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Consumer Lab and testing of Supplements...

From time to time we have customers and prospective customers asking us why we have not submitted our products to for testing.

As I am sure many of you know, is in the news quite regularly with their 'posting' of tests that they have carried out on supplements.  Last week a regular customer emailed me about this very subject so I thought that it was time to address this issue in detail.

This is the email which prompted this.

From: Howie

"Lately in our Long Island, New York newspaper Newsday, there have been some articles referring to vitamins and ingredients in supplements.  I have been taking your products for quite awhile now and have been satisfied with the results, but I often wonder after all this reading about even good companies not having all the ingredients listed and if we as consumers are getting what we need and pay for.  Have you ever thought of sending some of your main products to to have them independently test here in the US to verify what we all believe.  Could be a boost to business.  There are not as many vitamins as you would think on their good list, and those that are like Centrum, One a Day etc. do not have what your products have."

I will continue:

Howie raises a valid point.  There are indeed many products on the market that do not contain what they claim on the label.  However, testing by consumerlab is not the answer. 

I'll explain.  

First of all is not a lab at all.  It is first and foremost a 'for profit' operation that is to some extent feeding off consumer fears. They send all products out to other contract labs for testing as they do not have the facilities or the equipment to undertake this. 

I did talk to the President Ted Cooperman of consumerlab some years ago when I met him in Washington.  He acknowledged that they could not test our products in their entirety because they are so complex. 

However, he said that they could test a selected number of ingredients.  All we needed to do was to provide a list of those ingredients that we wanted tested and send them product and they would do it. 

We did not proceed with this offer for two reasons. 

1. If we sent the products it would not be a truly independent test as who can confirm that it was a typical batch.  Also, if we selected what ingredients are to be tested that really makes the whole process of little value. 

2. Secondly, the amount that they wanted to charge was really quite excessive and much more than an independent GMP certified lab would charge. 

Over the years since I have watched the consumerlab operation grow and the progress they have made in the market place has been quite outstanding. 

Unfortunately I am not particularly impressed with their business model which seeks to profit 'both ways'.  (from both the consumer and industry)

Their method of operation is to select a number of products that they want to test, purchase them, send them away for testing and then publish part of the results.  For example, they may say that they tested 12 products and found that 4 of them contained lead. 

Then here's the 'rub'. They will name the 12 products but will not publicly state which 4 contained the lead.  As a consumer the only way to find out which ones were contaminated is to buy a subscription to their newsletter!

If you either do not want to buy a subscription, or cannot afford to do so, then you are left wondering which of the 4 products contained the lead.  This is naturally disconcerting particularly if you are using one of the 12 products that are listed. 

This is the principle that I don't agree with, because they are creating an environment of fear and then forcing the consumer to pay money to either allay or confirm their fears.  Now, if they just said we are testing 12 such and such type products and left it at that, fine, but to cast dispersions on innocent manufacturers is in my opinion not fair play. 

On the other hand as a manufacturer you can have them test a product and if the results come up negative they will not publish it, providing you are paying for the service.  If it comes up positive it will then be published. 

So, as you see this is an operation geared solely towards profit, not public service, which many people think is the case, partly because of the name consumerlab. what is the solution?

Well, we have thought long and hard about this and we are working on a model for Xtend-Life which I believe will be viable and affordable for us as a small specialty manufacturer. 

Firstly, as I mentioned in an earlier blog posting we are going to be putting together a COA (certificate of analysis) for each batch of product and posting this on the website.  This will mean that a customer will be able to view the COA for that specific batch of product before they purchase.  

This will show the microbiological count, levels of heavy metals, etc, etc. Because each batch of product has its own unique batch number this will tie in with the bottle which has the batch number and date of manufacture on it. 

As these COA's are prepared by an independent laboratory this would give the customer confidence about the purity of the product.

This would resolve the issue of purity but does not address the levels and identification of active ingredients.

So what can we do about this?

It's a difficult problem as is not practical to test each batch for this.  If we did it would more than double the cost of the product even if it was only for a few selected ingredients.  So, we have to look at rotational testing on random batches.  In other words looking at testing several random ingredients at a time. 

Now, this is not as simple as it sounds. 


Well in the case of herbal extracts there is often an overlap of active nutrients in different herbs.  So, whereas you may test for the main active ingredient in Bilberry for example, other herbal extracts may have the same active ingredient as a minor component.  

