Is The Most Expensive Supplement Also The Most Effective?


Often, the difference is to be found in the quality of its raw materials, its safety and the search for innovation behind each formulation. Let’s take a look at some of the factors that most influence the price of a food supplement.

The first aspect, and perhaps the most important one, is the quality and safety of the raw materials used. The latter are often purchased in countries where the legislation on quality control and safety is much less restrictive than that present for instance in Europe, a situation aggravated by national legislation which is often deficient in the field of supplements. This is why, in the global market, there is
a large number of companies that are able to supply low-cost raw materials, thanks to the lack of integrity, safety and traceability of raw materials. Therefore, it is the choice of
the manufacturer to abide to a controlled and certified network of suppliers so as to guarantee the safety of its product, even if this leads to an increase in the cost of raw materials. As an example, some Omega 3 producers, to keep the cost low, decide to use the fats from fish not subjected to contamination checks by pollutants and heavy metals; substances which, if present, we swallow with our supplement. To limit such cases, manufacturers can obtain non-mandatory certifications only if their raw materials and their processes maintain high technological and safety standards. The most important certifications for Omega 3 areprovided by GOED (Global Organization for EPA & DHA omega-3s) and IFOS (International Fish Oil Standards). Control of the entire supply chain and safety and quality certifications are the only way to protect consumers, although this entails a high cost of raw materials.

The second aspect influencing the price of supplements is the use of patented ingredients, recognizable by the ® symbol next to the commercial name in the list of ingredients. Generally, these are ingredients that have been developed after many years of research and economic investments, in order to obtain substances with quality, efficacy and absorption that tend to be much higher than those already on the market. This higher quality comes at a cost, that necessary to recover the investments and work that have been required to develop them. However, it has the advantage of offering a technologically advanced and superior product.

Another aspect to consider is the origin (natural or synthetic) of the raw materials. Producers using synthetic raw materials save money, thanks to their low production costs and the lack of need to manage natural sources from which to extract the functional principles. The flip side of the coin is that these substances, produced in a laboratory, often do not have the same effectiveness as the natural ones and the body may recognize them as toxic, accumulating them and creating a state of inflammation. In this case, not only will we lose money, but we also potentially damage our body.

A fourth aspect influencing the price of supplements is the bioavailability of the ingredients present in our product; that is, the amount of ingredients that is absorbed or eliminated by our body. We are led to believe that we absorb all that we ingest. In reality, our body absorbs only what it “likes” and in specific chemical forms, while the rest is eliminated mainly through feces and urine. The bioavailability of supplements is still one of the most fascinating and complicated issues in the field of integration. This is why often a supplement contains the main ingredient (the one that carries out the desired effect of normalization) and one or more “additional” ingredients, called “bioenhancer”, that have the role of conveying the first inside the body. For example, in Curcuma-based supplements, adding Piperineincreases the bioavailability of Curcumin by 2,000% compared to the use of Curcuma alone, which in itself is poorly bioavailable. Other times the absorption is increased by using specific chemical conformations of the main component, forms recognized and absorbed by our intestine with greater efficiency. These approaches increase the amount of supplement absorbed by the body by a factor of ten compared to the standard ingredient in isolation. Therefore, quality products are also recognized by the use of the best mix of ingredients and the search for the best chemical conformation with the aim of maximizing its absorption and consequently its effectiveness, avoiding wasting consumer money.

The price of a supplement is also influenced by the type of packaging. Some ingredients are easily perishable due to light, air, different temperatures and require specific formats and packaging. Unfortunately, these “non-standard” formats are expensive and a manufacturer who wants to keep down the costs of their product will not take this into account, thus obtaining a supplement whose ingredients will undergo alterations, becoming less effective and safe.

The last point to mention, perhaps the most banal but often the most underestimated, is the concentration of raw materials in each capsule and in general the daily dosage. On the market,there is plenty of low-priced products whose concentrations of raw materials are equally low and whose effectiveness is therefore unlikely. During the purchase, an important value to check is the “titration” of the ingredients. This value indicates the precise concentration of the most important active substance of the vegetable ingredient of our interest. For example, I go to the herbalist’s shop to buy a Rhodiola supplement. In the shop, I am confronted with two apparently identical products. However, one carries the words “Rhodiola rosea L. whole powdered root” and another “Rhodiola rosea L. standardized root extract (3% rosavin)”. Using this last product, I know how much active ingredient I am ingesting for each capsule while with the first product I am not aware of either the value of the rosavin that I am taking or even if I am assuming it, since it might not even be present. It should however be mentioned that some products, although having slightly lower concentrations than others, could have equal or greater efficacy than products with higher concentrations, thanks to a formulation that includes particular chemical forms, compounds that increase their bioavailability or technologically advanced ingredients.

In light of the points just discussed, can we conclude that high price is always synonymous with quality? No, not always. In fact, there are some companies that keep their prices high for pure marketing purposes, maximizing their earnings without caring about quality. So, how do we figure out if the price to pay for a supplement is really justified? On one hand, we must not be misled by deceptive advertising messages and high-sounding phrases that we find in the packaging; on the other hand, we have to trust the seriousness of the manufacturing company and understand if their “mission” is the well-being and safety of the consumer or the profit. For our evaluation, professionals in the field (such as our trusted pharmacist or doctor) can help, because they are expected to know the market and the seriousness of the manufacturers.

Supplement manufacturers hardly ever provide high-quality products with a very low price and if we care about the safety and effectiveness of what we take, we must be ready to spend a little more, safeguarding our health and buying an effective product.