Junky vitamins are often passed off as quality, and many times are endorsed by a physician or celebrity. There are many tricks that low quality supplement companies use to hide their poor quality, spending more money on marketing than on what is under the hood.
As a leading nutritional expert and owner of a dietary supplement company I am often asked to explain the subject of quality. Because so much is out of view of the consumer, including the details of the raw materials used in any product, the best way to get a handle on the subject is to look at a company’s multiple vitamin and mineral products. This can help you see through the spin and understand that company’s actual production philosophy.
Being able to understand what’s on the label of a multiple vitamin, you can quickly tell the difference between a quality product and a cheap product. Get started by looking at the minerals in both the multiple vitamin and multiple mineral products of any company.
Beware of Really Cheap Minerals
Minerals are vital nutrients for health, required for numerous enzymes in your body to work properly. Minerals in food are at low levels due to excessive processing of food, poor farming that depletes our soils, as well as the use of pesticides that interfere with the natural sulfur cycle – leaving us not only with chemically adulterated food but food that has lower nutritional value. It is now common sense to supplement fine quality minerals, including important trace minerals.
These minerals are in any company’s multiple vitamin as well as bone-related products. Minerals from the ground are referred to as inorganic, whereas minerals in plants or crops are structured by living cells and thought of as organic (as different from how the word organic describes food that doesn’t contain pesticides).
The cheapest form of calcium is gym chalk, otherwise known as inorganic calcium carbonate. Other ground up rock forms of cheap calcium include bone meal, oyster shell, or dolomite. Another cheap form is calcium gluconate (9% calcium and 91% sugar glucose). These forms of calcium require large amounts of hydrochloric acid to make bioavailable, thus they have poor absorption (which is why they are used as over the counter antacids). Once in your body they are not very biologically useful and run a risk, depending on your underlying health, of calcifying your arteries, causing alarming breast lumps, gall stones, or kidney stones. There is little chance such poor quality calcium will help your bones.
Magnesium oxide is the cheapest form of magnesium, often appearing in products using low quality calcium. Oxides need antioxidants to deactivate them once they are absorbed. There is no excuse for using a mineral form that uses up valuable antioxidants, unless of course you could care less about the person taking it. Products containing inorganic calcium carbonate and magnesium oxide belong in the trash – most likely with any other product made by such a company.
Which Minerals are Best?
Minerals for dietary supplements are typically bound to another substance. What they are bound to has a profound affect on how they are absorbed and even more importantly – where they go and what they do in your body.
Calcium citrate (20% calcium, 80% citric acid) is known to be better absorbed than inorganic calcium carbonate. However, taking 1000 mg of calcium citrate gives you 4000 mg of citric acid, like eating a pound of tomatoes. This much citric acid can conk out your cell engines (mitochondria) by flooding their citric acid cycle with too much citrate (like flooding a car with gas). Individuals who are tired or fatigued often respond poorly to high amounts of citric acid, making them even more tired or giving them headaches. Since your cells have no way to efficiently use so much citric acid, calcium citrate is not a high quality form of the mineral to use on a daily basis. Small amounts don’t matter – large amounts are a definite energy-related problem for too many people.
In an effort to get away from magnesium oxide some companies have gone to another cheap salt form known as magnesium aspartate (20% magnesium, 80% aspartic acid). Aspartic acid in small amounts is commonly found in food and of no harm. In larger amounts it adds to excitement in the nerves – which is not good if nerves are already stressed (it can act as an excitotoxin if consuming a lot of it). Aspartate is never a good choice as the primary form of magnesium or calcium in any dietary supplement.
What you really want are minerals in forms that not only absorb well but also do something useful. For example, in my Wellness Resources Daily Energy Multiple Vitamin I use magnesium malate (and no citrate), because this form not only absorbs well but the malic acid is also another valuable nutrient. It goes into cells (taking the magnesium with it), and actually helps turn on the energy-producing citric acid cycle. This is a totally different reaction than citric acid. Malic acid induces cell energy production to go forward and is the most lacking Krebs citric acid cycle nutrient when there is fatigue.
