Oct 7, 2020
Hidden Costs of the Herbal Supplement Industry
by Brittini, Herbal Gaia
As a consumer myself, I too want to be able to purchase my dietary supplements from companies I can trust. Because I work on the regulatory side of nutritional supplements, I am privileged to be able to understand how “quality” and “cheap” do not go hand in hand. As with many things in this world, good, effective products just cost more than crappy ones. Focusing on cutting costs will leave you with lower quality products and dissatisfied customers. And each new year poses new challenges to keep prices affordable while meeting FDA and other regulatory requirements.
- In the case of DS, the old saying “you get what you pay for” is in many cases (not all) but in many cases, true.
- As a person that relies almost solely on herbs and supplements to care for the health needs of my family, I am just like anyone else in the way that...I like a good deal! I mean, I have a family of 8, come on! But, as a mom, the quality of those products reeeeally matters! And it wasn’t until I worked in the industry that I finally realized what I was paying for when purchasing a supplement, or how to know if the product I was getting was a good one!
- So, I have 6 main reasons I want to share with your listeners on why paying a little more for your supplements is reasonable and worth the money!
Below are six reasons that paying more for your herbal and nutritional supplements is reasonable and worth your money.
- REGULATION: It is a myth that the dietary supplement industry is “unregulated,” one that I am tired of seeing on social media and TV shows! The dietary supplement industry is heavily regulated, much like the drug industry. In fact, dietary supplement regulations were built by using the same FDA GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) regulations as the Pharmaceutical industry, with slight modifications. The FDA does regular audits and carries authority to shut things down if the company does not comply with the law. The industry is also regulated by the FTC, FSMA, USDA (Federal and State), and more! Meeting all these regulations requires companies to have educated and experienced staff on hand and must do all it takes to follow good manufacturing practices, at any cost! Making sure the products you buy are meeting many, many rules to ensure your safety is a good thing for consumers!
- Before I can share the first reason, I have to debunk a myth that is still out there about ds, on social media, tv shows, articles that you read. This myth is that “the ds industry is UNREGULATED”! This just simply isnt true! The DS industry is HEAVILY regulated, much like the drug industry with some alterations of course. The FDA regulations for ds were modeled after the drug industry. The FDA audits ds mfr facilities and manfacturers are expected to meet what is known as Good Manufacturing Practices or else they can shut you down. They are also regulated by a handful of other regulatory industries both state and federal!
- In order for companies to meet these regulatory standards and for them produce the highest quality and safest product, companies NEED to have highly educated and experienced staff on hand
- TESTING: The more testing, the more cost, but your product is going to be safer, cleaner, and you can be confident you are getting what the label says. All good companies do testing, including identity testing to make sure the ingredients are what the vendor says they are, heavy metal testing (lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, etc.) to ensure all are under allowable daily limits. This can be done on the individual ingredients, finished product, or both. Microbial testing for yeast, mold, and harmful bacteria such as E. Coli, Staph, and Salmonella. Other testing might include pesticides, testing for the presence or percentage of a specific chemical constituent, DNA, and more.
- The next topic is one we wont get into on a technical level but it is one of the most important parts in asuring the safety and efficacy of your product! That is scientific testing. Good companies put a lot of focus on testing each and every ingredient.
- Tests include identity testing to make sure the ingredients are exactly what they say are and that they have not been adulterated, heavy metal testing (specifically for lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury). Microbial testing for yeast, mold, and harmful bacteria such as E. Coli, Staph, and Salmonella. Other testing might include pesticides, testing for the presence or percentage of a specific chemical constituent and potency of that constituent, DNA, Clinical studies, etc.
- Testing is not cheap! So, you can purchase a product for cheap that may or may not actually be safe or have what it says in it, or you can opt to pay a little more for a product that has been tested and has the documentation to back it.
- QUALITY & AVAILABILITY OF INGREDIENTS: Sourcing quality ingredients can be tricky in the global market. The industry has made considerable advances in making sure ingredients are not contaminated and that they are just what they claim, even from global sources requiring international regulation. But it costs for farmers to test components for purity. Because few herbs are grown on an industrial level, they are more susceptible to crop failure, demand fluctuations, natural disasters, etc., so times when demand exceeds supply costs skyrocket.
