By LENNOX FARRELL
My educational background, unlike that of my spouse and our children, is not in Biochemistry and Science. That is, apart from my London General Certificate of Education (London GCE), completed five decades ago, and first year Biology at the University of Toronto.
Therefore, much of the information here is guided by personal interest; gleaned from assiduous research, and our family’s tete-a-tetes.
So, what is potency? Wikipedia, citing pharmacological sources, defines it as ‘a measure of drug activity expressed in terms of the amount required to produce an effect of given intensity.’ For me, citing language more laymanly, potency is the effectiveness with which usage of your nutritional products ensures expected benefits, and reduces unexpected risks.
And why is convenience a part of potency? Well, of what use is any product no matter how potent otherwise, if usage requires so much of your time and effort as to make it inconvenient? Do you or others you know, not have shelves of stuff, purchased at much cost, and with such good intent, but now uselessly gathering dust; stuff you know you need?
Here, a brief point on risks. Is the potency of a product equal its toxicity? In the USA, where some answering data is readily available, the risks of using healthcare products, in particular pharmaceuticals, are so significant that the number of users who die annually from side-effects are equal to a jumbo-jet crashing … daily!
Nutritional supplements do not get off completely unscathed. Unlike pharmaceuticals, these usually have to prove themselves a serious threat to users – and of note to be reported on in the news – before the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (the FDA) steps in. This is unlike Australia and Europe – especially Germany – where nutritional supplements legally face similar rigorous testing procedures as the pharmaceuticals.
In the USA, and Canada, not only are nutritional supplements less tested, two sources provide some information about possible risks. One is a 2013 series of articles in USA Today, written by Alison Young, an investigative reporter. The series is: The Supplement Shell Game. In it, not only do some supplements include ingredients not listed, and which can cause serious harm to users, but also, some of manufacturers have criminal records.
In another article by Helen Branswell – The Canadian Press – reporting the results of a conference at a university in Ontario, she stated that, ‘… when scientists from the University of Guelph scoured the DNA in a number of herbal products, they found that many times the labels on the merchandise didn’t accurately reflect what was in the container.
Some products contained fillers like wheat or rice that were not listed on the label. Some were contaminated with other plant species that could have caused toxicity or triggered allergic reactions. And still others contained no trace of the substance the bottle purported to contain.’
Also included in some products are colourings to please the eye – white sells most – and additives to improve or mask taste.
According to the Organic Consumers Association, ‘manufacturers of dietary supplements sometimes use synthetic materials for increasing the vitamin’s potency and stability. Some of these materials come from coal tar derivatives, the same toxins that cause throat cancer in tobacco smokers. Before shopping for vitamin supplements, know what to look for in a vitamin product that may cause harm to your health.’
It is fair and accurate to state, too, that most of the manufacturers of these supplements have good manufacturing practices, though they may differ in their manufacturing processes. For example, some manufacturers produce their product at every stage: from the purchase of raw ingredients through packaging and storage, to retailing. Also, their formulators, or the specialists who blend the ingredients in unique formulations, are assessed on levels of professional expertise and ethical practices. These assessments are publicly available, usually.
One such assessor, Silliker Laboratories, is an international body headquartered in the U.S. with bases in Canada and elsewhere across the globe. Also, the Internet, blog sites, and consumer-based organizations like Quackwatch are effective watchers on behalf of the public’s interest, and uses of nutritional supplements.
However, with the good work done by all these professional bodies and civic-minded reps, your knowledge of how to assess what you use is your best guardian, and responsibility.
So, how might you assess your products? Here, I rely on knowledge gleaned from such sources as Livestrong.com, an online Health watch magazine to which I subscribe. The summary following, are steps to take to ensure that your supplements bring you benefits, and not injury:
- a. In the ingredients listed, look for words that begin with ‘dl’. If it is a vitamin, this indicates that it is a synthetic;
- b. Find words that end with ‘ate or ide’, an indicator that synthetic materials are used, possibly to increase potency;
- c. If an ingredient lists vitamin ingredients as ‘Vitamin D’, this is an indicator that the product is synthetic.
- d. Claims of product effects as being 100% natural are dead giveaways that you have another synthetic ingredient. According to Dr. Ben Kim, a Chiropractor and Canadian radio host, ‘natural vitamins come from natural foods. Using food source names as ‘citrus, parsley’ etc., among the ingredients, implies that the ingredients are natural;
- e. Look for the product’s potency listed on the product’s label. According to Canada’s Organic Consumers Association, ‘if the vitamin supplement has a high or otherwise unnatural potency, the product is synthetic. (Thus), a product that provides 1,000 per cent of vitamin C is unusually high; being ten times the amount you need daily, and an amount that even a healthy diet – consisting of natural, whole-food sources – cannot provide.
The above information is not exhaustive. It is, in fact, mere introductions to the issue of how to determine the possible potency, benefits and risks of nutritional supplements. Two final pieces of advice: research or request this for the products you use. A good place to begin is with your pharmacist. Also, always, always consult your healthcare provider, your family doctor etc., about such uses.
TO BE CONTINUED. Return/refund policies. Lennox, www.antioxidantniche.com