Not all supplements were created equal
As we learned in our article on Amino Acid Uptake, the nutrition content seen on the label does not represent what makes it into the cells of our body. Many foods and supplements which appear to be identical on a label-to-label basis can have radically different effects after digestion in the body. This can be the result of contaminants, amino acid uptake or off-label factors.
Supplement grading in four sentences
The grade of a supplement or food is determined by the levels of contaminants in the final product. In amino acids, the contaminants being tested are endotoxins created by bacteria. There are acceptable limits for each grade of amino acid: the lowest tolerance is for medical grade amino acids, a somewhat higher amount for nutraceutical grade, and a still higher amount for food grade. For obvious reasons, more toxins are tolerated in food grade amino acids added to feed for livestock than in medical grade amino acids taken intravenously by patients in post-operative care.
Current state of the supplement market
Generally, manufacturers do not need to register their products with FDA or get FDA approval before producing or selling dietary supplements.* Manufacturers must make sure that product label information is truthful and not misleading.
Manufacturers are bound by law to report the amount of toxins discovered with a Certificate of Analysis (CoA). Medical and pharmaceutical products are also required to be produced in facilities that follow the standards of Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP) in order to be sold. While the medical and pharmaceutical markets are tightly regulated to protect consumers, the supplement market is currently watched much less closely. The burden of discovering and responding to complaints and adverse effects of supplements is placed on the manufacturer.
The supplement market is a self-regulated industry.
Toxins, contaminants and other risks of poor sourcing
The first concern with allowing manufacturers to govern the quality of their supplements is the use of lower grade sources. Use of lower grade supplements in consumer products is of a large benefit to manufacturers due to lowering bottom line costs and making products more price competitive.
Food grade amino acids from third world manufacturers in supplements in the US consumer market are common. These amino acids are described as ‘animal origin’ and can be derived from sources including feathers and human hair. To reiterate, food grade supplements are meant to be used as an additive when feeding livestock. The level of purity from endotoxins is determined by what is safe for livestock. Negative side effects such as diarrhea in cheaper amino acids can be commonly seen in negative reviews.
There are issues with protein sources as well. Whey, by far the most common protein found on the market, is derived from acid whey, an industrial byproduct of cheese and yogurt production. An independent study by ConsumerLab found that some common protein supplements contained contaminants such as lead and cholesterol.
Sourcing quality and amino acid uptake
Lower grade proteins and amino acids also typically have a poorer digestibility which translates to a lower AAU. The on-label values become very different than what is actually absorbed in the body which results in you getting less than what you paid for.
One downstream effect of low amino acid uptake is the necessary flipside: nitrogenous waste generation. Amino acids that are not metabolized by tissues to produce protein are digested as carbohydrates and nitrogenous waste like uric acid. Uric acid can effect blood pH which can effect inflammation and recovery adversely. In addition, digestion of protein as carbohydrate can affect ketosis and water retention for athletes in weight class sports.
Off label concerns
Due to the self-regulation of the supplement industry, there is no telling how many supplements currently on the market have off-label ingredients. A study conducted in 2004 found that 15% of supplements tested contained off-label ingredients illegal in competition. In 2012, 84 products containing off label steroids, stimulants and hormones were pulled from the shelves.
In addition, the amount claimed on the label is regulated by manufacturers as well. An independent study conducted on commercially available protein supplements showed that less than half of the amount claimed on the label showed up during analysis for several popular brands.
The Vitality Sciences Difference
With over 50 years of experience in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology fields, the team at Vitality Sciences LLC is used to creating products to the rigors of extensively regulated markets. As such, we make sure that all of our products are manufactured in cGMP facilities and have clean CoAs. We also source our ingredients from the same manufacturers that produce medical grade components for IVs in hospitals around the world.
By bringing the quality of a highly regulated industry to one that is self regulated, we are confident our products are built to a higher standard than anything on the market. And because of the differences in toxins, AAU and keeping stringent control on additives, we know our customers will be able to feel the difference.