This then throws out the readings.  However, it is maybe possible to do further identification tests on these extracts where these are mixed together.  We are discussing this option with a specialist laboratory right now. Vitamins, minerals and aminos etc are easy. 

So, what are we going to do? 

We are currently having discussions with independent certified laboratories in the USA, Europe and New Zealand about implementing an independent testing protocol. 

Basically, what we have in mind is that we will find specialty laboratories for each group of nutrients.  For example, we are talking to a lab in the USA that can segregate herbal extracts and overcome the problem mentioned above.  Another laboratory would test some vitamins and minerals, another one specialty ingredients and so on. 

We would test several ingredients in each category. 

Each quarter the laboratories would unbeknown to us purchase product from us via the internet and select the ingredients in their field of expertise and do the testing. 

The results of all the laboratories would be put together in a report and and published on both their web sites and ours. 

From the consumers point of view this process would be fully independent and very comprehensive.  We would never know what product they are selecting and/or which ingredients are being tested until after the testing has taken place. 

We would always publish the results as we have total confidence that they will meet specifications. 

Sometimes the reason why products do not contain what the label claims is not that the manufacturer has not put them in but rather that they are not properly blended, or, the raw ingredient suppliers have sold them incorrectly specified product.

In this regard we are like none other.  Have a look at how we blend our products by clicking here.  When you get to this page click on ingredient blending. 
Hopefully this explanation will give our customer comfort in that not only do we make the claim that our products are true to label but we will be able to independently prove it.

In good health,

Warren Matthews 

Reader Comments (10)

Was taking 3000 mg.gaba. It reduced my breathing so much
that I woke up several nights with heart rate 80-90, irregular and missing beats. I reduced it to 750 and the effect on my heart was much less severe. For nights I have omitted gaba and overnight my heart action is almost normal.
I would assume that if I took more than 3000 gaba I might
expire overnight from insufficient breathing. Have you ever heard of that result from excess gaba intake?

April 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCollin Corkum
Hi Collin. 3000mgs of GABA is certainly way to much and it wouldn't surprise me at all if this is causing the problems that you are experiencing. It has been known to cause numbness in the face and tingling in the fingers and toes.

There has been little published data about intake of GABA at this level and if I were use I would discontinue it completely for 2 weeks, get it out of your system and resume at no more than 750mgs per day which is the recommneded dose for maximum efficacy.

Here is some more info about GABA

GABA is an important and abundant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain (its actually an amino acid classified as a neurotransmitter). It helps to induce relaxation and sleep. It acts as a 'balancer' for the brain where excitation of the brain is balanced with inhibition.

Benzodiazepines are produced to have a variety of effects similar to increased GABA. They do this by modulating the actual GABAA subtype of the GABA receptor, the most prolific inhibitory receptor within the brain. The GABAA receptor is made up from 5 subunits out of a possible 19, and GABAA receptors made up of different combinations of subunits have different properties, different locations within the brain and importantly, different activities in regards to benzodiazepines ingestion.

Once bound, the benzodiazepine locks the GABAA receptor into a conformation where the neurotransmitter GABA has much higher affinity for the GABAA receptor, increasing the frequency of opening of the associated Chloride ion channel and hyperpolarising the membrane. This potentiates the inhibitory effect of the available GABA leading to sedatory and anxiolytic effects.

Basically what this means is that just as an overdose of the conventional drug can cause potential fatal results, as it acts on the GABA in the same way as if you were providing the body with excessive GABA in any other way (in this case by oversupplementation), providing your body with this much excess GABA could have the same potentially harmful effects
April 7, 2007 | Registered CommenterWarren Matthews
Dear Warren,

Could you please let us know when the above mentioned independent studies will be done? I would like to use your products; however I would like to see the mentioned studies to be able to feel more confident in your products. Regards
February 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterUmut
Hi Umut,

We are still looking at viable options for this. It is difficult. For example, we have been quote US$36,000.00 to do a test on just one version of our Total Balance...and we have seven versions.

This is totally impractical and all it will do is tell us something we already know.