I use a variety of calcium forms in the Wellness Resources products, which I design; based on the theme that not only the calcium but whatever it is bound to can both be useful to your body. For example, calcium AEP helps strengthen your nerves so you can tolerate stress better, as the AEP is a great nerve nutrient. Calcium taurate (Tri Cal) helps relax your nerves, as taurine is a known relaxant.*
In Wellness Resources Daily Bone Xcel I use part of the calcium in the form of microcrystalline hydroxyappetite (MCHC – small particles of intact bone), as these act as a true bone food and can readily be absorbed, transported to your bones, and easily attached to the existing bone matrix.*
Is Coral Calcium any Good?
Depending on the coral calcium type, it can be a great dietary supplement. Coral calcium from ocean waters, as used in Wellness Resources products, has a natural ratio of 2 parts calcium to 1 part magnesium, along with many other trace minerals found in the ocean. It is typically harvested from dead coral reefs in the pristine waters off the coast of Okinawa (it is not an eco-unfriendly harvesting activity). Reputable companies assay the raw material to ensure its quality for human consumption. Bone health of the citizens of Okinawa is legendary.*
These forms of calcium and magnesium are in a carbonate structure, but far different than the gym chalk described above. They exist in highly organized geometric structures, organically formed by the living coral reefs (like a true food form). They are the only form of minerals that are both fat and water soluble and are better absorbed than citrates. They rapidly produce mineral ions that your body can easily use in countless metabolic processes.*
Beware of companies selling coral calcium that has been harvested from the land. This form of the mineral has been “weathered” and has the natural magnesium and trace minerals washed away. In Japan they use this form to make concrete for their roads. It is sold as a dietary supplement to unsuspecting customers in the U.S. thinking they are getting real coral calcium. These companies always add cheap magnesium back into the product and have to list it on their label (typically magnesium oxide). Thus, if you have a coral calcium product with added magnesium oxide – throw it away.
What Are Amino Acid Chelates?
The ability to bind a mineral to a protein is one of the great advances in mineral biochemistry and human nutrition. Quality companies always disclose the specific amino acid used in the chelating process – how else will you know what you are taking? Quality companies like to brag amount their amino acid chelates because the good ones not only cost more to put in a product but the amino acids themselves are also useful to your health. For example, I use a lot of magnesium glycinate in my products. Glycine, an amino acid, is a natural relaxant as well as a great detoxifying nutrient. Truly high quality amino acid chelates perform double duty in your metabolism.
Unfortunately there are a lot of amino acid chelates out there that you have no idea what you are taking. They are always listed as “amino acid chelate” on the label, which is a legal description of what they are and a great way to hide the quality they are not. Any time you see the phrase “amino acid chelate” used to describe the form of a mineral know the company has something to hide. If they were actually proud of what was in their product they would tell you what it is.
This amino acid chelate nonsense has been going on for a number of years but reached a new peak with the introduction of a branded form of these chelates called Biokey®, which are used in one product line promoted by a well known alternative health physician. The Biokey website does not disclose the forms of minerals used or the amino acids used. When I called the company I was stonewalled when I asked what they were.
Biokey® minerals were used in animal nutrition long before human nutrition and it is interesting that the animal website was much more forthcoming with information. As it turns out all of these minerals are chelated using hydrolyzed soy protein. Nowhere on any human product label does it say they contain soy (which is not legal according to current FDA allergy rules for labeling). On top of that, unless soy is specified as non-GMO it is now GMO and contains toxins genetically spliced into the proteins.
The animal website also disclosed the actual nature of the minerals used. For example, the calcium is in the form of calcium formate. Calcium formate is an approved food additive, but the formate part does have to be detoxified, is not that easy for human’s to clear, and is implicated in methanol intoxication. In industry calcium formate is used to accelerate concrete setting. Thus, someone consuming their calcium thinks they are taking (calcium – Biokey® amino acid chelate), a more absorbable form of calcium. Yes, it absorbs nicely and delivers a package consisting of GMO-containing soy, calcium, and formate.
In my opinion you should avoid any product that contains amino acid chelates that do not disclose what they are.
Tablets vs Capsules
High quality minerals take up a lot of physical space, meaning you have to take more capsules of them to reach higher levels of mineral intake that are optimal for bone health. Thus, low quality calcium is often compressed into a tablet. Tablets have to be glued together and coated. They are hard to break down and it is common, especially with mineral-containing tablets, that they pass through your digestive tract and never break down.
Any company that places multiple vitamins or minerals into a tablet does not have your best quality interests in mind. As soon as you see any company’s multiple vitamin or main mineral products in a tablet – run for cover!
