I try not to let all of the crazy things in the supplement industry drive me nuts, but sometimes there seems to be a firehose of bullshit, and I need to vent about it. None of these are new problems, but they are getting worse and more prevalent.
So, for my Christmas present, I am asking all of you to come on this journey with me.
First up are mycelium supplements. When you go to the grocery store and buy mushrooms, you are getting the fruiting bodies. The part that lives underground, think of it like a root system, is the mycelium. Mycelium powders are not mushroom supplements and are not legally allowed to be labeled as such or claim to be a mushroom supplement. However, that does not stop companies from advertising products that are just ground-up growing substrate (these types of products are often over 90% starch), with pictures of the fruiting bodies on the label, as mushroom supplements, even though they are not. These products have none of the benefits that mushroom supplements do, but they are incredibly profitable and cost next to nothing to produce. When companies put pictures of the fruiting body on the label, they intend for people to believe that it is what is in the product, even though there is none in it.
No reishi mushroom is present, despite the big pictures of them on their label.
Next up, is problems at Amazon.
Repeated testing has shown that dietary supplements sold on Amazon have huge quality control problems. Despite their big claims of new testing and quality control requirements, things continue to worsen.
Here are a few examples (there are far too many to go through them all, it would take a book).
Over fifty percent of immune supplements did not match the label for potency, ingredients found on the label, and contained things that were not on the label. Are you comfortable shopping somewhere with over a fifty percent chance of not getting what the label says? Imagine going to the store and buying something and having a less than fifty percent chance that what you purchased is in the package. Would you be ok with that, or keep returning to that store?
Magnesium chelates, such as magnesium glycinate, are very popular and much better absorbed than traditional forms, such as magnesium oxide, carbonate, and citrate. However, they are much more expensive to produce. However, instead of selling fully reacted magnesium glycinate, many companies are mixing cheaper forms like magnesium carbonate with the amino acid glycine and calling it magnesium glycinate, even though it is not, because it has not been reacted. While those cheap brands on Amazon may look like a good deal, they are anything but, as most of the time, they are not magnesium glycinate, just cheap imitations.
Phosphatidylserine is a great supplement, but it is expensive to make correctly. So it is ripe for adulteration. In a test of 43 phosphatidylserine supplements, thirty-six failed testing or about eighty-three percent. Some brands failed for potency, others for spiking the product with the amino acid serine to cheat testing, and seventeen contained less than ten percent of the claimed label amount. That is how soo many brands can sell such an expensive raw material so cheaply. They lie on the label, and they will continue to do so until there are substantial penalties for their actions. Of the few that get caught, they reopen under a different brand and return to doing what they were because it is highly profitable. Can you imagine if you went to the store and only had a 17% chance that the item you bought was what the package said? Would you continue to shop at that store?
Amazon has a massive counterfeit problem. "When the U.S. Government Accountability Office made test buys on the websites of five major e-commerce purveyors, including Amazon, for a 2018 report, nearly half of the 47 items it purchased turned out to be phony." Many brands have left the platform because of it. You might think I will buy from a brand I know, and then it will be good. Think again. When companies send products to Amazon to store and ship them, the same items are mixed from all the vendors selling that exact item. While company A is sending in their real vitamin C 1000 capsules, they will get mixed with resellers also sending in company A’s vitamin C 1000 capsules. Vast numbers of resellers send in the “identical” product, and they all get dumped in the same bin. Well, guess what? Many of those “identical” products may be counterfeit. So you will be playing Russian roulette, maybe getting an authentic or counterfeit product. Could you imagine going to a store where a lot of the merchandise is counterfeit? Would you keep going there?
Up next are completely misleading product dosage labels.
Another issue (this one is not specific to Amazon, but happens a lot there) is products listing the total weight of the compound, not the amount of active ingredient. This makes products appear to have much higher potencies and leads people to think, wow, I am getting so much for the same price as this other brand; it’s a great deal. When in fact, it is just a labeling trick. Check out a few examples of this (again, way too many to ever list them all).
Take a look at this label:
While it claims five hundred milligrams of magnesium glycinate per pill on the front and side of the label, it is listing the total weight of the compound, not the amount of actual magnesium you would be getting, which would be around (provided it is fully reacted magnesium glycinate) seventy milligrams of magnesium. They would sell a lot fewer bottles if they put the actual amount on the label. This is very deceiving and makes it seem a lot more potent and a better deal than other properly labeled products.
Properly labeled magnesium supplements list the amount of elemental magnesium (the actual amount of magnesium you will be getting), not just the compound weight.