But...we will find a solution as it is frustrating not being able to easily prove something that we do better than any other manufacturer that I know of. If we produced simple products it would be easy to prove...but, then they would not be as effective. Bit of a catch 22.
February 21, 2009 | Registered CommenterWarren Matthews
Hi Warren,
Thanks for your reply. I would kindly like to suggest you go for only one test for your flagship product Total Balance Premium, so that by proving this product receives what you claim will also automatically prove the other versions since other versions already contain all the ingredients that Premium versions have. Solgar, for example is a very respected brand and I feel confident in using. However, with all due respect, I feel the need to see some kind of approval by trusted independent labs. Off course this is your decision as an enterpreneur on how to move forward but as a customer I need more than your word on this. Kind Regards
March 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterUmut
Hi Umut,

I understand what you are saying but it really isn't as simple as this. Solgar only have simple formulations and are very easy to test. In fact, most of them would only cost a few hundred dollars to test.

However, our TB Premium has 85 active ingredients which is why the cost would be more than US$35,000.00 just for the one product. And then...what is it going to tell us?

Our manufacturing system ensures that all products meet specifications based on input and blending protocols. These are audited frequently. In fact, we are scheduled to be auditied in a few months for the new US FDA GMP certification.

Any customer is welcome to visit our facility at any time to view our processes and inspect our facilities.

In all honesty doing a test on one product from one batch really doesn't prove that all products and all batches are up to scratch. Only regular audits and the honesty of the management will ensure that.
March 3, 2009 | Registered CommenterWarren Matthews
Hi Warren

Good blog article with some valid points. I am not defending CL (as I am just starting out in this industry) but they do publish the results when you purchase the subscription, and it provides a small insight to the ingredients. Its not perfect, but its a place to start.

I appreciate your idealism in that product testing should be detailed enough to separate the true chemical nature of vitamins. I also agree that the profit model can affect product selection (we are all human afterall) and perhaps even the way results are stated. For instance, we all know Gartner Group has the same potential conflict of interest.

My point really is this - for an American or Canadian audience evaluating over the internet, I think you need to make your claims and hence product comparable to quality standards as we perceive in the media and abroad. We all know DIN, and NPN in Canada (Canada has very good standards I think, all products requiring a Health Canada License). I am sure your COA efforts will result in very high standard of production (and may exceed) what is considered a quality supplement in other countries. But what is missing essentially in my opinion is a comparative scale from an international perspective - or perhaps a global standard. Wouldn't that be nice?

To be honest - from a pure consumer perspective I am intrigued by your product but I am looking for some reassurance that I can compare it to. I know nothing of NZ and your standards and hence am reluctant to purchase. That's the truth.

Your enthusiasm to have testing and evaluation democratic and non-profit is very admirable and very necessary frankly. Please keep on going, your passion should bring positive change :) IK
May 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterIrvin Kovar
Hi Irvin,

Thank you for your comments. I appreciate this. This area really is a minefield and a very complex one particuarly for advanced products such as our Total Balance.

Bear in mind that at the moment in the US that only companies who have in excess of 500 employees have to be compliant with the new US FDA GMP rules. The rest do not have to abide to any standards although that will change over the next year.

At the end of the day though no matter what 'rules' or regulations are put into place the final result is always going to lie with the honesty of the manufacturer.

For example, in the case of ingredients a manufacturer may be using 50% potency of Reseveratrol or 5%. They don't have to state it and the consumer does not know if they are getting the best or not.

It makes no difference where you buy the product from you will get good and bad from all countries. Take Australia which without doubt has the toughest and most draconian regulations for dietary supplements in the world...and yet substandard product can still be produced within the rules.

As I said, at the end of the day it is due to the honesty of the manufacturer. This is why we do not take anything for granted and why we carry out our own manufacture and do not use a contract manufacturer as we would not be able to control the input of ingredients which is the key for a quality product.

My family and I depend on the products that we produce and will not short cut anything.
May 29, 2009 | Registered CommenterWarren Matthews
As a entrepreneur, I can tell you that $35k isn't much to establish trust with your customers. Making excuses, on the other hand, will do just the opposite.

Food for thought.
January 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrooks Bayne
Hi Brooks,

I don't think that I explained it very well. That $35,000.00 is for just a single batch for one product. We do multiple batches a week, sometimes of the same product. A batch consists of approx 1,250 bottles depending upon the product.

We don't do larger batches because it is to difficult to get a perfect blend when they get too large. So, the cost of testing per bottle would amount ot $28. I don't think that our customers would be prepared to pay that much extra to prove something that we have already established.

Over the next few months we will be publishing material about our systems and testing regime which I believe will fully overcome any concerns that anyone may have. They will also be reviewed by independent organizations who will be sending out an auditor to inspect our facilities.
January 4, 2010 | Registered CommenterWarren Matthews
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