The vitamin and herbal supplement industry has exploded, and changed, over the last two decades. I remember what happened 20 years ago on my 70 acre medicinal herb farm in Vermont and my company which made advanced herbal formulas, a wide line of extracts, herbal teas, and flower essences. (Before that time it was not a wide market in this country.)
One day in 1996 our phone rang OFF THE HOOK! We sold gallons of Gingko extract and sold out in two days! Come to find out, the United States FINALLY released their own research saying that Ginkgo works! (The rest of the world already had tons of research) The following week, another study on St. Johnswort was published and low and behold, that works too! It was in every newspaper, magazine and on TV. It seemed like overnight the herbal industry was born in the U.S. Very quickly you could find herbal capsules and products in every grocery store and drug store around! Our business took a huge leap, but then it died down as people could now by products cheaper anywhere.
But then the truth came out. People were calling saying they weren't getting results! I had the task of educating the public and Co-op members about the QUALITY of the supplements they were purchasing. People would take cheap capsules of dried Gingko, or other herbs and say they didn't work. I discovered SEVERAL important reasons for this. One was that the quality was not there. Most of the cheap products were NOT organic, and not pre-extracted. This is the process of extracting the active qualities from the herb plant itself with a particular solution, usually alcohol, water, and vegetable glycerin, as each extracted certain qualites of the plant, such as the nutrients, minerals, bioflavanoids, resins, oils, and the active medicinal components. This concentrated solution was easy to take as a liquid, usually two droppers were the recommended dose, or about 1 tsp. It was quickly absorbed by the stomach wall and into the blood stream to do its magic.
People were now buying cheap capsules of dried plant material (not organic), that were just dried and put into capsules. The problem with this scenario is that the active ingredients were not 'pre-extracted'. Now your intestines had the job of trying to break down and 'extract' the active components and absorb them. Well, what if your intestines were not so squeaky clean, but like most people had impacted matter lining the colon wall? What if your digestive juices are not sufficient, like many people? The absorption was greatly reduced, and so was the effectiveness.
The next problem was the AMOUNT or dose taken. Usually a couple of capsules of dried herb in a capsule did not make enough of a medicinal effect. But another problem I would hear about very often (and still do) is that people are NOT taking the effective medicinal dosage recommended each day. Even with my clients I often hear that they maybe take it once a day, or twice, when three times was recommended. For herbal extracts, usually 3-4x a day is required for the medicinal effect. For medicinal herbal teas, you must drink 3-5 cups a day.
When people realized this, our business happily picked up again! They preferred quality and RESULTS! Well, I see the same type of problems happening today. Many people will buy their supplements and herbs and vitamins from online companies like Amazon, Vita Cost, GNC, or Vitamin Shoppe. It is the QUALITY of the products that disturbs me. When testing people (using kinesiology or Vital Scan test) I find that most of these cheap supplements are NOT organic, and they are often loaded with FILLERS! When there's numerous ingredients I find that there's not enough of a medicinal dose of the actice ingredients. People are not getting results, yet they continue to purchase more and more cheap quality products before they come to me to find out what's wrong.
Most people are also 'self-prescribing' after reading a genereal magazine or online article. Even some of my clients who pay me to determine what they need specifically to improve their health, will sometimes go and purchase on Amazon or Vita Cost (which is why I now offer a 10% discount for my clients product orders). Then when they have a problem with this cheap product, or are not getting results, they call me, not the online companies they purchased from.
When I look at herbal supplements in the popular 'online' superstores, I see that they mainly sell 'Standardized extracts' with fillers such as Gelatin (capsule) from horse hooves, cellulose, stearic acid, magnesium stearate and silicon dioxide to name just a few. Even the process of standarizing herbal extracts in the U.S. is terrible! (The process is VERY different than the standarized formulations according to the British Herbal Pharmacopia that I used to follow in my former company) Here is the U.S. they use chemicals to isolate the most 'active' ingredient. First of all, it leaves a chemical residue in the extract, and the herbs are usually NOT organic to begin with. Read your labels! Then they realized it can now create side effects! So sometimes you'll see 'whole plant' included back in. That is like eating beached, enriched flour!
DON'T BE FOOLED! Are you really saving money? I don't think so. When we talk about having 'naturopathic quality' supplements, we are talking about higher standards, using the best quality and most effective herbs, professional formulas and whole nutrients. This industry is learning, improving, and growing constantly with more research coming forth regularly. Most of the time people don't realize what they might be deficient in. I find people taking handfuls of supplements, costing them hundreds of dollars each month, and still not getting everything they need. It's like 'piece-meal', taking a bit of this and a bit of that. They can be getting too much of one thing and not enough of another creating an imbalance. What about the synergistic effects of WHOLE plants, foods and nutrients? I like to make it simple but effective for people.
And don't get me started on SYNTHETIC ingredients! That is NOT part of the natural health industry. Period. Don't be fooled by names on labels in drug stores, like 'Nature Made', which is just an advertising gimick! Misleading? Yes. Most of the products you will find in drug stores and other big chains are actually a side company of the huge pharmaceutical industry, trying to look like a natural company. It is NOT about quality for them, but profits. Do you think they want to loose out on the BILLIONS of profits from supplements? I don't think so. Support your local suppliers and herb producers for the best quality!
Just remember that cheap isn't quality, and quality isn't cheap! You can still be smart about how and where you purchase your supplements. Be informed and make the best choices for the best results! You can do more good with less money IF you are using the RIGHT supplements!
Jane Smolnik, ND, Iridologist and Medical Herbalist has been in this industry for the last 30 years and has a private practice in Asheville, NC. She is also the owner of two online health companies, UltimateHealing.com and AdrenalMasters.com. Please visit her websites for more info.