Supplements: You Get What You Pay For - The downside of buying cheap nutritional products

Supplements: You Get What You Pay For - The downside of buying cheap nutritional products

There is no question that you can purchase nutritional supplements at discounted rates, and for a consumer the price differences among products can be confusing and startling. For example, a one-month supply of fish oil from a pharmaceutical-grade company could easily cost three or four times as much as what seems to be a similar product from the local discount drugstore. Let’s take a closer look.

First, if you’re an athlete subject to drug testing, you have to be extremely careful about what you’re taking. The International Olympic Committee retained an independent lab to evaluate the ingredients in 634 nutritional supplements from 215 different suppliers in 13 countries. The results indicated that fully 14.8 percent of the supplements contained banned prohormones that were not declared on the labels. These banned substances included 11 different anabolic androgenic steroids, such as testosterone, which would result in a positive doping result.

One such result occurred with Norwegian weightlifter Stian Grimseth, who had been a favorite to win a medal in the 2000 Summer Olympic Games. However, before the Games Grimseth failed doping control and was not allowed to compete in the Games. What happened was Grimseth had taken a supplement called ribose that was found to be tainted with 19-norandrosterone, which is a metabolite of a banned hormone and is an indicator of use or ingestion of the banned drug. Grimseth subsequently filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer in August 2002, claiming substantial damages due to the unlisted banned ingredient in the supplement. The bottom line is that Grimseth lost his opportunity to compete for the gold medal, and his reputation suffered as a result of taking a tainted supplement.

Also in today’s news is fish oil. Fish oil is an amazing supplement with numerous benefits. Sales of omega-3 enhanced foods will increase from $4.6 billion in 2007 to an estimated $8.2 billion in 2012, and omega-3 supplement sales are currently about $1 billion a year. The bad news is that on February 26, 2010, a lawsuit was filed against six manufacturers of fish oil supplements and two drug store chains, as follows:

CVS Pharmacy, Inc.
General Nutrition Corporation
NOW Health Group, Inc.
Omega Protein, Inc.
Pharmavite LLC
Rite Aid Corporation
Solgar Inc.
Twinlab Corporation

The basis of the lawsuit is that independent lab tests found contaminants in these products, most notably a toxic mixture of chemical compounds known as polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB). Not so long ago PCBs were routinely used as lubricants and coolants, but in 1979 Congress banned their use in the US because of their link to cancer, among other harmful health effects.

Other popular supplements are protein powders, which offer a convenient alternative to preparing high-protein meals. Because the moisture is removed so that bacteria do not have an environment for growth, protein powders can be stored without refrigeration. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are safe.

In 2007 the United States Dairy Industry estimated that 17.2 percent of cows in the US were given recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), which is linked to breast-, colon- and prostate cancers. The best protein powders are made from milk that comes from cows that graze on pesticide- and chemical-free pastures. One country that has such cows is New Zealand; milk from these cows is free of rBGH and is tested for antibiotic residue by laboratories operated by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority. Of course, the cost of protein powders made from these healthier cows is expensive, but for those concerned about their health the cost is worth it.

Admittedly, in today’s struggling economy not everyone can afford to buy all the highest-quality supplements they would like. But no one should settle for poor-quality supplements that may do more harm than good. That’s why it’s best to determine which supplements are the most important for you, and go for quality first.


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