I recently got an email from a customer asking this specific question regarding one of our products, Nutribiotics Defense Plus. While this email was specific to one company, it goes to the heart of how we choose our brands. Here's my answer...
Good question! I didn’t know the exact answer so I call the manufacturer. I know that they have been the leaders in grapefruit seed extract (GSE; the primary ingredient in Defense Plus) for 30 years and we have a huge repeat business for their products, especially Defense Plus. Margaret recommends Defense Plus regularly during cold and flu season.
Food allergies have nearly tripled in the last 20 years. A microbiologist from New York University has been researching this trend and has developed a hypothesis that use of antibiotics beginning early in life is reducing the beneficial gut flora (probiotics) thus weakening the person's immune system and leaving them more susceptible to food allergies.
From the article...
"Blaser’s (the microbiologist) theory has been tested on young mice. They were fed a strong dose of antibiotics, and soon after their immune system changed and they developed a peanut allergy. They were then given the missing positive bacteria, and the results were astounding: The allergy was gone!"
There have been a couple of recent events that highlight the gradual but persistent pressure of corporate influence on putting profits before quality in the "certified organic" industry. This week, Annie's, the organic mac and cheese company for $820M. This may not seem to be negative unless you have been following the industry. There always seems to be a decline in quality following these mergers once profits and cost control become the focus.
A recent example is Arrowhead Mills. We have carried AM products throughout our history and always felt that they were a company that can be trusted. This summer we received a recall for AM peanut butter. During past peanut butter recalls, we were always excluded from the drama because AM was never included in the recalls which are due factory farming and manufacturing processes designed more for cost control than quality. While researching AM I discovered a disturbing trend in organic ownership. Hain, an organic conglomerate that owns AM along with , is owned by Heinz. In turn, I learned that Monsanto owns a significant share of Heinz. When I looked at the corporate ownership of Hain, it was all fortune 20 corporations. Click here for more.
This is happening with virtually all "known" organic brands in the country. Here's a nice graphic that summarizes ownership of organic brands.
One of the most disturbing acquisitions for us as the purchase of New Chapter by P&G. New Chapter has some of the highest quality, best researched, and unique formulas in the industry. So far, nothing appears to have changed but we are keeping an eye on the news and their labels.
So how do we, the natural folks, combat this progression? Well, the nice thing about our world is that their is always someone out front innovating and taking a stand on quality. Our job is to find these companies and people and support them by buying their products!
A few guidelines include eat fresh, eat local, and buy local...which means buy from someone you know and trust. I believe that is the anonymity between customers and large corporations that allow their consciences to cheat on quality and lie in their marketing. It's much harder to lie to and be lied to if you are looking the other person in the eye.
Many people talk about the quality of their products but pricing is also a critical element when choosing a supplement. The supplement industry does not have a high level of regulation. This is good in that competition and free market system allows us to vote with our dollars as to which products work and which ones don't. However, a modern American attitude has emerged where cheaper is always better. The truth, at least in the natural health industry, is "you get what you pay for". The lack of regulation also puts us in charge of doing our own research...as it should be!
Margaret recently talked about being smart when choosing a supplement. Here's a link to her article which is a good one. I'm going to take this time to expand on what she says by talking about how we chose the brands that we carry. Our process is a work-in-progress but it is based on our personal experience
The first thing you need to know is how the industry works. The quality-focused companies order their raw ingredients. For many ingredients, there are only 1 or 2 sources but potency varies. Once they receive the raw ingredients, they test them to make sure that there is enough of the active ingredient in the raw material to formulate their products. If not, they reject the lot and it is returned. The deficient raw material is not destroyed but sent down the road to the next "lesser" manufacturer until someone takes it (for lesser money). This is probably the #1 reason for the differences in prices for the same labeled product.
The problem that arises for us shoppers is that all manufacturers tell you that they have the best product. So price is usually a good way to differentiate quality. You can always shop a particular brand/product to find the best price but a cheaply priced product is usually just that...a cheap, ineffective product.
