In a time where our food quality is not where it should be, health is declining faster than it should, and people are deficient in vitamins and minerals, supplements are on the rise. We should be thankful that there are supplemental options to help our bodies meet their needs; however, so many of these supplements are causing more harm than good. It’s time to learn what is in our supplements. There will be four articles total on the subject – Fillers, Dyes, Sugars, and How to Choose – as it is an overwhelming amount of information to put out at once.
The truth: The supplements lining our store shelves are full of contaminants, substitutes, and fillers. We are being sold (mostly) lies.
A study performed in 2013 (SOURCE) looked at 44 supplemental products by 12 companies and broke down the labels compared to actual ingredients. The results speak for themselves, all but 2 products contained fillers, contaminants, and ingredients not listed on their labels.
The entire process of manufacturing, distributing, and marketing supplements is subject to a completely different set of rules than for drugs. These products may sit on pharmacy shelves, side-by-side with bottles of Tylenol, but they are held to significantly lower safety and efficacy standards. This is a very scary thought, as the safety of Tylenol is truly questionable as we learn more about it.
Supplements are fundamentally different from pharmaceutical grade medicine. Pharmaceutical grade medicines are powerful chemicals that can overpower your body chemistry, or kill pathogenic organisms. And while sometimes they are necessary, they can be deadly when used improperly. Good supplements, instead, allow your body to maximize its natural abilities or provide support to your body’s systems. Supplemental effectiveness, however, cannot override bad lifestyle choices, such as diet, sedentariness, or lack of sleep. Conversely, supplements’ effects are compounded when used in tandem with proper diet, exercise and rest. That being said, you still have to be sure that what you are buying is what you are getting.
Supplement manufacturers often add in a variety of fillers to their vitamin and mineral supplements for numerous reasons:
- Easier and faster production
- More appealing to the eye(colorants)
- Easier to swallow (coatings)
The reasons for using fillers aside, the real problem lies in how these fillers impact your body and health. Simply put, it’s not good. Just like processed foods being loaded with additives and fillers, the same goes for vitamins. Any supplement that has additives and fillers will be harmful to your health in the same way those processed foods are.
In February 2015, four of the largest retail stores (GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart) were accused of fraudulently selling herbal products that in many cases were contaminated or did not contain any of the herb listed on the label. Among the attorney general’s findings was a popular store brand of ginseng pills at Walgreens, promoted for “physical endurance and vitality,” that contained only powdered garlic and rice. At Walmart, the authorities found that its ginkgo biloba, a Chinese plant promoted as a memory enhancer, contained little more than powdered radish, houseplants and wheat — despite a claim on the label that the product was wheat- and gluten-free.
GNC (Herbal Plus brand): http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/03/sidebar-whats-in-those-supplements/
- Gingko biloba: No actual Gingko biloba found, detected garlic, rice, spruce, asparagus
- John’s wort: None found, detected garlic, rice, and dracaena (a houseplant)
- Ginseng: None found, detected rice, dracaena, pine, wheat, grass and citrus
- Echinacea: None found, detected rice
- Saw palmetto: One sample had the product
- Garlic: Contained garlic
Target (Up and Up brand)
- Gingko biloba: No actual Gingko biloba found, detected rice, garlic and mung bean
- John’s wort: None found, detected garlic, rice and dracaena
- Garlic: Contained garlic! (one test detected no product)
- Echinacea: Found in most samples
- Saw palmetto: Found in most but not all samples
- Valerian: None detected, found allium, bean, asparagus, pea family, rice, wild carrot and saw palmetto
Walgreens (Finest Nutrition brand)
- Gingko biloba: No actual Gingko biloba found, detected rice
- John’s wort: None found, detected garlic, rice and dracaena
- Ginseng: None found, detected garlic and rice
- Garlic: None found, detected palm, dracaena, wheat and rice
- Echinacea: None found, detected garlic, rice and daisy
- Saw palmetto: contained saw palmetto!
Walmart (Spring Valley brand)
- Gingko biloba: No actual Gingko biloba found, detected rice, dracaena, mustard, wheat, radish
- John’s wort: None found, detected garlic, rice and cassava
- Ginseng: None found, detected rice, dracaena, pine, wheat/grass and citrus
- Garlic: One sample had product
- Echinacea: None found in supplement
- Saw palmetto: Some samples contained small amounts. Also found garlic and rice
This is just scratching the surface. Think of the vitamins and other herbal supplements behind your cabinet doors. The ones you take religiously, or have your family members take daily. Chances are, unless you have done your research, that you are swallowing your money along with that rice-filled capsule.
Supplement companies are trying to validate their products by stating “these contaminants are actually acceptable fillers.” Another problem, studies are showing that there is little consistency from one capsule, tablet, or scoop to another. https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/searching-for-the-supplement-in-your-supplement/
Not only are we being lied to, and throwing our money away, but for some people this crosses the line to dangerous. Those with allergies (like soy, or even plants) or are strictly gluten-free may have severe reactions to fraudulent supplements.
Many of the fillers found in the most common supplements: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/07/24/pharmaceutical-drugs-vs-nutritional-supplements.aspx
- Corn Starch
- Steric Acid
- Hydrogenated Oils: The most used filler being partially hydrogenated soybean oil, which encourages heart problems, strokes, nervous system problems, block the absorption of essential fatty acids, upset blood sugar regulation and more.
- Talc: a cheap filler and anti-caking agent
- Magnesium Silicate: Magnesium silicate is similar in composition to asbestos and can cause lung problems when inhaled
- Magnesium Stearate: a lubricant so that the vitamins don’t stick to one another. It may create a suppressed immune system and some studies show that this ‘chalk’ will create a biofilm in the body that can keep the body from absorbing any of the needed nutrients.
We can also add GMO/ and pesticides to the list as the above fillers are not organic and most come sprayed with pesticides and herbicides.
A note: Do research on the companies whose supplements you buy. Ask companies about their methods or where they source their ingredients. Ask for independent lab results verifying the contents of their supplements. Many will be happy to provide you that information, because they stand by their products. If they are reticent to provide that information, look elsewhere for your supplements.