How do you choose a Natural Health Product

November 29, 2011

The main problem in choosing a natural health product is assessing its quality or effectiveness. The amount of active ingredient many Natural Health Products contain is quite variable and in many cases the active ingredient is not clearly identified or quantified on the label. In some cases there is a range of active ingredients sometimes acting in synergy but more often only existing in quantities that would not give a health response at recommended dose rates. Thus it is often a major problem to know how really effective a specific product is likely to be. Even when some good evidence from well regulated scientific research shows that an active ingredient in the specific product has beneficial effects. This article gives some examples of this and suggests possible solutions for those who want a high quality effective product to deal with their health problem.

In today’s health supplement market the Internet has allowed consumers a huge range of products and within many products a huge range of brands, formula variations and quality. Often the active ingredient is not present in sufficient quantities to be really effective and the advertising is very “sales orientated” rather than genuine product information or solid research. This makes it very hard for the consumer to know just how effective a product is likely to be. Consumers should use desktop research to help make a wise choice. Harvest the power of the Internet, to first ascertain what type of product offers the possibility of helping with their specific health problem, including the active ingredient that makes the product desirable. Once you have sorted out the product, then search for different brands and list them based on price, active ingredient present and likely bioactivity. Generally with top products there will only be 1-3 main active ingredients.
Be wary of claims of a large number of active ingredients, often they will be present in such small amounts that they will have no effect at all. Deer Velvet is a good example, it is a product I am very familiar with having farmed a large herd of velveting stags for many years and also been involved in velvet research and marketing velvet products. Now velvet has some useful therapeutic uses especially when taken in a high dose but many websites make ridiculous claims for it. It does contain literally 100’s of complex proteins that when isolated can be shown to have real effects, however in a standard deer velvet capsule only a few are present in the quantities needed to have any effect. To make the example more real I was in Singapore a few years ago talking to their Health Authority trying to get approval to get a deer velvet based product entry to their market. In trying to explain what the product contained I mentioned Insulin Growth Factor One (IGF1) along with a range of other compounds. They seized on this and said product with IGF1 can’t get entry. My answer was that it was in such low quantities it would have no effect. IGF1 is present in meat milk and in fact most animal products and this was no different. However I had to come back to NZ and test our product for IGF1 and also milk as a comparison. Our velvet product had 1/8 the IGF1 that was in standard milk and was allowed entry. However if you look at some websites selling velvet you will see them touting IGF1 as an active ingredient which is a nonsense as it is only in trace amounts. It is possible to concentrate it in a velvet extract but only at uneconomic prices.
Another factor to look at is purity, here I am not talking about quantity of active ingredient but what contaminants are present, if any. Common environmental pollutants are heavy metals like lead or mercury, persistent organic pollutants (POP’s) such as dioxin, PBC’s and other organochlorines. A good example is Omega3 when even after molecular distillation fish oils of North Hemisphere origin can have 20 times the pollutants of fish oils derived from fish caught in the Southern Ocean south of New Zealand. The Northern Hemisphere product may well be within allowable limits of regulators such as the FDA but cannot be as safe as the southern products. Often purity levels are difficult to obtain without direct contact to the manufacturer and in this case you have to use your judgement based on the source of the base product and manufacturer credibility.
Also be wary of sites that claim a myriad of benefits and active ingredients, sites that use a lot of hyperbole and “hard sales” copy. Look for hard facts on what is present and in what concentration. Check that the dose you will be taking links with that used in any successful research results.
The best products are usually from specialist formulators and manufacturers who only have a small range of products rather than large scale bulk producers and marketers. That is not to say that some of our large scale well known brands cannot produce a good value product. Value in this case is being judged on a combination of price and quality, checking price against the known active ingredient.
Often to get the required active ingredient strength you require you may need to go to an extract. Extracts are generally much more expensive but more effective. It needs a substantial research input to produce a quality extract and usually some quite sophisticated equipment although sometimes a simple crushing and pressing will produce a concentrated product. However even with extracts you need to have confidence in the manufacturer and read the active ingredient present in the final product.
So to summarise the Internet allows us to
• Research the type of product that is likely to help your condition
• Research the active ingredient in the product that is causing the effect and the likely dose needed
• Ascertain the brands/products available with this active ingredient
• Check on the likely level of environmental pollutants
• Beware of products that have a very wide range of ingredients and claims
• Rank the product on basis of the price of the active ingredient/ingredients
• Also assess credibility of the manufacturer/retailer
• Check and compare extracts on the same basis if they are available
• If effectiveness is more important than price you may choose an extract
This may sound complicated but with modern search engines is not too difficult and will allow you to make a much better choice of a Natural Health Product.


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