the label, with most products (21 out of 31) failing to fall within 10% of the label claim.”1
At Life Choice, the production runs average 100 thousand capsules, allowing for more even distribution of the active ingredient throughout the batch and thereby far more accuracy when it comes to per capsule dosage.
Buffers, fillers and flow agents
Another important and often overlooked aspect of health products are the extra components that an end product has been included directly into or been exposed to (potentially contaminating purity) during the manufacturing process. A buffer is a compound that is used, such as calcium or magnesium ascorbate with a vitamin C for example, in order to be gentler on the stomach during digestion. The draw-back of adding buffers (instead of increasing the purity and thus digestibility of the vitamin C) is that the calcium and magnesium can accumulate in the body and end up having a negative net-result rather than the positive one that the consumer sought.
Fillers are used to do just that: increase the size of the supplement. Manufacturers often use these because the active ingredients in the capsule is such a small amount. Because fillers or bulking agents are so cheap, this is a way for manufacturers to increase profit by reducing manufacturing costs – consumers pay for the whole pill, not just the active ingredient. Several types of fillers are linked with health concerns which seems to directly contradict the idea and goals of health products. Bottom line: less fillers are better; no fillers are best!
Flow agents (also known as anti-caking agents) are compounds that are added to the raw materials before production to prevent ingredients from clumping together in the machinery used to produce the product. Invariably these flow agents will end up in the finished product. A company that is discerning about the details of a potentially harmful flow agents is truly dedicated to the health of its customers. Many companies would not consider more expensive flow agent options in order to protect the integrity/health value of the end product.
Magnesium stearate is one of the most common flow agents used and is found in nearly every supplement on the market. It is usually sourced from hydrogenated cotton seed oil and palm oil, which can be found to contain high levels of pesticides. Couple that with concerns about bio-accumulation, adverse effects on the immune response and problems with absorption of nutrients, and the use of magnesium stearate as a flow agent – which is already controversial – becomes a very real concern.
Environmental sustainability is an increasingly important factor as the world moves forward and industries mature toward stewardship. The companies that are focused on good stewardship, although perhaps in the minority, are the companies that are trying to impact the future in the most positive and meaningful ways possible. Using recycled materials such as PET packaging – plastic that can be recycled over and over again – for their packaging needs is one way these companies attempt to reduce their environmental footprint. Although it can increase manufacturing costs, using recycled packaging reveals much about the attitude of stewardship that a company values, and can speak volumes about integrity and the “behind-the-scenes” decisions that are made when it comes to other moral and professional issues.
Life Choice applauds companies that take the lead in each of these issues, and has taken the lead itself in the natural health industry to uphold the highest quality products produced with integrity and stewardship. The company was recognized with the 2019 CHFA Sustainability Award for its benchmark products and practices. Our founder and formulator, Eldon Dahl, DNM, has made it his life mission to help people achieve optimum health, and has chosen healing over profit at every opportunity. His mission statement says it all, “Healing the nation one person at a time.”
Eldon Dahl, Doctorate of Natural Medicine, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Life Choice Ltd.
Eldon graduated as a naturopathic doctor in 1988; his pathway towards natural medicine was a result of witnessing family members struggle with cancer and recognizing that environmental toxins and nutrition correlated with the disease process. Eldon has more than three decades of experience in the naturopathic and natural healing industries. He spearheads all health-related research into medical conditions—specifically anti-aging and chronic disease treatments. Eldon’s philosophy is simple: educate and provide therapeutic medicines that work equally to allopathic drugs…without the side effects.
His mission statement of “Healing the Nation, One Person at a Time” really says it all.