Conscious Consumer: The Reality of Pharmaceutical-Grade Supplements
Updated: Jan 16
by Katelyn Daugherty, M.S. and Mitchell Rasmussen, D.C.
The supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar global enterprise where you can find almost anything you're looking for at an affordable price online or in stores. Vitamins and supplements are easily accessible... but not all supplements are created equal. It can be especially overwhelming to sort through what is good and bad.
In 2015, The New York Times reported that four out of five top-selling store-brand products did NOT contain any of the herbs listed on the national retailers’ labels. These companies were not small, unknown stores: they were TARGET, WALMART, GNC, and WALGREENS. Tests showed that pills labeled as medicinal supplements contained only fillers like powdered rice, asparagus, and even houseplants.
Over-the-counter supplements are not required to comply with testing for consumer consumption (i.e. not subject to FDA regulations). Further, third-party retailers, like AMAZON, report counterfeit products frequently mislabelled and sold to consumers. The market is saturated and unreliable.
How can you be sure that your supplement contains what it says it contains and ONLY that? There are guidelines and third-party institutions which help standardize and protect consumers from misleading and poor-quality supplements.
What are pharmaceutical-grade supplements?
Pharmaceutical-Grade supplements are those held to the same rigorous standards as FDA regulated drugs. By USP standards, they must exceed 99% purity and not contain any fillers, binders, dyes, or inactive additives. The current supplement industry is saturated, LESS THAN 3% of supplements on the market meet pharmaceutical grade standards. Over-the-counter supplements (including those purchased on Amazon, Walmart, Vitamin Shoppe, GNC) are not regulated by the FDA.
A third-party verified, pharmaceutical grade supplement is the only way to ensure you’re taking the purest form of an ingredient possible. They are manufactured under cGMPs (current good manufacturing practices) for quality. With this guideline, every single product can be traced by date, time, lot number, and facility. Even though the supplements are not being regulated by the FDA, for many of the companies we partner with, the production process is being evaluated at every step.
Purity and Trusted Labels
When third-party verified, ingredients are tested in raw form and again after production to make sure the label exactly matches what is in the bottle. Because of this investment, pharmaceutical-grade supplement manufacturers guarantee the quality and purity of their products.
Over-the-counter supplements, like those sold at Target, Walgreens, and GNC can contain fillers and binders such as cork by-products, chemical FD&C dyes, sodium benzoate, dextrose, and ethyl cellulose. These ingredients are legal, but the nutritional benefits (or harms) are unknown.
Effective Levels of Ingredients
Having the right dose of nutrients matters greatly. You may find a supplement that loads many ingredients in one formula. It may seem like you’re getting a great deal with many things packed into one product; but if they are sub-clinical doses it is simply “window dressing”. This often happens with recognizable superfoods like ashwaghanda, turmeric, or spirulina.
Another common “trick” supplement companies use is the “Proprietary Blend” phrase. All this means is that they can front load cheaper ingredients within that blend, label it as having a bunch of other, potentially more expensive ingredients, but only put minuscule amounts of those into the “Proprietary Blend". When the total blend is all that gets a dosage amount, we have no clue which ingredients have what amounts within the blend. Silly, and potentially dangerous; especially if you currently take certain medications.
Many vitamins and supplements sold at drug and health food stores do not contain natural vitamins, but instead those synthesized from petrochemicals. There are lingering questions concerning synthetic versus natural vitamins. However, clinical evidence indicates that certain vitamins are more effective in their natural form.
For example, Vitamin K2:
There is overwhelming data supporting vitamin K2 as supportive for bone health as well as heart disease prevention. That being said, there are numerous kinds of Vitamin K2. Some are 'natural' and some are 'synthetic'.
Vitamin K2 as the 'long chain' MK-7 shows the highest activity in humans. This is the natural form of K2, synthesized by healthy gut bacteria (another reason to mind the critters in the gut) as well as from certain fermented foods. It has a much longer half-life in the blood as compared to synthetic Vitamin K2 (meaning, it stays in the blood, accomplishing its many important tasks for us).
Mk-4, on the other hand, is synthetically-derived. It has a shorter half-life in the blood as compared to MK-7, and you need A LOT more MK-4 to achieve the health-promoting effects which can be had from a much lower dose of MK-7.
We are talking, like crazy differences in doses, when we discuss one major mechanism of action with Vitamin K2; something known as "osteocalcin carboxylation".
MK-4 = 1500 mcg/day
MK-7 = 45 mcg/day
Which would you prefer: a cheap supplement which is poorly absorbed, or a slightly more expensive one which is metabolized and utilized well?
The higher cost of pharmaceutical and medical-grade supplements is worth it for your health. Invest in yourself with high-quality products that will absorb properly and give you the nutrients you expect.
Where to get high-quality, pharmaceutical-grade supplements?
We offer several brands of trusted supplements in our clinic at The Facility. However, for convenience, there are many online supplement dispensaries; we use FullScript and NutriDyn. See below for an exclusive discount on your online orders!
Best Supplements to Take for Optimal Health:
Supplementation is best individualized based on functional lab testing. The picture of what you are actually ABSORBING and USING can be complicated by your gut environment, your genetics, and your lifestyle. Thus, you can take an extremely high dose of magnesium... but if you aren't absorbing it.. you're flushing your money down the toilet and making expensive poop.
That being said, a foundation of supplements generally recommended includes:
+ High-quality, balanced, multivitamin
+ Fish Oil*
+ Vitamin D3** with Vitamin K2
+ Grass-Fed Whey Protein or Plant-Based Protein Blend
*Purity matters greatly here. MOST commercial fish oil products are not up to par.
**Note: it is important to stay cognizant of your Vitamin D levels when supplementing. We generally run bloodwork that includes a Vitamin D level at least twice per year. For more information on ordering a Vitamin D test, contact us.
Functional medicine and advanced testing, complemented by a thorough assessment of patient history, symptom picture, and treatment response, offer a holistic and personalized approach to wellness. By delving deep into your unique health profile and addressing root causes, you can take significant steps toward achieving lasting vitality and well-being.
>>Want an individualized supplement protocol based on your goals and concerns? Reach out for a consult today!
Want to work with a functional medicine doctor to run labs and assess nutrient status? Struggling with hormone imbalance, IBS, weight gain, mood changes? Let's look at BIOCHEMISTRY. Read more about Functional Medicine at The Facility here.
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Selected Products from the NutriDyn dispensary: