Buyer beware of these trendy, overhyped supplements

The natural supplement industry invests a great deal of time, effort, and money into self-regulation. In fact, at last April’s International Conference on the Science of Botanicals, industry watchdogs and experts came together to talk about a growing and serious problem…trendy, overhyped, “proprietary” blends that contain paltry amounts of many different nutrients.

These glossy, trademarked formulas are often labeled as blends, cleanses, and detoxes. They make wild promises to build muscle, boost brain function, or supercharge sexual performance. But they’re more about marketing than science.

So while I’ve been writing about this issue consistently since we first started publishing seven years ago, I’m especially happy to see industry insiders finally tackling the problem head on.

Here’s what you need to know about these proprietary blends…

Unscrupulous manufacturers make use of loophole

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) normally requires manufacturers of dietary supplements to list the mass amount (by weight) of each ingredient in their products on the “Supplement Facts” label. However, a regulations “loophole” allows manufacturers to lump a bunch of ingredients together and simply list the total amount of the “blend” on the label—keeping the individual amounts of each ingredient proprietary.

Such practices have nothing to do with science…and everything to do with marketing. In fact, a marketing guru probably invented the whole concept in the first place. Then, some scientist followed suit by throwing together a few ingredients known to have one benefit or another (but only in the right doses and combinations).

Take this, for example: One product spotlighted at the recent botanical conference contained nine different ingredients. But together, all nine ingredients only added up 50 mg! That’s slightly more than 5 mg per ingredient. And I can’t think of any single botanical ingredient that works effectively at that paltry dose!

Plus, the company made the same blend at a 500 mg dose (about 50 mg per ingredient). And while that dosing is slightly better, it’s still nowhere near optimal, according to the science.

What we have here is an example of a cheap company, attempting to promote a useless product.

Blends backed by tradition and science

Now, for credible naturopathic and Chinese medical practitioners who know what they’re doing, it’s all well and good to prepare combinations with the right doses of different botanical and nutrient ingredients—for specific individuals, for specific purposes.

This practice harkens back to traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.

But few blends on the market appear to be backed by either traditional medical practices or modern scientific research.

In fact, my colleague, friend, and knowledgeable herbalist Roy Upton of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, recently said this shotgun approach is still all too common in dietary supplement formulations. He explained, “These formulas sometimes look like people just picked up a book, opened it up, and found a list of herbs…There are companies that don’t have a clue. I like to call it the ‘everything in the kitchen sink and then some more’ approach. There’s no rhyme or reason to some of these formulas.” They actually belong down the kitchen drain.

As a side note, I include “multivitamins” in the same group as these overhyped proprietary blends. Because you can never get what you actually need nutritionally in a single multivitamin pill. (Unless a veterinarian prescribes your multivitamin—because they’d have to be like the huge horse pills prescribed by Dr. Quackenbush in one of the Marx Brothers movies in order to offer effective doses.) In addition, multis often contain things you DON’T want in a supplement, like calcium or iron. And contain too little of the things you DO need, like vitamin D.

It’s a real shame. We hear a lot about the problems with these kinds of propriety blends. And not enough about the high-quality products and suppliers in the industry.

But they do exist…

How to find high-quality supplements

The supplement industry actually prepares an annual guide on quality. And get this: The worst of the most popular retail supplements typically score only two or three out of 100 in terms of quality.

But quality manufacturers and suppliers, such as those I use for my Smart Science Nutritionals line of supplements, consistently score in the 90s out of 100.

Our ingredients and supplements are always backed both by tradition and modern science. We always look closely at how ingredients have been used historically. And then, we look at all the credible science from laboratory and clinical studies to support specific combinations of ingredients in the right doses, that also work together synergistically.

In fact, I discuss three important steps to knowing if your supplement is top-notch in the April 2015 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter (“The Great Supplement Scandal continues: Are you getting what you pay for?”). This issue—and all my archives—are available to subscribers for free on my website. So if you’re not yet a subscriber, now’s the perfect time to get started. Click here to sign up today!


“Are proprietary blends useful tools, or the bane of the industry?” Nutraingredients, 4/19/19 (