How to Read Supplement Facts
How To: How to Read A Label
Reading a supplement label can be a confusing experience. Unfortunately, many
companies that manufacture nutritional supplements have made it very
difficult for the consumer to gather critical information about the
product. There are many ways to convey information about a product, some of
these ways provide accurate information in a manner that makes the product
appear better than it is. In this section we will discuss some tricks to
look out for as well as vital information that needs to be readily available
to the consumer or health care practitioner.
Look at the serving size - This is perhaps the most common error made by
consumers in picking a nutritional supplement. Each label must provide the
ingredients included in a set serving. The serving size can be 1 capsule, 2
capsules, 6 capsules, etc. You can not assume that the serving size is one
capsule... to the contrary, it is most commonly otherwise.
Look at the number of
servings offered from one bottle. If the serving size is 6 capsules
and the bottle contains 30 capsules you only have a five day supply. This
may put the 50% off price tag into perspective... it would take 5 bottles
for a month supply.
Look at the dose provided
being sure to put it into context of the serving size. If a product
contains 500 mg of an herb, but the serving size is 2 capsules then the
actual per capsule dose is 250 mg.
for natural products. An example of this is vitamin E. The synthetic
form of vitamin E, also called dl-alpha tocopherol or all-racemic alpha
tocopherol, has approximately 1/3 the antioxidant activity of natural
vitamin E, known as d-alpha tocopherol. Thus you will need up to three
times as many capsules of a synthetic vitamin to equal one capsule of
natural vitamin E.
Look at the potency
of the herb or nutritional supplement. This is perhaps one of the
most complex issues to address. In analyzing a product you often times
need a scientific understanding of the vitamin or herb in question.
Contrary to popular belief, standardization does not mean concentrating
the active ingredient. It simply means that we are concentrating an herb
to a certain level of one or more ingredients, thus assuming that all
other important constituents will also be concentrated or standardized. To
illustrate this point lets look at some examples:
- Saw Palmetto -
The usual standardization is between 85-95% fatty acids. Thus if the
product in question contains 45% Fatty acids you will need to double the
amount of herb in order to get a therapeutic dose of the product.
- Echinacea -
The traditional standardization for Echinacea is 4% Echinacosides. It
is not uncommon, however, to see products that contain no standardized
herb. It is impossible to dose this herb appropriately because one
capsule containing the raw herb may range from one to 20 capsules of the
standardized herb. Standardization allows us to dose an herb with
consistency from bottle to bottle.
- Bromelain -
This enzyme is used for its anti-inflammatory activity as well as to
support digestion. Generally speaking, a high quality formula will be
standardized to 2400 GDU/g (Gelatin Digesting Units per Gram). It is
not uncommon to see formulas with a lower potency bromelain, such as one
standardized to 600 GDU/g. This would, of course, be much less potent
and would require a higher dose or many more capsules to affect the same
Below we have listed
popular nutritional supplements and their appropriate standardizations:
60 - 120 mg per
250-500 mg per Cap
5,000 mcg Allicin
Enteric Coated Tab
500 mg per Cap
flavonglycosides; 6% terpene lactones;0.8% Ginkgolide B
60-120 mg per Cap
500mg per Cap
250 mg per Cap
175 mg per Cap
Olive leaf Extract
500 mg per Cap
St. Johns Wort
300 mg per Cap
250 mg - 500 mg
i. Fish oil - Each Capsule should contain 300 mg EPA and 200 mg DHA.
The product should be tested for heavy metal content such as mercury.
ii. SAMe - This
product can be easily confused. SAMe is bound to to tosylate disulfate in
order to stabilize the normally unstable product. Many companies will
make a product that contains 200 mg of SAMe-tosylate disulfate and label
it as 200 mg SAMe. This is misleading because the product contains only
100 mg SAMe. A product labeled as 200 mg of SAMe should contain 400 mg or
SAMe Tosylate disulfate.
Sulfate is another product that is easily mislabeled. In order to
stabilize glucosamine sulfate you must bind it with a salt such as KCl or
HCl. The ending product will weigh more than glucosamine sulfate alone.
Thus you will need 2000 mg of glucosamine sulfate*KCl to get 1500 mg of