- Because of all the advances, the ds industry has made in regulations and testing, it has really cut down on the supply chain in some cases in both good and bad ways. While sourcing from the US is ideal, it is not always possible. It used to be that you could order an ingredient from India lets say, but you really had no way of knowing if you were really getting what you purchased! Things were dyed or colored, fillers were added, mix ups were made, etc. But now that happens much less. Suppliers cant get away with that any more.
- But, weeding out the low quality ingredients has reduced suppliers. These are the quality suppliers, but they are also required to meet regulations, provide testing, and their costs have increased as well which raises the costs for manufacturers and then the consumer.
- Its additionally challenging with fewer quality suppliers if one year crops are down, and then costs for just one ingredient can sky rocket because it is so limited!
- PRODUCTION COSTS: Research and development, formulation, ingredient sourcing/purchasing, and manufacturing all cost something! Think about large buildings and expensive machinery that require continual sanitation and maintenance, employees for assembly lines, quality control and assurance, laboratories, packaging, distribution, etc. And then there are costs in storage, distribution, sales, marketing, and more. Each minor detail adds up. Any cuts risk product quality and all aspects are essential to getting you good products.
- A GOOD CAUSE: This reason is my favorite one. I would willingly pay a great deal more for a product knowing that a percentage of the profits are going to support causes and organizations designed to improve the lives of others, support the planet, and make the world a better place. There are so many companies trying to make a difference one sale at a time. Make your purchases count.
- UNAPPROVED RESELLERS: Most companies have a few approved online vendors. But unapproved online websites selling a product at huge discounts force companies to raise prices to make up for lost sales. Without an authorized, traceable distribution, there is no guarantee these products have been transported or stored correctly to ensure effectiveness, or that the company will give you your money back if your purchase arrives damaged or expired. If an online product is severely discounted, you may be purchasing a compromised product. Trying to hold these companies accountable and cutting off their access can be a costly payroll expense, as well.
- This will hit home to most ds customers. Ok, you know when you get online and start price shopping and your favorite product is 10.99 on one website and 29.99 on the actual company website? Why the heck is it so much more expensive on the company website? Well, most companies have approved online sellers. And they give those legit companies permission to discount the product a little. But then there are companies selling products at a much lower discounted rate that does not account for all of the costs we just discussed which in the end forces companies to have to raise prices to make up for that loss and to pay additional employees to try and stay on the tails of these sneaky companies.
- Additionally, keep in mind when you find a product at a super discount there is no guarantee that it has been stored in a way that maintains the quality or effectiveness of the product. They really dont care about the quality or what efforts/costs went into the product to make safe or the well being of the customer, they only care about the buck.
There are, of course, even more reasons to consider when comparing products and the costs of dietary supplements, but these are the ones that most directly affect you as a consumer. Be aware of the necessary costs and ask yourself, “What kind of product am I willing to pay for?” before making your decision.
Questions to ask your supplement companies
- Ask them what kind of testing is done on the product? At a minimum, they should be doing testing for ID on each individual ingredient, heavy metals and microbial. A company going above and beyond will often be doing additional testing. They should be transparent and willing to provide you with results when requested.
- Ask if they have COAs (certificates of analysis) for finished products and for each ingredient.
- Ask them if they are GMP certified or GMP compliant. Not all companies are required to be certified, but all ds companies should be GMP compliant.
- Look online, fda.gov for company FDA warning letters. These are made public by the FDA for consumers to see! You can search for any company by name and if they have received a warning letter, it will come up.
- ClearLungs is always my favorite product when I am trying to give my body the support it needs to stay well when all kinds of winter gunk is being passed around.
- PhysiQOL will be one of my most recommended products at the beginning of the year for all of my friends and customers that have NY resolutions of working out as a support for the bodys natural recover process!
- And Anxiety Free for a very busy and sometimes stressful holiday season!