Capsules are best and veggie caps (Vcaps) are safer than beef gelatin. Veggie caps are made of vegetable cellulose and are easy for your digestive system to dissolve. They are more expensive and add about $2.00 to the retail cost of a product – a small price to pay for the assurance that prions, from Mad Cow Disease, won’t be eating your brain.
What About Liquids?
Liquid minerals are mostly in the sulfate or chloride forms. Taken orally they tend to be rather nauseating and very hard to use – not to mention they are not superior forms of the nutrients. They are fairly stable in water. Ionic minerals make good electrolyte drinks, but are not a good way to get higher amounts of needed minerals.
Liquid products that contain vitamins often make wild claims about being more absorbable. The reality is that fine grade nutrients (especially B vitamins) will rapidly degrade in any liquid form and lose their biological activity. It is unlikely that any of them hold their potency for more than a few weeks. If the FDA clamped down on these companies (and one day they will), it would quickly be discovered that their label claims for potency at time of expiration are wishful thinking. Don’t waste your money.
What are B vitamins?
B vitamins are nutrients that cannot be synthesized in adequate amounts by your body to sustain your health – thus you must consume them. Fresh unprocessed food is an excellent source of B vitamins. B vitamins are found in many different foods including whole grains, animal meats, beans, vegetables, and fruit. Eating a varied diet of whole and unprocessed foods is the best way to get these nutrients from your food. At least half the American population is lacking adequate B vitamins for optimal health.
In dietary supplements the B vitamins are made by microbial fermentation. This is similar to the idea of friendly flora in your digestive tract fermenting your dietary carbohydrates, protein, and fiber and producing useful metabolic by-products. After the B vitamins are grown under controlled conditions they are purified, stabilized, and then ready for use in dietary supplements.
Quality variables are one issue with the B vitamins – especially how well they are purified. The entry of China into the dietary supplement raw material market has caused low-cost B vitamins to be dumped onto the consumer market. Production standards in China are not dependable at this time.
Really cheap B vitamins tend to stink a lot. Any B vitamins have a slight odor that will get stronger with age of the product. The cheap B vitamins start out in a foul smelling condition. This is why so many companies put them in tablets and then coat the tablets – trying to cut down on the smell. Open any box of B vitamin-fortified cereal and take a deep smell of the contents – you’ll see what I mean.
In addition to basic product purification the actual final form of the B vitamin that is produced makes a huge quality difference. At Wellness Resources I focus on the co-enzyme forms of B vitamins in our products as they are easy to absorb and already in the exact form your cells need – a major metabolic advantage. These types of high grade B vitamins cost much more than the inactive forms most often used in supplements, but they make a huge difference to your health.
An inactive form of a B vitamin must have energy (ATP) donated to it so as to make it useful. This process may not work well in people who are already stressed or short on energy – thus they don’t feel any better from their vitamin. In my Daily Energy Multiple Vitamin I rely on the co-enzyme forms of B vitamins.
You can readily judge the quality of a B vitamin by the form of B12 used and how much B12 is in the product. Cheap B12 is in the form of cyanacobalamin. Your body cannot actually use this nutrient in this form, thus you must first strip off the front end molecule which happens to be cyanide and then detoxify it. Then you must have the energy to turn it into one of the co-enzyme forms (methylcobalamin or adenosylcobalamin).
Why are companies putting cheap B12 in products when it makes you have to detoxify the cyanide? Answer – it is 1/10th the price of methylcobalamin. How much cyanide do you want to take? This issue takes on great importance for those with existing chemical sensitivity, chronic fatigue, or fibromyalgia.
Because B12 is almost always the most expensive ingredient in any multiple vitamin another trick is to put hardly any of it in the product. This scam is supported by the ridiculously low Daily Value for vitamin B12 set by our government to protect against anemia (6 mcg). This level of intake does not take into account the vital need for B12 in the function of your mind, health of your nerves, offsetting stress, assembly of proteins, and numerous chemistry reactions in your liver required for hundreds of enzymes systems to work properly to sustain your health.
In three capsules of Daily Energy Multiple Vitamin there are 800 mcg of the co-enzyme forms of B12 (400 mcg of methylcobalamin for your nerves and liver and 400 mcg of adenosylcobalamin to support structural protein formation).* You shouldn’t have to buy extra vitamin B12 to support your basic health – it should be in your multiple vitamin.