Another product that this happens to a lot is phosphatidylserine. Often companies will put five hundred milligrams on the front of the label when that is the weight of the full compound, not the amount of phosphatidylserine in each pill.
While the above product says 500 mg on the front of the label, each capsule, has, at most (if it is phosphatidylserine and not an adulterated product), fifty milligrams of phosphatidylserine. That's why one hundred and eighty capsules of that product seem so much less expensive than one hundred milligram pills of other brands.
Now back to Amazon for more holiday cheer.
Relying on product reviews to choose between products is a terrible idea that drives me up the wall, especially on Amazon. There are a lot of dirty tricks that go on to get products great reviews that are anything but real.
The first trick is that a company will use a listing for a current product but replace the product in the listing with another product; it’s called bait and switch listing. So this new or different product has thousands of great reviews for a completely different product, with no information given to show this.
Another problem is people being paid or offered free stuff to give a good rating. How honest do you expect a paid review to be? In addition, the vast majority of the time, it is not disclosed that they are being paid.
Blatantly fake reviews are another big problem. There is a massive amount of these flooding the site, especially around the holidays. There are entire seedy networks dedicated to offering fake reviews that can be purchased for dirt cheap. Many companies will often pay to have competitor products given tons of fake bad reviews, resulting in their products moving up the rankings while their competitors go down, all because of completely fake reviews.
These are just a few of the many problems with relying on reviews. While these are Amazon-specific examples, you can be damn sure it is going on on many other websites. Reviews are not a reliable way to judge a product's or service's quality.
Relying on reviews gets a big thumbs down from us!
On deck next is some testing and certification issues that have really been like getting coal in my stocking.
It’s become very common for people looking to know if their supplements are good quality to ask for test results or if products are certified by a third-party organization, such as NSF. While it's great that people want to ensure that their supplements are clean, this is the wrong way of going about it. So now you might be thinking, why isn’t this an excellent way to know if a supplement is appropriately tested and safe?
When asking for test results, it's important to ask yourself a couple of questions. First, do I know how to read the test results? Do I know everything that a particular material or product needs to be tested for and the correct methods to be used? Do I know everything a third-party certification company tests for and if they use the proper methodologies for a particular product or raw material? The fact is ninety-nine percent of people do not know the answers to those questions (hell, most people in the supplement industry don’t even know the answers to these questions), so seeing test results or certification is not going to give the average person information that is very useful.
For example, many turmeric (curcumin) products are extracted with harmful solvents like hexane, ethylene dichloride, and acetone. The standard testing for solvent residue is gas chromatography. Well, this test does not work for turmeric extracts because it cannot see inside the structure of curcuminoids (basic explanation, nobody wants the long lab explanation), so gas headspace must be used to see solvent residue correctly. Many test results on turmeric products show that they are free of solvent residue because they use the wrong testing. If you got the test results, they would look clean, but it would not mean anything because the wrong testing method was used. Many raw materials have issues like this, so getting test results will not mean much unless a person knows everything they are looking for, from possible contamination and adulteration to using the correct testing method.
We do send many products away for third-party testing, as well as many products that have various third-party certifications, but we understand what to look and test for and the limited use of this information. Check out our article, The Farm to Bottle Project, to learn more about what we view as a better way forward to know that products are safe, clean, and ethically produced.
Last but certainly not least is something I never thought I would have to write about.
On social media, several variations of the above have been making the rounds, telling women that getting their period means they are dirty or toxic. The first time I saw this, I thought it was a joke, but it keeps popping up in more and more posts and places. This is horrifying.
These women are not getting their period anymore because their body is starving for nutrition, not because they have no more “toxins” (notice they never actually say what the toxins are).
I can’t believe in this day and age that medieval nonsense about women being unclean because of their menstrual cycle is making a comeback. But, I guess I should not be surprised at all, based on how things are going, what with the Supreme Court deciding women are second-class citizens, based on arguments made by 17th-century witch hunters (this is not a joke, a supreme court justice did this).
Apparently, it needs to be said women are supposed to have a menstrual cycle, and it’s good that you do. However, if you stop having one, you should speak to your doctor right away because it’s not that the “toxins” are gone; it’s that there is a health issue that needs to be addressed.
I hope you enjoyed this edition of things making Josh feel like the Grinch.
We here at Rooted Nutrition wish all of you a very happy holiday season, and we hope that Santa is good to all of you. May your cookies be extra chocolatey and your egg nog spiked just a little bit extra!
Meg Meg says to eat plenty of cookies because calories don't count on holidays!