Products labeled as "all-natural" can contain pharmaceuticals, illegal drugs, and even heavy metals like lead or mercury.
So How Do You Read Supplement Labels?
It's been over 10 years since the FDA first warned consumers that supplements are not always what they seem. There are more than 50,000 supplements (and growing) on the market right now, and it's estimated that the average person spends about $1,200 per year out-of-pocket just trying to figure it all out!
In addition, over 50% of these products fail to give consumers real information. So, how do you know if what you're taking contains something dangerous or is good for your body? You don't!
Some advice: you should never trust a supplement without knowing how to read a supplement label first. We'll share some key points on how to quickly read and understand supplement labels, so you can be confident that you are not getting duped into wasting your money and, more importantly, possibly jeopardizing your health!
Let’s Start With The Words Used On The Label
The label of a nutritional supplement can be a tricky place to navigate. This is because that what is “listed” on the bottle of supplements and what is actually inside the bottle can be misleading.
You might be able to trust the “wording” on the label, but you may not be able to trust the actual quality and type of ingredients that are listed on the label.
Let’s look at a very popular supplement brand on the market.
Very Popular Brand Name A
At first glance, Brand A looks really promising. Exceeding the Daily Value (DV) in several areas and offering many of the key vitamins that we are typically looking for when we choose to take supplements.
However, this label is deceptive. It may be “lying by omission.” What we mean is, by telling you only the generic, high-level information ingredient name, they are misleading you.
Did you know that about 90% of supplements and ingredients out there are synthetic? This is a concern because of how your body metabolizes synthetic ingredients, the toxins that can be created in your body, and the lower quality of the actual ingredients.
Let’s look at Vitamin B12. You’ll see that the Vitamin B12 is listed differently on the two bottles, Brand A and Brand B.
Very Popular Brand Name B
When you break it down, look at the scientific names, and understand where they come from, the two labels are actually worlds apart.
You see, clever marketers hide the synthetic nature of inferior supplements by listing only the generic name of each ingredient.
Manufacturers that use certified natural ingredients in their products are happy and proud to list the full, detailed names on the label.
Using generic names is a trick used on unsuspecting consumers when comparing two or more similar products. The ingredients will be listed generically, but one will cost a little less than the other(s). Since they appear to be the same, most of us will assume they are the same and opt for the less expensive product.
These tricky labels also use catchy marketing phrases like “Fast Absorption” and “Energizing Formula.” The label isn't lying really, but it is not completely truthful either...
Let’s Dive into B12 as an Example
So, popular Vitamin B12 is uniformly recognized as the “energy” vitamin as it is necessary for our bodies to create ATP - the energy our cells use to function. If you see B12 you think "energy," but it’s not that simple.
When you see something that says it has Vitamin B12 in it, you have to look at what kind of vitamin B12. There can be healthy and helpful B12 vitamins and ones that can tax your body.
We know that on Label A, we are getting so little insight into where the B12 comes from, you will want to put that one right back on the shelf. Let’s take a look at Brand Label B. Now this looks better, it is listing the vitamin B12 as Cyanocobalamin.
Now here is where it gets even more complicated, and you wish you paid a little more attention in your chemistry classes. But we'll break it all down.
Let’s just quickly get into some big, sciency words.
The most common and lower quality form of B12 in supplements is synthetic Cyanocobalamin which is recognized for being absorbed faster than other forms, so “Fast Absorption” is true. However, our bodies cannot use B12 in this form.
Cyanocobalamin actually breaks down in your body into cyanide and cobalamin. And we know that cyanide is not something you want building up in your body! This form of B12 can leave toxins in people’s systems and even make them feel sick.
High-quality, natural B12 comes in the forms methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin.
What are Methylcobalamin and Adenosylcobalamin?
Methylcobalamin has become more popular, which is a good thing; but it does not provide energy – at least not the energy boost that people are expecting from taking a B12 supplement. This is a myth or misconception.
Adenosylcobalamin is a converted form of methylcobalamin and is essential for supporting the Kreb’s cycle (the process by which mitochondria create ATP, cellular energy). When this process doesn’t work well, the result is cellular damage and potential DNA and RNA damage, setting the stage for degenerative disease. Early symptoms of this issue manifest as fatigue or early aging.
Unfortunately, most of the B12 on the market does not include these two-high quality, natural versions because they cost more.
So Why Pay More?
To be clear, supplement companies are not just trying to scam you. Many of them simply do not know better; and as with all businesses, they are looking for ways to cut costs and provide better prices to their consumers.
In general, natural high-quality ingredients cost more - sometimes significantly more.
Here’s a list of common synthetic versions on the left and a list of high-quality versions on the right (and what we use in all of our supplements). Note the cost difference of synthetic versus certified natural.
When we look at another common product that is very popular on the market, a Super B-Complex, take a moment and put to test all that we have been sharing with you. See if you can identify the difference in quality.
#1 B-Complex Seller on Amazon
As we mentioned, if a company is proud of their ingredients/product, they will put the actual full details on the label. Think of it like when buying a winter coat. If the fabric is waterproofed with an expensive or branded waterproofing technology, they will put “GoreTex® waterproof” rather than just “waterproof.”
And to go even deeper, some companies may put a “longer form name” to make it seem more impressive. Just because they write a detailed scientific name doesn’t mean it’s natural or good.
This is where you need to know the exact type of beneficial ingredient (like we mentioned methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin above). If they do say what the specific ingredients is, you have to look to see if it’s synthetic form or not. That is why you need a detailed label like Dr. Tennant’s below:
When researching your supplements, you must ask — do you really understand the quality of the ingredients in it?
In the end, you always want the highest-quality, natural vitamin and mineral versus synthetic.
What We Hope You Take Away from This Blog
- If a company is proud of their ingredients/product, they’ll put the full name and details of what is in their products on the label.
- Some companies may put a “longer form name” to make it seem more impressive. However, just because a detailed scientific name is listed doesn’t mean it’s natural or good for you. You need to do your research.
- You get what you pay for. The cost of high-quality ingredients absolutely impacts how much you pay for the supplements you take.
Here at Tennant Products we are very proud of our products and our labels show it. We are transparent about where our ingredients come from, so you will always find detailed information on all of Dr. Tennant’s products’ labels.
If you have taken the time to read this article, we know you are a person who is looking for the best and are doing everything you can to be an educated consumer. We hope we have shed some light on reading supplement labels. As we always say, it’s your body, it’s your health, and ingredients matter. Now go out and make educated choices!