5 Things to Know Before Buying Health Products
“If you want to ensure that you are purchasing quality natural health products, look for USP Grade on the label.”
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, that not all health products are created equal. Not every company is committed to producing high quality products and most are more concerned about profits and maintaining an acceptable bottom line for their share holders. When you view supplement commercials or view ads have you ever noticed that raw material quality or sourcing is never discussed? The word natural would be used, they will highlight if it is certified non-GMO or gluten free and may state detailed lab testing—which is necessary—but it is a rarity to elaborate on the sourcing of the raw materials used in making their supplement. As a result, many, many products are created to promote sales rather than promote health. Such is the nature of business, especially knowing that the majority of the brands being sold in health food stores and pharmacies are owned by corporations (e.g. Nestle, Proctor & Gamble, Clorox, Pfizer, Bayer) that have nothing to do with natural health.
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 Raw Material Ingredients: USP Grade, Food Grade & Feed Grade
Ingredients are the primary indicator of the quality of a health product and how they are sourced will result in the bottom line when being sold. 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 sources this level of quality, when available, for 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 price of 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 should only be USP grade. Often times they will also be branded and or patented to protect their formulas and to ensure they are free from harmful contaminants and or side effects. An example of USP grade melatonin is Melapure® Melatonin which can cost upwards of 12 to 15 times greater than the lesser quality Chinese material and the price paid makes all the difference in producing therapeutic results.
Although this can increase the end cost significantly, products created with the highest quality raw materials can actually promote a positive therapeutic change in the body, while often lesser quality ingredients do not. In the worse case scenario they can be harmful, especially with repeated use and when used by children.
- 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 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 realise 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. One other factor, they come with a cost, are gelatin capsules are half the price of vegetarian capsules. 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 medicinal 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, Doctor’s 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, the smaller the capsule the more difficult in filling. 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 significantly reduced.
- Buffers, fillers and flow agents
Another important and often overlooked aspect of health products are the extra non-medicinal components that are included directly in the vitamin product. A buffer—such as calcium or magnesium ascorbate with a vitamin C—is a compound that is used 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 when GMO sourced) is that the lower grade calcium and magnesium used as a buffer can accumulate in the body and end up having a negative net-result rather than the positive one that the consumer sought.
Fillers (or bulking agents), as mentioned above, increase the size of the supplement. Manufacturers often use these because the active ingredients in the capsule represent only a small amount. Because fillers 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; this seems to directly contradict the idea and goals of health products. Bottom line: using less filler is better but no fillers are the best, Doctor’s Choice does not use fillers.
Flow agents (also known as anti-caking agents) are compounds that are listed as non-medicinal ingredients and added to the raw materials before production to prevent ingredients from clumping together within the machinery used to manufacturing the product. A company that is discerning the details of a potentially harmful flow agent 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 Doctor’s Choice only uses ascorbal palmitate, fat soluble vitamin C when necessary.
Magnesium stearate and steric acid are the most common flow agents used and 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.
- Packaging materials
Environmental sustainability is an increasingly important factor as the world moves forward and industries mature toward stewardship. 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.
Doctor’s 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 Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA) Sustainability Award for its benchmark products and practices.
Doctor’s Choice Mission Statement establishment in 1986 has not changed: we remain 100% dedicated to the natural health industry and their customers by providing quality supplements without compromise. All formulations are prepared by our founder, a trained naturopathic doctor. We shop the world for the finest ingredients and place them into each capsule; the content is much more important than the advertising, packaging or price.
Fully licensed natural health products offer full transparency and are distinguished by the therapeutic response as the alternative to allopathic medicine. We purchase the very best in raw materials and our products are evaluated as reliable and effective. Shoulder to shoulder with the natural health food industry, we work as one of the pioneer roots of the health industry. Our goal is healing the nation, one person at a time.
- Jorstad L. H. 1925. The Relation of the Vitamins to the Reaction Induced By Coal Tar in the Tissues Of Animals. The Journal of Experimental Medicine, 42(2), 221–230. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2131005/
- Kareem, Khazi. 2022. Magnesium stearate: Uses, Side Effects and More. https://www.kidneyurology.org/magnesium-stearate/
- US Pharmacopeia https://www.usp.org/
- Natural VS Synthetic Vitamins https://scienceofhealthy.com/natural-vs-synthetic-vitamins/
- The Relation of the Vitamins to the Reaction Induced by Coal Tar in the Tissues of Animals https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2131005/
- 5 Ways PET Plastic Benefits You and the Environment https://www.proenvironmentalltd.co.uk/5-ways-pet-plastic-benefits-you-and-the-environment
 You can find a list of supplement/vitamin brands bought out by large companies here: https://cleanlivingmomblog.com/100-supplement-vitamin-brands-bought-out-by-large-companies/