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Vitamin insurance; are you getting your money's worth?

Vitamin Insurance Are you getting your money's worth?

Many consumers are concerned with the question: "Am I getting what is on the label of my vitamins?" The answer to this question depends on many factors. While an individual can submit a vitamin preparation to a chemical laboratory for complete analysis, this procedure is quite costly and not really practical. Short of this process, what can the average individual do to make certain that we are obtaining the nutrients we are paying for?

1. Dating

While it is not presently mandatory to place expiration dates on most vitamin preparations, it would seem to be wise to use products with dating. Nutritional supplements are, in the final analysis, concentrated foods, and, like food, they generally tend to decline in value with the passage of time.

1. Compendial vs. non-Compendial Nutrients

An important area in the field of nutritional supplements relates to products that are compendial compared with those which are noncompendial. A compendial product refers to a nutrient which is listed in one of the official "compendia" which guide the field of American pharmacy. Such volumes include the U.S.P. (United States Pharmacopeia), the N.F. (National Formulary), and the F.C.C. (Food Chemicals Code). When a manufacturer produces an item listed in one of these regulatory volumes, the chances are the product will meet at least the minimum standards listed for potency and dissolution.

To be specific, if one purchases straight Vitamin B1, 100 mg., from almost any manufacturer, the odds are that the product will meet the standards for this vitamin found in the U.S.P. The product in question may indeed contain starch, sugar, salt, wheat, yeast, animal gelatin, artificial flavors, artificial colors, and other substances which may be undesirable to certain consumers, but at least the basic vitamin content (possibly in the minimal amount allowed by law, 95%) will be present. On the other hand, if one purchases a product listing "100 mg. of citrus bioflavonoids," the consumer is completely at the mercy of the manufacturer, inasmuch as there is no compendial standard for this nutrient. When purchased from a reliable manufacturer, the product will contain 100 mg. of a high-quality bioflavonoid extract. When purchased from a less than a reliable source, the product in question may contain nothing more than dried lemon or orange peels with a minimal bioflavonoid content! It is mainly in the area of nutrients not listed in official volumes that one must exercise extreme caution.

A positive development in this area is the self-regulation that is now being developed by the health food industry. Standards are being developed for many beneficial items not now listed in official regulatory manuals. Responsible companies are attempting to meet these standards and thus to enable consumers to purchase all items with confidence that they are receiving full value for their money. It is hoped that the standards developed by quality-conscious manufacturers will eventually become mandatory for all firms. However, this development will no doubt take many years.

3. The Reading of Labels

The reading of nutritional labels has become an art as well as a science. While it would seem to be quite elementary to note whether the "ingredient panel" refers to "one a day," "two a day," or "six a day," many individuals overlook this fact and will attempt to compare two products which may have similar ingredient panels but which, in reality, are of completely different strengths. Always remember, if a label panel refers to "six a day," each individual tablet contains only one-sixth of the formula listed.

One should be especially cautious of the heading "Approximate Analysis." This is a heading which is hard to pin down and should be avoided if an individual wishes a specific amount of a nutrient.

The story of tempeh, a type of fermented soybean, is a case which illustrates this point. Up until recently, tempeh was often advertised as "rich in "B12" or a "vegetarian source of Vitamin B12," usually without a specific amount of the nutrient. Recent studies have shown that tempeh is not a good source of this essential vitamin. (It is thought that improved methods of manufacture may have eliminated certain bacteria which were responsible for the early claims of Vitamin B12.) Responsible makers of this product no longer list Vitamin B12 as a plus. In passing, it should be noted that Vitamin B12 is a substance that may be lacking in some vegetarian diets.

Another area which requires a certain amount of expertise concerns this question of the elemental percentage versus the total quantity of minerals. Minerals must be combined with some base; carbonate, gluconate, lactate, phosphate, etc. To cite a specific example, the contents of a calcium carbonate tablet may be expressed in the following ways: (a) calcium carbonate

650 mg. (b) calcium carbonate 650 mg. (= to elemental calcium 260 mg.) (c) calcium (from carbonate)

260 mg.

Each of these three ways represents exactly the same amount of active ingredient. In this case "calcium (from carbonate) 260 mg." has more elemental calcium than, for example, "calcium carbonate-500 mg." This is a point which if often not clearly understood by many consumers. Without an understanding of the distinction between the various ways of labelling minerals, it is impossible to compare different products.

4. Manufacturing versus Private Label Brands

An important distinction should be drawn between vitamins that are made by a manufacturer versus those which come from a private label firm. The latter can be identified by such labeling as "made for" "distributed by," or "formulated for." All of these designations indicate that the nutrients in question have been made for the firm by another source. A manufacturer has a great deal at stake in maintaining the reputation of his company. The chances are greater that a striving for excellence will be found in vitamins bearing a manufacturer's name as opposed to private label brands.

The world of nutritional supplements is large and varied. An alert shopper can be assured of better value and more wholesome nutrients by becoming appropriately knowledgeable.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Vegetus Publications
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Title Annotation:quality control of vitamins
Author:Zimmerman, Philip
Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Jun 22, 1989
Previous Article:The risks of shared cosmetics.
Next Article:Healthy Pleasures.

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