Buyer Beware # 2: What's In that Vitamin That Was Sold To You?

The following is a reproduction of a Millennium Health Centre editorial article which appeared in the Seaway News newspaper in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada. The content is shortened to accommodate a newspaper space allotment. As such, it is not academically cited with references. These are available, so please feel free to email your questions.


Dr. Stephen F. Jones B.Comm., N.D.
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

A recent column cautioning consumers when purchasing vitamin supplements seems to have struck a cord with those in the Seaway Valley. Numerous readers have contacted myself and have requested details about what to look for and what traps to avoid when buying a vitamin product.

Well, the subject is a large one. We'll start today with identifying and examining the impact of non-medicinal additives commonly found in vitamin supplements of lower quality. These additives are often not labeled and can aggravate a patient rather than improving their health.

These "Other Ingredients" fall into a few classifications, namely 'binders' (used to hold tablets together), 'lubricants' (used to allow the manufacturer's machines to work faster), 'coatings' (used to ease swallowing), 'colourings' (used for appearance) and 'fillers' (used to fill up the capsules or tablets).

The 'Lubricants' are particularly troublesome, as patients (especially sensitive patients such as fibromyalgia or allergenic patients) can have a negative reaction to them. Names to watch for on labels include stearic acid, magnesium stearate, ascorbyl palmitate, fractionated vegtable oil, castor oil and more. These lubricants are used solely to allow the manufacturer to make the product faster and have no medicinal value. In fact, they not only prevent your body from absorbing the vitamin, they can also directly trigger immune and allergenic reactions.

'Fillers' are used in poorer quality products to fill up the capsule. Common names include Starch, Sodium Glycolate, Lactose, Corn Starch, Sucrose, Mannitol, Acacia, various 'gums' and much, much more. Check your labels - you are likely to find some of these. If so, they are likely to be preventing or reducing the absorption of the vitamins and minerals and could potentially be aggravating your health.

Common words used to camouflage 'coatings' include 'Pharmaceutical glaze', 'Shellac', 'Natural Vegtable Coating', 'Natural Protein coating' and more. Again, these can interfere with absorption of the desired natural medicine.

The point here is that the labels on natural health medicines can be deceptive and they require interpretation. Consider two different brands indicating that they contain 60 mg of Vitamin C. One brand may actually have 60mg of 100% pure 'ascorbic acid' (a.k.a. Vitamin C) while the other brand's '60mg of Vitamin C' is actually 90% ascorbic acid and 10% Lactose (a potentially allergenic filler). Current standards do not force the labeling of the breakdown, so the consumer is left in the dark.

It is for this very reason that you need to read your labels, ask those selling you products about their knowledge of "other ingredients" in the product, ask why they are recommending a particular brand and ask if they have a financial incentive to sell this brand (such as with multi level marketing). Your health requires answers.

Future columns will examine the different forms of vitamins (and how this affects absorption), the role of additional herbs etc. to multivitamins and whether or not the amount of a vitamin in your product is even close to what your body requires. Best of health to you and your families.

Please write or call the Seaway News if you have any inquiries about this article. You may also email Dr. Jones at ''.