Marc S. Schneider, M.D.
Do you know how to read a supplement label?
We will teach you how to understand the supplement label to ensure you are getting what you need.
Are supplements an important part of your health and training regime?
For most men and women who pay as much attention to what they put into their bodies as to their workout, the answer is a resounding “yes!” The nutrition we put into our bodies is important to maintaining a physically and emotionally balanced self.
When the human body receives the proper nutrition, it leads to a healthy and productive life. However, sometimes, through no fault of your own, the foods you purchase may let you down.
Did you know that an estimated 50% – 70% of North American’s have an essential fatty acid deficiency of Omega-3 . We often see this often manifest as anxiety or depression. The easiest way to offset an imbalance is to either change your food supply (grow your own), or add proper nutritional supplements to your diet.
But are you sure about what you are getting in your supplement purchases? Let’s explore how to read the label and some supplement label hacks to be aware of.
Table of Contents
- Supplements Defined
- Who Can Make Supplements?
- Supplement Label Deciphered
- GMP Certification
- 3rd Party Testing
- How Manufacturing is Supposed to Work
- Banned Substance Free Certification
- Protein Listing Hack
- Whey Isolate Hack
- Ingredient Quality
- Understanding What Ingredients Do
- Does your Product Have What It Needs For YOU?
What is the difference between a supplement and a drug?
In 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) defined dietary supplements as a category of food, which put them under different regulations than drugs. Supplements are considered safe until proven otherwise.
Today’s supplements consist of herbs, vitamins, protein, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, and multiple other products. Dietary supplements appear in all types of forms: capsules and tablets, liquids, and powders. They cover almost any nutritional requirement of the human body.
- A vitamin;
- A mineral;
- An herb or other botanical;
- An amino acid;
- A dietary substance for use by man to supplement the diet by increasing the total dietary intake; or
- A concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or a combination of any ingredient mentioned above.
These products are intended for ingestion, they cannot be represented as a conventional food or as a sole item of a meal.
In essence this means that every supplement should be organic in origin, it is not technically a food, and it exists in nature.
Drugs on the other hand are different than supplements. Drugs go through rigorous testing protocols before being deemed safe and effective and released for the general public. They have a specific utility and are controlled by medical prescription.
Anybody can release and market a supplement. They will stay on the market until something negative occurs to enough users, and then that particular supplement is declared unsafe.
A classic example of this is DMAA, also known as 1,3-dimethylamylamine or methylhexamine. First invented in 1944 by Eli Lilly, it was pulled from the market in 1983.
DMAA was reintroduced as a supplement in 2006, and was a key ingredient in very popular pre-workout formulas. Companies claimed that DMAA was naturally found in geraniums. This fact may be true.
Death, Dying, & DMAA
However, after a long history of negative consequences due to DMAA overdosing, the FDA determined that it was potentially dangerous, and it did not qualify as a legal supplement. It was thus banned with the full power and weight of the federal government.
Who Can Make Supplements?
Original Photo by justin lim
Simple answer – just about anyone. In fact, many large nutrition companies today started in the originator’s kitchen. The FDA inspects all registered manufacturers of supplements, but some smaller brands might use non-registered manufacturers, or even produce them at home.
In fact, if you are using a grey market product like a prohormone or SARM, or even a preworkout that is loaded with mind bending and cardiotoxic stimulants, it is almost a guarantee that this is from an unregistered or cottage manufacturer.
The basis of DSHEA is that the product has to be derived from a naturally occurring food sources. The FDA has cracked down hard on major manufacturers implementing these rules and threatening severe penalties. However, they do not have the resources to check every small producer.
Clearly, something like a SARM (selective androgen receptor stimulator) that is not naturally occurring, is protected by a patent, and is only cleared for animal experimentation, falls more in line with a drug rather than a supplement.
Though SARM’s may work well for the user, there is no safety testing. Let the buyer beware.
Supplement Label Deciphered
The supplement label is divided into 3 panels: the left panel, the center panel and the right panel. The center panel must identify the product, indicate that it is a dietary supplement and list the net quantity of the contents. The right panel typically must contain the nutrition labeling, the ingredient list, and the name and place of business of the manufacturer.
The supplement facts are typically found on the right panel. One question we are always asked is what is the difference between “nutrition facts” and “supplement facts”. Nutrition facts are specifically for products considered to be foods: for example, bars and sports drinks.
Supplement facts are only for supplements. The requirements for supplements and foods are significantly different.
At the top of the supplement facts will be listed the number of servings per container and what the serving size for the product is. Below this, the fact panel must specify the amount per serving of the following: total calories, calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sugars, protein, Vitamin A, C, calcium and iron; if they are in measurable amounts.
