Know how to read natural health product labels
May 10th, 2011 by André Gagnon, ND
In the last few years I have been surprised to observe that few people know how to decipher the information on natural health product labels. When you really think about it, it’s somewhat normal: the content on the labels is often confusing and the different ways of writing the active ingredients and their dosages is enough to make even the most dogged of curious readers give up.
In the following, you will find some essential information to understand, compare and make informed decisions.
IN GENERAL: For all types of products
Compare the concentrations
Note: On certain labels you will find the products concentration indicated per 5 ml, others per 10 ml or even per 15 ml.
10 mg/10 ml VS 10mg/5 ml
You will need to convert the concentrations to a common value, for example: per 10 ml.
10mg/10 ml VS 20mg/10 ml
The simplest method is to calculate the price per daily minimum dose. Keep in mind the concentration.
For example: a package of 250 ml with a daily dosage of 10 ml will give you 25 doses. On the other hand, a package of 250 ml with a daily dosage of 15 ml will only give you 16 doses. If both products cost $20, it will cost $0.80 for the first one and $1.25 for the second. It may seem like a small difference but for a product that is to be used daily, it represents a total of $164.25 per year.
Often, companies mention quality certification for their products or specific ingredients. Did you know that many of these certifications are phoney? They are sometimes issued by the manufacturer itself or by the ingredient’s supplier.
When you see one of these certification stamps on a product, be cautious and verify that it has been issued by a neutral and reputable organism.
Warnings, precautions and cautionary messages… is it serious?
These messages are important, but often they are not taken for what they are. They bring to light the possibility of a sensibility to certain health issues or possible deficiencies with prolonged use. Once they have been brought to your attention, if you are concerned by one of these warnings, consult with a health practitioner to ensure that the product may be harmless for you to use.
Drug Interactions and contraindications:
With regards to drug interactions and contraindications, they must be taken seriously and in case of any doubt, consult with your pharmacist or your doctor.
Strange ingredients. What are they?
At the end of this article, you will find a list of some non-medicinal ingredients commonly used, as well as their role in the products.
SPECIFICALLY: For mineral products
Total Mineral vs Elemental Mineral
Ever since the creation of NPNs it has been compulsory to indicate minerals in elemental weights instead of the total weight of the source. Many people believe that the elemental mineral value indicates their absorption levels. This is false. The elemental mineral value is the quantity of this mineral contained in the total compound.
Calcium as an example
Depending on the source, the elemental mineral value of calcium varies. For 500 mg of total calcium, the real quantity of calcium varies between 70 to 200 mg. Here are the values for 3 popular sources (elemental proportion in dark green):
The elemental mineral value only indicates the weight of the calcium atom in the molecule. For example: the chemical formula of calcium carbonate is CaCO3, an atom of calcium (Ca) for an atom of carbon (C) and 3 atoms of oxygen (O3). Each type of atom may vary in weight; the calcium (Ca) represents 40 % of the weight of the calcium carbonate molecule.
Still a bit complicated? Here is an everyday example:
Recipe for cake: 4 eggs, 300 g of butter, 300 g of sugar, 300 g of flour and 3 tablespoons of cocoa.
Once you have finished the recipe you get an excellent chocolate cake, but if you need to know the quantity of flour you need to refer to the recipe and you will know that the elemental ingredient of flour is 300 grams.
And bioavailability? To know it’s value in the calcium formula, the form of the other ingredients (liquid or solid) must be taken into consideration. Bioavailability will be discussed in another article.
SPECIFICALLY: For plant based products
Is it the right one?
On the label, you should always find the Latin name of the plant because often, many varieties of the same plant exist but they do not all have the same properties. They often share the same common name but their Latin name precisely identifies them.
It is the second point upon which you must focus. The important information is the quantity of dry plant per dose. It is this quantity that is measured to evaluate the efficiency and compliance of a product.
We find the value in fresh plants on some labels. To get the equivalent of dry plant you must divide the fresh quantity by 10 for leaves, flowers and herbs and by 8 for fruit and seeds.
For all Land Art products, the indicated value is always of dry plant.
The use of standardized extracts is sometimes controversial. The extraction of an active ingredient is closer to the pharmaceutical process than the traditional method.
The isolation of salicylic acid from willow bark led to the creation of aspirin. Despite its efficiency, it causes some side effects that do not happen with the natural product. The precise interaction between all of the chemical components of plants remains a mystery to science even today.
Therefore, if we want to use a natural product instead of a pharmaceutical one, why use a hybrid?
SPECIFICALLY: For omega-3s
Molecular distillation or mention of pharmaceutical quality
The use of oil treated by molecular distillation is rather widespread in the omega-3 market. It is sometimes labelled « deodorized » oil or « pharmaceutical grade » oil. Both are terms used to say that the oil was heated at high temperatures (up to 250 degrees Celsius), separated and sometimes recreated.
Molecular distillation renders a product called ethyl ester fish oil, also known as fatty acid ethyl ester. It is a semi-synthetic oil. Despite what some manufacturers may say, the main function of this process is to purify the oil. On one hand, distillation allows for the concentration of omega-3s which then allows a limited number of capsules to contain an adequate dosage. On the other hand, this process allows the modification of the natural EPA/DHA ratio, which is normally 18 %/12 %.
It is important to note that contrary to common belief, natural, high quality fish oil, from quality fish that has been carefully selected and properly pressed does not contain any more pollutants than oil obtained by molecular distillation.
We can often find many surprises in the list of non-medicinal ingredients. A few examples:
4-hydroxybenzoate is a preservative of the paraben family.
Methyl 4-hydroxybenzoate or methylparaben.
Magnesium stearate is a lubricant used in the manufacturing of tablets and capsules.
Hypromellose or hydroxypropyl methylcellulose is a semi-synthetic viscoelastic polymer.
Titanium Dioxide is a pigment and opacifier for all sorts of substances, it has been found to be possibly carcinogenic to humans.
Other less known ingredients:
Xanthan Gum is derived from the action of a bacteria and is used as a thickening agent.
Citric Acid derived from lemon.
Sodium Benzoate, the sodium salt of benzoic acid. It is naturally present in some fruit and is used as a preservative.
Potassium sorbate, the potassium salt of sorbic acid. It is an effective preservative against mould and yeast. It is inoffensive to the consumer. It is naturally found in the berries from the ash tree. It is authorized in biological products.
Ethanol or ethyl alcohol is obtained by fermenting cereals.
Some do not indicating all of the non-medicinal ingredients. There may be artificial colors, sugar, sweeteners, artificial flavours, parabens …
A simple way to ensure that all of the ingredients are labelled is to consult the Health Canada website: http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/lnhpd-bdpsnh/language-langage.do?url=t.search.recherche&lang=eng
As you may have noticed, it is not so easy to understand. To use the proper supplements, it is important to be informed. It is often necessary to confirm or complement the information obtained in store with other sources. Contact the companies by telephone or their website. Consult certain Internet sites but with caution, not everything that is on the web is necessarily true.
At Land Art, we have the good fortune to have a multi disciplinary team composed of naturopaths, a biologist, a biochemist, a chemist, a flavourist and a microbiologist. Furthermore, we are the manufacturer therefore we have all of the required knowledge to adequately inform you so do not hesitate to contact us to get simple and concise information.