Nutraceuticals: The Responsibility of Product Quality Begins With Management

“Consumers must be given a choice concerning their health care”

Some time ago, CBC aired investigations by Marketplace and the Fifth Estate[1] examining the practices of the supplement industry, and in all fairness the report was slanted and not presented accurately. The reports used U.S. content to confuse the viewers, showing trade show hustling, biased U.S. experts and even U.S. laboratory testing as if to say Canada does not possess experts or quality laboratory testing facilities which certainly is not the case. Several of the companies mentioned in the report have since responded[2], but the report did shed light on legitimate customer concerns.

We must be able to have an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs; public trust has also greatly waned for this group too. The alternative must be of the same high quality as used in the pharmaceutical industry, but without the damaging side effects and with GMP quality manufacturing. Testing must become the assurance consumers look for when buying natural food supplements but the testing cannot be assumed to be captured under a single method.

Suppliers have a responsibility to their customers, for what is on the label must be what is in the product. Product quality without a company’s ethical value and proper oversight leaves too great a gap for speculation. Management without moral consciousness will resort to all levels in order to sell a product for the greatest possible profit, and that could mean lying about the ingredients in their product, and the same holds true to the pharmaceutical industry.

It is not fair to group all nutraceutical companies in the same category, each must stand on their own merits; whenever transparency is an issue it gives good reason for the public to be weary. High standards can make all the difference, and consumers should be on the lookout for companies that can prove their quality. Below are some things to look for when choosing an effective supplement.

Amino acids should be made from fermentation process. One of the benefits of fermentation is the non-animal process; something many customers attest is an important benefit of the fermentation process. Most amino acids are made by extraction or a chemical synthesis and not by fermentation. Consumers should consider not taking amino acids produced by extraction process as it is not a very environmentally friendly process and uses sewage sludge, avian feathers or human hair in the process.

Raw materials vary greatly, most are purchased on price alone and don’t use the purest possible USP pharmaceutical grade standards because price point on the shelf has taken precedent. In Canada consumers have greater assurances when purchasing supplements as all products sold must be licensed by Health Canada; those sold in the U.S.A. do not have the same standards or government oversight, but even this standard is not enough.

Source materials can be genetically modified or subjected to organic or aqueous solvents and therefore chlorohydrocarbon remain as residue in the tissues. Fillers and excipients are also cause for concern, consumers should examine the potency of the product and see how it matches the size of the tablet or capsules, an example 3 mg of the active ingredient fitting into a 400 mg tablet, the added filler amount lessens the absorption of the medicinal ingredient. The right size capsule should fit the medicinal ingredients to lessen the use of added fillers but this requires downtime in production since the smaller capsules are more likely to jam the machines, time is money so bigger capsules and added fillers.

Flow agents are of great concern. If we were to examine the non-medicinal ingredients on vitamin labels, we would discover that most products contain additives such as stearic acid[3] or magnesium stearate which are GRAS (generally recognized as safe). They are lubricants added to raw materials to prevent clumping, they are also found in many food products. These trans-fats are typically derived from genetically engineered cottonseed oil that tends to have high level pesticide residues.  Neurological studies have found evidence that magnesium stearate may collapse cell membranes and selectively kill T-cells, the body’s natural killer cells—which are a key component of the immune system.

A study[4] published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Technology shows that the percent dissolution for capsules after 20 minutes in solution went from 90% without stearates to 25% with them. Clearly, stearates reduced the rate the capsule dissolved by 65%! This means delays in the absorption of nutrients. Therefore, individuals with impaired digestion may have particular difficulty absorbing nutrients coated with stearates. Life Choice uses calcium ascorbate, fat soluble vitamin C as a natural flow agent not only does it prevent clumping of the vitamin mixture it is also helpful for immunity.

Most don’t think about where the empty capsules are sourced from, Life Choice uses vegetarian capsules eliminating the animal by-products used, the vegetarian capsules do cost 100% more than gelatin but the price is worth every penny.  According to PETA[5], gelatin is a protein obtained by boiling skin, tendons, ligaments, and/or bones with water. It is usually obtained from cows or pigs. Gelatin is used in shampoos, face masks, and other cosmetics; as a thickener for fruit gelatins and puddings (such as Jell-O); in candies, gummy bears, marshmallows, cakes, ice cream, and yogurts; on photographic film; and in vitamins as a coating and as capsules, and it is sometimes used to assist in “clearing” wines. Gelatin is not vegan.

The product label is our only window for understanding what is in the bottle, and when it is hidden or obscured it could be detrimental to your health.

The magnitude of the bioaccumulation of toxins is staggering, for they accumulate much quicker than they can be eliminated from the body. Many are unavoidable from the food we eat and the air we breathe. Our drinking water is also cause for concern, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on June 15, 2022 released new warnings about synthetic pollutants in drinking water known as “forever chemicals,” (also known as polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS) saying the toxins can still be harmful even at levels so low they are not detectable.“ Scientists have linked some PFAS to cancers, liver damage, low birth weight and other health problems. But the chemicals, which do not break down easily, are not yet regulated.”[6] There is a very good movie exposing the health risks of PFAS called Dark Waters, staring Mark Ruffalo, the true story of Dupont’s criminal activity.

Vitamins were intended to supplement the shortfalls of our diet – due to the missing minerals and nutrients from the soil or the toxicity of oceans – or they are taken to treat health concerns. Vitamins were not meant to be another toxic overload.

Consumer have the full legal right to demand quality in the supplements they are taking and if the companies are found to be fraudulent then they should be held accountable, but only after assuring there was no stone unturned and all the facts have been considered. Consumers must be given a choice concerning their health care be it from non-GMO food to pharmaceutical drugs or nutraceutical health care products. Pharmaceutical standards can be used in the supplement industry so that every component of the manufacturing process results in therapeutic results, in the end is this not the very reason we take supplements for improved health? I have working within the health industry for thirty-six years and it is high time to set the guidelines and to raise the standards straight across the board and the best way this can be done is through education and consumer awareness.