But beyond price, how do choose between manufacturers? Research, referrals from people you trust, and shopping from reputable businesses. For instance, there are a handful of brands that we actually know some of the leaders/owners. We know their values and their character. This isn't a comprehensive list but some of the companies we trust include Bluebonnet Nutrition, Premier Research Labs, Biotics Research Labs (all in Texas), Nature's Sunshine, Pure Essence Labs, Nordic Naturals (fish oil people), Nutribiotics (the GSE people), Eastpark Research (the d-lenolate olive leaf folks), Vitality Works (an excellent herbal; maker of our Oregano Oil caps), and New Chapter (we're still waiting to see how their recent purchase by P&G will affect them). All of these manufacturers look to ways to make their products better including higher quality ingredients, unique formulas, synergistic co-factors (ingredients that help the primary ingredients efficacy, and independently funded trials. These are the guys who are in business to help people; not just to make a buck!
Advertising is another good way to distinguish between good companies and companies who are out for a buck. More often and not, there is an inverse relationship between the quality of a product and the amount of money spent on advertising. As you will notice, virtually none of the products listed above are ever on TV. On the other side, the products that advertise regularly are usually the ones with fillers, synthetic ingredients, an artificial additives.
Being competent in reading labels is a must...and it much more difficult than you would think. One way that brands try to differentiate their product price is through varying the level of active ingredients. In order to correctly price a product, you must take into account the number of capsules, recommended dosage (number of capsules), and the milligrams of active ingredients. In addition, the form of ingredient can also make a difference. Here's one example of label reading and product comparing...
East Park Research d-lenolate is our best olive leaf. The 30 capsule bottle is $29.95 (or $.99/capsule) and the 90 capsule bottle is $79.95 (or $.89/capsule). Each capsule is 500 mg. at 22% oleuropein (the active ingredient). Bluebonnet's standardized Olive Leaf extract comes in a 120 capsule bottle at $26.99 (or $.26/capsule) for a 400 mg. 18% oleuropein. Just looking at the price, that sounds pretty good: $.26 vs. $.89. But we need to adjust for the difference in both the mg. and % active ingredient. So we adjust the Bluebonnet price to make an apples to apples comparison and we come up with $.39/capsule which is still much better than the East Park price of $.89/capsule. But wait! You can't tell it by reading the labels but the Bluebonnet product (along with virtually every other olive leaf on the market) is in the form of e-lenolate. E-lenolate is less expensive but is not as easily absorbed at the cellular level as d-lenolate. It has been our experience that d-lenolate will work more often than other forms of olive leaf (not to say that they other forms won't work just as well in certain situations).
Hope this helps you navigate the Natural Health Maze...
People have been using turmeric (and its active ingredient, Curcumin) for inflammation and joint discomfort. A recent study linked turmeric with behavioral improvements in Alzheimer's patients. While a small study, this research is added to over 6000 other turmeric studies making it one of the most studied medicinal plants in the world. For the complete article, click here.
Diet and lifestyle are the leading "causes" of good health. Most modern diseases have some root cause attached by poor diet and/or a lack of exercise and movement. While eating healthy has been proven to have a positive benefit on health, eating organically has had less scientific support for providing additional nutrition and/or eliminating toxins from our food. Lately though, more studies have pointed out links between pesticides and various health issues and diseases. Since my Mother's Parkinson's diagnosis, I have been following that diseases specific research and there have been many links found between difference pesticides and the onset of the disease. It appears to me that while there is no single cause, there probably is a correlation between our genetics, diet and lifestyle, and the chemicals we come into contact with that "presses on the weak link" of our body's and initiates a disease. It may be as simple as the fact that our livers and other filtering systems cannot keep up with the modern load of toxins and other harmful agents swimming around in our blood.
For these reasons, it may be a good idea to rethink eating organic, if for no other reason than to take a toxic load off the body's liver. Here's the article on how eating organic can reduce the body's pesticide load in a week! (click here)