All fats, carbohydrates and protein in the product will contribute to the total calories of the product. Each gram of carbohydrate and protein will produce 4 calories. So if the product has 4 grams of carbohydrate, this will contribute 16 calories. Likewise, 10 grams of protein will yield 40 calories. Each gram of fat will produce a whopping 9 calories.
Below this will be listed other dietary ingredients that do not have Daily Values (DRV – daily reference value or RDI – reference daily intake).
These ingredients must be listed in descending order by predominance of weight.
Therefore, the first ingredient on the list has to have the highest quantity followed by in descending order, the next ingredient by weight.
So in the following graphic, you see listed: Protein Blend (Whey Protein Isolate, Whey Protein Concentrate, Whey Peptides), Dextrose, Cocoa, Natural Flavors, Xanthan Gum, Maltodextrin, Sucralose, Digestive Enzymes (Alpha & Beta Amylase, Protease, Lipase, Lactase, Cellulase).
This means that there is more protein in this product than any other ingredient. It also means that there is more whey isolate than concentrate.
Remember this because we are going to discuss tricks that companies use to cheapen the cost of their product, maximize their profits, and seduce you into buying it.
Manufacturers are required under DSHEA to use GMP, which refers to the Good Manufacturing Practice Regulations as promoted by the US Food and Drug Administration. GMP regulations require a quality approach to manufacturing, enabling companies to minimize or eliminate instances of contamination, mix-ups, and errors.
GMP is the Key to Consumer Safety.
This protects the consumer from purchasing a product that is accidentally contaminated with other products that were previously manufactured, lead or heavy metal contamination, bacteria and mold.
To comply with GMP protocols means that companies must have in place proper quality control standards as well as policies and procedures. Failure of firms to comply with GMP regulations can result in very serious consequences including recall, seizure, fines, and jail time.
This compliance is evaluated by the FDA.
The FDA does not hand out cGMP (certified Good Manufacturing Practices) certificates.
There is no overseeing organization that universally inspects all facilities and certifies that they are GMP and grants them use of a cGMP logo.
In fact, cGMP is not even a controlled trademark. Anyone can say it. Anyone can put it on their label. Regardless if they are GMP or not.
So if a product is produced in an FDA inspected facility, The FDA determines their level of GMP compliance. If the manufacturer is not in compliance, the FDA can issue a publicly disclosed warning letter, fine them, or close a manufacturer if they do not comply.
But there is a higher standard:
Some companies manufacture in NSF GMP certified facilities.
International is an American product testing, inspection and certification organization that certifies facilities for GMP. Dioxyme is produced in an NSF GMP facility.
3rd Party Testing
Part of GMP requires the manufacturer to have a third party laboratory test each product batch produced for heavy metals, impurities, and bacterial counts. This ensures that the product from a contamination standpoint, is safe for consumption.
Some supplement producers proudly state their product is 3rd party tested. Do not misinterpret this as an extra step that the manufacturer uses to go above and beyond what is normal. It is required by the law. It is sort of like proudly stating that I stop for stop lights. Yay! You should.
If your product is not third party tested, you shouldn’t be consuming it.
How Manufacturing is Supposed to Work
When a manufacturer or copacker produces a product, they must first acquire the raw materials. Some manufacturer’s do produce some of their raw materials. Most purchase their raw materials from suppliers worldwide.
What ensures that the raw materials are safe?
Original Photo by lucas vasques
When the raw materials come into a facility, they must have certificates of authenticity from the producer. The receiver then has to test the ingredient in a laboratory to confirm the authenticity and that the raw material is safe and pure. The materials for production are then kept in controlled environments.
When the production process begins, the mixing equipment must first be cleaned to ensure that it is not contaminated with anything from other batches. Why is this important?
Some manufacturers who are not NSF cGMP certified (remember this is not required by law), will mix products that contain banned substances. This is not illegal.
So what is the big deal?
Cross contamination between products can occur if the manufacturer cuts corners.
An athlete cannot afford to have accidental cross contamination from improper mixing by a manufacturer. This has happened numerous times and it is becoming more common place.
In communication with the scientists at LGC who test and certify products under the Informed Sport logo, this issue has increased significantly and hurt unsuspecting athletes’ careers.
It happened to UFC fighter Yoel Romero who tested positive after the Jacare Souza fight in 2015. He was initially handed a 2 year suspension, but after deep investigation, identification was made of the offending supplement (a legal water pill), and USADA and the UFC reversed their ban.
The producer of the product now faces a legal complaint.
Banned Substance Free Certification
The step beyond third-party testing is testing for banned substances. When we say banned substance, we mean those 220 substances that WADA and USADA regulate and prohibit because they have been deemed performance enhancing.