Natural vs. Synthetic
If there was ever massive confusion on any subject it is the issue of natural and synthetic, which means different things depending on which vitamin is under discussion.
As I mentioned previously, B vitamins used in dietary supplements are grown by a process of microbial fermentation. This is like growing food. In this sense they are all natural and from a natural source. They are then purified and stabilized by adding another molecule to them, such as hydrochloride. Such a new B vitamin molecule no longer occurs naturally in food, and so is termed synthetic. Such synthetic vitamins are generally better absorbed than food, as your body does not need to digest the vitamin out of a plant or animal fiber in order to liberate it for absorption.
Once you take a synthetic B vitamin then you further “digest it” by stripping away the stabilizing molecule and adding energy to it to change it into a fully natural co-enzyme form, and then your body uses it. People who are lacking energy may have trouble activating the synthetic forms of B vitamins.
I like to use B vitamins in their fully natural co-enzyme forms. They are easier to absorb, they don’t need energy donated to them to get them working, and they don’t have any undesirable metabolic byproducts that need detoxifying. In my experience they make a huge difference.
Here are examples of how synthetic vs. natural look on a label:
B vitamin name -Natural Co-Enzyme Forms – Synthetic Forms
Thiamine (B1) – Thiamine diphosphate-Thiamine HCI
Riboflavin (B2)- Riboflavin-5-phosphate – Riboflavin HCI
Niacin (B3) – Inositol hexanicotinate – Niacinamide
Pantothenic acid (B5) – Pantethine – D-Calcium pantothenate
Pyridoxine (B6) – Pyridoxal-5-phosphate – Pyrodoxine HCI
Folic acid – Folinic acid; calcium folinate – Folic acid
Cobalamin (B12) – Methylcobalamin; Adenosylcobalamin – Cyanacobalamin
When you are shopping for vitamins look for the inclusion of the all natural co-enzyme forms of the B vitamins, especially on really important B vitamins like B12 and folic acid. And then look to be sure there are enough of them to actually help you with your energy and mood – which is more than the Daily Value our government sets for the prevention of blatant B vitamin deficiency diseases. Your goal is to nourish your nerves and energy-producing systems so you can function better – a difference you can actually feel!*
Natural vs. Synthetic Beta Carotene
Beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant associated with longevity and well being. Studies with beta carotene supplements are often funded by large drug companies that produce it (such as the German company BASF), and use their synthetic beta carotene. All negative studies relating to beta carotene have involved the synthetic form, never the natural form.
When we enter the world of synthetic beta carotene the word synthetic takes on a whole new meaning. In this case the beta carotene does not come from any natural process; rather, it is made by extracting benzene rings from acetylene gas and then attaching the benzene rings together to form 100% all-trans-beta-carotene.
There is no food source that contains 100% all-trans-beta-carotene. Natural beta carotene from food contains a mixture of all-trans-beta-carotene and 9-cis-beta carotene. While the trans form is the most common in your body tissues it appears to need the cis form in order to behave properly. The cis form helps produce 9-cis retinoic acid that acts as a hormone in signaling processes to normalize cell division and healthy tissue growth. Smokers taking synthetic beta carotene (lacking the cis form) were found to have an increase in lung cancer. This is far different than studies with natural beta carotene which support a protective and helpful health benefit, including to the lungs.*
You can always tell synthetic beta carotene by the label as it only says “beta carotene” and will not list a source. All products containing natural beta carotene will always list where the beta carotene comes from. The most common natural source of beta carotene is the sea algae Dunaliella salinas, which is always used in Wellness Resources products. It is a mixture of 9-cis-beta carotene as well as trans-beta-carotene along with related nutrients such as alpha-carotene, cryptoxanthin, and zeaxanthin. Natural source beta carotene contains a powerful complex of nutrients not present in synthetic beta carotene.*
The lifespan of mammalian species is directly related to the concentration of beta carotene in their blood. Both alpha and cis forms of beta carotenes are also stored in your liver, adrenals, kidneys, testes, ovaries, and fat tissues. They work synergistically with other antioxidants like vitamin E to protect your health. Only take dietary supplements containing natural beta carotene from a clearly defined food source – throw all products containing synthetic beta carotene in the trash – with any other products made by that company (as its unlikely they give two hoots about your health).
