Critical issues to note when using nutritional supplements

By Admin Wednesday April 02 2014 in Opinion
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Every form of illness a person has begins at the cellular or molecular level. Also, health comes from the health of the food you eat. Next, the general lack of nutrients in the foods now available reflects two changes which are recent, interconnected and vast. One is society’s transition in the last century from rural to urban environs. The next is the subsequent industrializing of the foods produced, and made available for public consumption and private gain.


Given the above, and as well, other more specific factors as the good management practices of these industries or any lack thereof, how can you ensure that the supplements you consume are beneficial, and not injurious to your health based, for example, on the grade-level of the plastic containers used to hold them?


One result of all these factors is the increasing and ironic reality of our being well-fed but not well-nutritioned. Directly linked to this lack of essential nutrients, are rising healthcare costs. Failed attempts to remedy these causes and effects contributed to the invention of, and mega-growth in what is called, the nutritional supplements industry.


The history of this growth had beginnings which contribute to some of the myths that still affect our beliefs in the benefits of supplements, and our underestimating the significance of the risks using them. Among these benefits is the replacing, or supplementing of the essential nutrients extracted during the processing of our foods. Among the risks is the belief that using/overusing nutritional supplements is benign, natural and non-toxic.


In addition, the history of the dietary supplements industry is subsequently reflected in the recent spate of legislation passed in attempts to define and ensure its ‘good management practices’ from manufacture to retail. These GMP are to thereby regulate its production, and protect the public’s use of nutritional supplements. These legislations have been introduced in countries where the bulk of these products are manufactured, retailed and consumed: The USA, Canada, the U.K., Germany, Australia, etc.


Without becoming too complicated, so vast is the growth in response to the need for, and uses of, these nutritional products, that it has become not only a mega-industry, but also an ideology: Nutritionism. This conclusion is that of Michael Pollan, author of the 2008 best seller, In Defense Of Food. His point is that people professionally involved at various levels of this industry, for example dieticians, have reduced the complex ingredients of food into simplistic cafeteria-like formulas. Nutrition properly understood, he says, is a complex intersection between food, culture and society.


Therefore, by how much has the Nutritional Supplements industry grown in the last decades? Why? And, in particular, what is the possible significance to your health from the good management practices (GMP) of the producer of the nutritional supplements you use?

By how much has this industry grown? According to Forbes Magazine, this industry, also referred to as the VMS industry – or more broadly the Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements group – is globally now one of the fastest growing industries. Its markets include products such as vitamins, proteins, herbal and botanical extracts etc.


Globally, 2012 revenues were assessed at more than US$32 billion. The Nutritional Business Journal also projects revenues to top 60 billion by 2021. While such numbers can vary between data sources, what is constant are the cachment basins: vast, deep and expanding, of these revenue streams.

And why this phenomenal growth? These increases reflect global and national concerns, especially by the elderly, over the increasing costs of health care. Stoking the fires of these concerns are two other factors. One is the growing awareness that most illnesses are nutrition-related; that is, our being well-fed but not well-nutritioned.


The other factor pushing this growth in revenues is the changing lifestyle, in particular, of the growing numbers of the elderly or mature populations. These, more than others, provide the space within which the nutritional supplement market continues to grow. For its part, this industry sees its future as being based both on any anti-aging fears had by these populations, and their desires to be healthy.

How to ensure that the dietary supplements you use, give you the benefits for which you pay? It is prudently said, that in any contractual arrangement, ‘reading the fine print before is education; and reading it after is experience’.

And now, the first of seven critical issues to consider when using nutritional supplements: The Container! Is the plastic container holding the ingredients in your supplements, food-grade?


Most dietary supplements are manufactured, transported, stored and retailed in dried and powdered form. Using liquids have several significant challenges. Some of these include challenges of increased costs/prices, shelf life, the growth of bacterial and fungal contaminants, etc. The containers referred to here include only those of plastics.


Added to the challenges above, is that of leaching. Therefore, if the containers used most often are moulded from plastic, can they also be leach-resistant? More specifically then, do the supplements you use come in plastics produced at the highest grade regulated for containers carrying food products?


By way of answering, one can reasonably assume that a manufacturer who, when moulding these containers, follows industry-based regulations, or Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), will also do so with the product. In North America, these gradings are legislated by government agencies, e.g., the USAFDA, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.


These gradings include a ‘lower grade’ of plastic; usually used for water bottles. This grade carries the acronym PETE. The acronym represents a code, implying that this plastic container is coded for use once. These grades are usually stamped on the base of the container.


Containers used for food products are labeled, HDPE (high density polyethylene) etc. Specific numbers accompany this acronym. These containers are also used to carry other liquids like milk, juice, etc.. However, of a ‘higher grade’, this allows users to take advantage of its excellent protective barrier (anti-leaching) properties.


Other plastics, made specifically for certain purposes, should not be used for other reasons, especially for storing food products. Also, these containers are more useful when they are opaque, or non-transparent. Supplements using these can be stored in places that are preferably dry and cool.

All plastic containers are not manufactured for, and should not be used to store food products, liquid or powder.


Finally, are humidity and condensation affecting the ingredients, shell-life, and potency of your nutritional supplements? And your other medications?



Lennox Farrell can be contacted at

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