Not every banned substance is bad, however, if a banned substance accidently finds its way into a product taken by a professional or olympic athlete who is routinely tested, they will face a mandatory competition ban. They may also face a fine.
Banned substances range from hormones to stimulants, and agents that increase blood cells.
There are 3 certifying agencies that test for banned substances: Informed Sport, NSF sport and BCSG. Manufacturers who have their products tested for banned substances must first register with the testing agency, have their manufacturing facilities certified, and then must submit batch samples for testing each time a batch is produced.
Dioxyme is registered and tests its products with Informed Sport to ensure and certify that our products are banned substance free.
Now that you have some insight into the regulations of supplements, let’s look at some hacks for uncovering tricks companies use on their labels.
Protein Listing Hack
Scientists and nutrition researchers know that there are certain proteins that are gold standards in terms of effectiveness: Whey, Casein, and Soy. They know how each one works, its efficacy, and how it compares to the other protein products.
For example, whey produces the greatest muscle protein synthesis, casein prevents muscle protein breakdown the most, and soy is the most efficient vegetarian protein for building muscle, but, is less effective than whey.
Manufacturers will often put 4, 5, 6, or even 7 different proteins in their formula. Why?
$$ To make money $$.
Remember, ingredients must be listed by predominance of weight. If you take a formula that has 24 grams of protein and you put 7 different proteins in it, the first ingredient listed only needs to have a minimum of about 4 grams. The other 6 proteins can add up to 20 grams.
And guess what?
Often those 6 other proteins are a lot cheaper than the first ingredient. This trick allows the manufacturer to decrease their cost of the good expensive ingredient and dupe you into thinking you are getting something better than it actually is.
You might think you are getting 20 grams of protein #1 listed on the label; but you are probably not.
Let me give you some of the ingredients used in protein. You could see any one or combination of these ingredients in a protein supplement: whey isolate, whey concentrate, casein, milk isolate, milk concentrate, albumin, colostrum, egg protein, chicken protein, bone broth protein, and collagen.
Milk is made up of 80% casein and 20% whey. Milk concentrate is casein plus lactalbumin. Milk isolate is milk concentrate with some of the lactose removed and a slightly higher protein concentration.
If you read that a supplement uses casein, milk isolate, and milk concentrate in their blend, they are giving you three versions of the same thing! But cheaper!
We see this in many of the bone broth proteins on the market. A product identifying itself as bone broth protein might list 3 or 4 different protein sources. The most prominent protein source in the supplement might be chicken protein. Further down the list is the actual, expensive, bone broth protein. The product can call itself bone broth protein, but most of its protein is coming from processed chicken parts.
Whey Isolate Hack
Whey isolate is revered because absorption is fast and the ingredient is lactose free. Lactose is a sugar that some people cannot digest. When manufacturers use whey ingredients, they often put digestive enzymes into their formulas.
Digestive enzymes allow you to digest the lactose. Digestive enzymes also increase the amount of protein that can be absorbed by your body by 2-3 times.
However, because whey isolate has no lactose, many manufacturers do not include digestive enzymes in their formulations. They do not need it for lactose digestion. This cost savings measure helps the corporate bottom line, but cheats the user because they are not able to completely utilize all they consume.
Did you know…
Whey isolate is absorbed slightly faster than whey concentrate. Both produce a spike in muscle protein synthesis. However, whey concentrate produces a higher spike. This is why we combine WPI 94 with WPC in our New Zealand Whey Protein so you benefit from both absorption periods, and both MPS spikes.
There is a great difference in the ingredients that manufacturers use for their products. When you read on the supplement label fact panel that a product contains whey protein, did you know that there is a huge range in whey quality? For example, whey protein concentrate can vary from 32% protein up to 80% protein.
No raw protein powder is 100% protein. It has other parts to it such as fats, sugars, water, and ash (the residue left over from production). This means that the raw ingredient from the supplier can vary from having 80% protein and 20% other stuff to 32% protein and 68% other stuff. Both supplements are legally called whey protein concentrate.
WPC 32 is much cheaper than WPC 80.
The variance between protein and the other ingredients determines how the supplement mixes, tastes, sits in your stomach, and how effective it is for your body.Make no mistake – the quality of the ingredients are going to make a difference in the effectiveness of the supplement. You should feel and see a difference from taking most supplements.Click To Tweet
We pride ourselves in only using the best, most effective ingredients in our products. That is why our whey is imported from New Zealand, as it has the highest protein concentration on the planet, and New Zealand has the highest manufacturing standards.