There is a large difference between what is meant by synthetic B vitamins and synthetic beta carotene. Synthetic B vitamins come from a natural source. They aren’t the highest quality forms of the B vitamins because they need energy to activate them and energy to detoxify the cyanide (in the case of synthetic B12). If your body can’t use them they are simply washed out in your urine (they are water soluble). However, they have the potential to perform normally in your metabolism. Synthetic beta carotene comes from chemicals and lacks the important cis form of beta carotene that is highly protective to body organs and cells and helps regulate healthy cell division. Your body tissues will store the synthetic beta carotene (it is fat soluble) without having the natural cis form in the tissues to ensure it behaves normally. Because it lacks the important cis form of the nutrient synthetic beta carotene should not be taken by anyone.
The Vitamin E Story
Vitamin E is under widespread fraudulent attack in the media – based on a con job perpetrated by the American Heart Association to promote dangerous drugs and negate vitamin E. This story is fully documented in my article The Statin Scam Marches On. High quality vitamin E is one of the most beneficial nutrients known to mankind – especially for older Americans who wish to bolster their immunity, memory, and cardiovascular fitness.*
The worst form of vitamin E is synthetic, and like synthetic beta carotene, it comes from chemicals not food. It is typically derived from coal tar. It is signified on the label because it always has an “l” after the “d.” Thus the synthetic form reads “dl alpha…” instead of “d alpha…” If you have any product with the “dl” form it also belongs in the trash – it is worthless.
The very best forms of vitamin E are oils and need to be placed in softgel capsules. It is not feasible to place such oils in powders that can be mixed easily in a multiple vitamin or a multiple antioxidant formulation as the vitamin E would oxidize too easily (spoil) and lose its potency. To get around this problem a molecule is attached to the vitamin E to stabilize it so it won’t spoil when exposed to oxygen. If a succinate is attached then the vitamin E becomes water soluble. If acetate is attached then the vitamin E remains fat soluble. Better quality products include other tocopherols (beta, gamma, and delta), although it is the d alpha form that is standardized for potency.
The water soluble form of vitamin E (succinate) is great for correcting an immediate vitamin E deficiency. The fat soluble form (acetate) absorbs into cell membranes where is can use its antioxidant protection for a longer period of time. It is not hard for your body to convert these forms of vitamin E into their biologically active forms by taking off the succinate or acetate. The main thing to be sure of is to never buy a product with the “dl” form – as it is from a chemical and has little antioxidant capability.*
The Finest Vitamin E
Vitamin E is one vitamin I highly recommend in a softgel form, in addition to any vitamin E that is present in your multiple vitamin or a mixed antioxidant formulation.
Most natural vitamin E on the market today comes from soy and is either 30% or 50% soy oil (you can’t tell from looking at the label). Oftentimes the other vitamin E forms (beta, gamma, and delta) are converted into alpha tocopherol by a process known as esterification. This cheapens the product as these other tocopherols also play a role in health. It is done to boost up the alpha content to get a better price. Processing methods are often hurried or careless, leading to oxidative damage of the soy oil. This means that as the product sits on a store shelf the vitamin E antioxidant is used up neutralizing the rancid soy oil. While there are a few companies that make higher quality unesterified natural vitamin E from soy, they are in the minority. Most soy-derived natural vitamin E is not top shelf.
I used to be one of the few who made true pharmaceutical grade unesterified d alpha tocopherol. One day about 10 years ago I got a call from the manufacturer who said they could no longer make this product as there wasn’t enough high grade soy to make it from (the food supply had deteriorated). Luckily, this was about the time tocotrienols came to the market.
Today the best form of natural vitamin E are called tocotrienols, a newer type of vitamin E that contains significantly more antioxidant function than regular alpha tocopherol along with other properties like naturally supporting healthy cholesterol metabolism – something alpha tocopherol does not do.
If you are counting on your dietary supplements to support your health then quality is the number one issue that determines their effectiveness. Much of what goes into any company’s multiple vitamin is not clear from the label. However, there is enough information on the label to help you understand how that company truly views quality. Other companies simply don’t want to invest in the raw materials that will benefit you the most.
The types of minerals used, which for the most part must be disclosed on the label, can help the savvy consumer understand the real quality that went into the bottle. Most companies are banking on the idea that you will never figure any of this out – and just listen to their hype. Check your multiple vitamin and mineral products against the information in this article and you will quickly see what I mean when I say that only 1% of dietary supplement companies in the market today really care about your health.
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