Many consumers believe that supplements and vitamins fall into a single category of efficiency. After all, if you go to the local store and look at two bottles of the same supplement they probably have the same ingredients listed on them. What more could be involved?
In an ideal world, there would be no difference between two bottles containing the same quantity of a vitamin. But if that were the case in the real world, then why would a bottle containing vitamin B12 cost 6 dollars at a local Target and then 30 dollars from some other brands? It's all about quality.
The vitamin and supplement market can be a confusing place to navigate. Many herbal supplements are not regulated by governments or third-party organizations. This allows them to make some pretty wild claims on their products without any sort of consequences in the long run. This is in stark contrast to medications, which are carefully analyzed and tested before they hit the shelves.
While the market may seem to fall into a single category to newcomers there are actually two categories. The first category includes all of the standard vitamins and supplements that you'll find on shelves at your local Target, Walmart, or CVS. It also includes a large portion of the supplements that you find sold online. These are known as standard-grade or consumer-grade supplements.
The second category is known as professional-grade or pharmaceutical-grade supplements. These are the supplements or vitamins that you pick up behind the counter after getting a prescription from your doctor. You can also find these available on some websites that specialize in selling high-grade supplements.
You may not be aware that these types of vitamins and supplements exist if you've never been prescribed vitamins by a doctor. But now that you know there's a difference it's important that you stay in the right category when making future purchases. Buying traditional, cheap supplements is not only ineffective, but it could also pose a potential health risk in some situations.
Let's look at some of the major differences between standard supplements and pharmaceutical-grade supplements. These differences will help you understand why a slightly higher price tag is justifiable when your health is on the line.
The FDA does not strictly regulate supplements even among companies that sell pharmaceutical-grade products. Nonetheless, these companies want consumers to know that their products are natural, safe, and what they claim to be. The only way to accomplish this is to receive third-party certification from trusted organizations. It's very similar to how some food products receive organic certifications from trusted organizations so that buyers know their products are natural and free from contamination.
The certifications that professional-grade supplements received are the first step towards differentiating them from the low-grade products you find at most stores. These certifications have strict demands, which will most often lead to increased production costs. Increased production costs translate to a higher cost for the end product. A bottle of 120 supplements costing $5 simply could not have invested the amount of time and money needed to guarantee the highest possible quality.
Most certifications are represented with three letters much like the FDA. Some of the big names to look for are USP(United States Pharmacopeia), GMP(Good Manufacturing Practices), and NSF(National Sanitation Foundation). The best brands on the market will have various certifications from all three of these categories.
You'll find certifications provided by the NSF on a number of professional-grade supplements. The NSF is an organization dedicated to testing and certification of health and food products. Their organization was founded with the goal of standardizing the sanitation process of food and related equipment. They have since evolved to include more than 80 different national standards related to health and safety.
NSF certifications come from their Health Sciences Division. They provide GMP and GLP testing and certification. Their testing procedures are very closely related to those provided by the USP. The USP may be more highly regarded in the supplement and vitamin industry, but that doesn't make an NSF certification any less viable or important.
The important NSF certification to look for in a professional-grade supplement is a GMP certification. This certification guarantees that a product has the strength, identity, quality, composition, and purity that is listed on its label. This certification alone creates a massive divide between standard supplements and professional-grade supplements. Remember, there are no guidelines saying a supplement needs to be tested or regulated. Many supplements sold at stores do not contain exactly what they list on their bottles.
USP certification is very similar. It means that the product contains exactly what it lists on its label. If it says that it contains 14 grams of Medium-Chain Triglycerides(MCTs) from coconut oil, then that is exactly what it has. Not 4 grams of coconut oil MCTs, 8 grams of binders and fillers, and 2 grams of some random synthetic ingredient (which is what you're far more likely to get when purchasing a low-grade supplement).
We were able to see the differences between standard and professional-grade supplements in the spotlight in 2015 in New York. The state attorney general(AG) launched an investigation targeting several claims made by vitamins and supplement suppliers. These are the types of claims that would normally be regulated by the FDA or weeded out through third-party organizations like the NSF or USP, such as the purity or permissibility of ingredients.
The AG relied on a technique known as DNA barcode testing to complete the investigation. This method could be used to measure the purity of a supplement and its included ingredients based on DNA strands. The process works by removing a small portion of DNA from a product and then comparing it to a massive database. The AG performed this testing on a large selection of vitamins and supplements from the state.
What the AG found was rather alarming. They discovered that roughly 80 percent of the supplements tested did not contain the ingredients that were listed on the label. Some ingredients were replaced by cheap alternatives in a number of products, but not labeled as such. For example, an ingredient called devil's claw was listed in products from 13 companies but was not included in the product. Those companies received cease-and-desist letters from the AG.
This incident in 2015 helped the industry in a number of ways. It let companies know that their fraudulent actions can still come to light even if they aren't heavily regulated by the FDA. Unfortunately, until true regulation exists, it won't be enough to justify purchasing standard supplements from the grocery store. The greater victory was letting the public know just how important proper testing and certification is.
If you were to buy 10 supplements from a local store, then chances are that only 2 of them contain what they list on the label. The rest of them are a combination of fillers, binders, and other cheap ingredients simply used to take up space. Meanwhile, when you purchase from a brand that has been certified by the NFS and USP, you know you are getting 100 percent of what is listed on the label. That's certainly worth the extra money.
Certifications aren't the only difference between standard and professional supplements. Certifications are primarily used to verify the legitimacy of what is listed on the bottle. It's still up to the manufacturer to decide what actually goes in the bottle and on the label. Professional-grade supplements hold themselves and their ingredients to much higher standards. In most cases, this means all natural and 99 percent pure ingredients.
Consumer-grade vitamins aren't going to clearly list where their ingredients come from because they don't want you to know that the majority of them are synthetically created in a lab. Synthetic ingredients are much cheaper than natural ingredients. That leads to fewer production expenses and a cheaper end-product for the consumer. It also means a product with much lower quality and a number of potential hazards.
Natural ingredients will always be more expensive to obtain and they will always be more effective. Most professional-grade products like FirstFitness and NuMedica only rely on natural sources for their vitamins and supplements. Studies have shown that the body reacts differently to natural sources of vitamins and that those vitamins are more easily absorbed. Is it going to cost you more? Yes, but it is absolutely worth it.
We are a society of savvy shoppers who are drawn to the idea of a "good deal". This means if we see a product that costs $50 and another that costs $6, then we feel the urge to buy the cheaper one. When it comes to supplements and vitamins we need to learn to overcome that urge. Consumer-grade vitamins are cheaper for a reason. They aren't regulated, tested, or certified. They don't use natural ingredients and they aren't honest about what they include in their products. If you are serious about your health and your supplements, then you must rely on professional-grade products.
Jay Todtenbier is an original founder of SupplementRelief.com in 2010 and has operated the business ever since. He is also a tennis instructor and gospel musician. Formerly he spent 25 years in business development, technology and marketing with startups and major corporations having gone through the tech boom in Silicon Valley in the 90s. He became passionate about, and began studying and practicing Wellness as a Lifestyle after experiencing chronic, personal health challenges including depression, auto-immune disorders, and being overweight that impacted his ability to live a healthy, vibrant life. Since then, he has been an advocate for healthier living encouraging others to live better through making small, gradual changes to lifestyle behaviors relating to whole-foods nutrition, stress management, reasonable exercise, proper sleep, and the use of targeted, high-quality supplements.
Learn more about Jay Todtenbier.
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