Understanding What Ingredients Do
Ok, so you now know what is on the label. Now you need to know what you are looking for.
To do this you need to know what you want to achieve with the supplement. This is more than basing your decision on advertising. A commercial or website might make a supplement sound like it is everything you could possibly want. How do you know if it is going to help you achieve your goals?
Different fitness and health goals require different approaches. If you are nutritionally deficient; you may need a supplement that corrects your condition. Many athletes who eat right are nutritionally deficient, something we call FIT SICK.
FIT SICK results from intense training, and not replacing nutritionally everything your body uses.
In my office, we often perform micronutrient testing, and we are shocked at the results. Collegiate and professional athletes who look to be in incredible condition are, in fact, malnourished!
Your goal might be to add muscle. Or perhaps your goal is to enhance your endurance. There are specific ingredients at certain doses that will help you accomplish these tasks.
Do you know what you need?
Research is key. First find out if the ingredient really works.
There are a number of sites that provide referenced analysis’ of different ingredients. I usually use a number of tools like Google Scholar or Pubmed Central, which are free, or OVID, which requires a subscription.
What can you find? I did a 5-minute search on a commonly used ingredient for male enhancement: Tribulus. Tribulis is used to raise testosterone levels.
Does it work? Let’s see what is available on page 1 of a search.
However, studies show that tribulus produces no increase in strength over placebo, and other studies show it has absolutely no effect either directly or indirectly on raising androgens in men 20-36 years old.
So does tribulus work? The results from a page 1 search are contradictory and any evaluation should go into far more depth. But the point is, there should be clear and convincing evidence that an ingredient is beneficial before you take it.
An associate pointed out what he thought was a great preworkout because it contained betaine. Now I take betaine because of the effect it has on homocystinemia. For this condition, betaine is quite effective.
However, betaine has been shown to be of minimal effect in athletic performance. So why include an ingredient that is ineffective, or at an ineffective dose?
You owe it to yourself to do a little research.
Next find out if the ingredients match your goals.
Different ingredients have different effects. Do you know what your nutritional goals are, or are you just buying what the guy in the gym suggested? If you are looking to gain muscle, you are looking for ingredients that are known to increase muscle protein synthesis or what scientists call MPS.
Muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is the process whereby your muscles grow. It involves many different hormones, enzymes and nutrients. There are proven, safe, unbanned, MPS stimulants such as HMB, HICA, Phosphatidic Acid, Leucine and Whey that can help your development.
People who want muscle growth may also take casein. However, casein works completely differently by minimizing how much your muscle breaks down. Muscle break down occurs all the time but it is unimpeded while you are sleeping.
Casein is very slowly digested, sits heavy on your stomach, and thus it is better suited to taking right before sleep. This helps offset the muscle breakdown through the night.
Why then use a product that has a blend of whey and casein?
You want growth… You want muscle growth maximized. So before your workout an adequate dose of BCAA will decrease muscle breakdown and start MPS.
After the workout, maximizing growth is the key. 25-40 grams of whey is perfect. Don’t blow it by halfing your dose with a casein blend.
In our opinion, you are wasting your growth opportunities by not using the right supplement at the right time. Knowledge is Power. It will pay to do your research.
There is one other thing to keep in mind when using supplements: Read the Supplement Label Dosage.
The dosage, or the amount of the ingredient in a product is a major part in how effective it will be. Make sure the product has the correct dose for what you are trying to accomplish.
Antibiotics will not be effective if a patient does not take the right amount; the same is true of supplements. It is easy for a manufacturer to under-dose the ingredient. Most consumers do not know what the correct dosing for a supplement is and they only look to see that the ingredient is listed.
Does your Product Have what it needs for YOU?
Original Photo by naassom azevedo
We started Dioxyme for one simple reason. We wanted to have supplements that worked and frankly, we were sick and tired of spending good money on supp’s that didn’t. We were fooled for years as well. We read the supplement label but frankly, even we didn’t know how we were being duped.
We spent thousands of hours reviewing all the research behind supplements and didn’t understand why supplements didn’t work for us. That is until I (the Doc) was invited by several companies to visit their factories and realized why.
It is legal and easy to deceive the public… AND… There is a lot of profit to be made in doing it.
That didn’t sit right with us. Call us naive. So we started off to see if just getting the raw ingredients and using them at the right dose would make a difference.
We tested these formulations on ourselves and friends who were former pro athletes. And low and behold, they really are effective.
So we started Dioxyme with a purpose of only providing supplements that work.
There is no way I can give you everything you need to know about supplements here. I want you to understand that there is a big difference between supplements of a similar type, and you need to know how to read the labels and know what the company is preaching in order to make an informed decision.
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