NOW Foods’ Quality Control Department
Each time you buy a bottle of supplements, you have some expectation of how the product will look, smell and taste. Often this initial assumption is based on descriptions on the label, as well as the product’s ingredients listing. Words such as tablet, softgel, liquid, “sweet-tasting” or “easy to swallow” conjure up images of what the product may be like. Once the consumer has used a particular supplement a few times, he/she becomes familiar and comfortable with its appearance and has definite expectations of how this product will perform each time he opens the bottle.
But, what happens when you open that bottle of Vitamin C after your fourth purchase, and this time the color is no longer beige, but off-white?! You take the pill out and take a good, hard look at it. It appears to be similar in shape to the Vitamin C that you had previously consumed. However, it is obvious that the color is quite different. Immediately, you think that there may be some sort of mistake. Perhaps the manufacturer might have put the wrong product in the bottle. Or, could it be, that the product has changed or “gone bad”? The label information all seems to be the same, to the best of your recollection. However, the obvious perception is that the product is different from the Vitamin C that you have been using.
Unfortunately, when this kind of situation occurs it fans the flames of doubt that natural supplements can be trusted or are of the same caliber of quality as those in the pharmaceutical arena. Hopefully, with some understanding of “natural” products, these doubts and misconceptions can be erased.
Pharmaceuticals are designed to look the same every time. Pharmaceuticals rely heavily on the use of synthesized or laboratory-derived ingredients that allow for tight controls on how the end product will look and physically perform once the methods for manufacturing have been established. The use of synthetic dyes and colorants mask any variations that would otherwise be apparent in the product.
In the dietary supplement industry, we do not rely on such methods to control the appearance of our products. The use of synthetic dyes and other synthetic ingredients that maintain texture and consistency is unacceptable and often unsafe for sensitive individuals. Instead, we might choose a natural additive that adds some color without taking away from the health values of the product. In other instances, it is more appropriate to leave it in its “natural” state.
There are several examples of variance and non-uniformity in high quality supplements. For instance, we can revisit our bottle of Vitamin C in which the color had changed. In such a case, it was more than likely that this Vitamin C formula contained bioflavonoids. Often, we will find variation in the color of bioflavonoids due to differences in the raw material, typically citrus fruits. In this case, the color can vary such that once the bioflavonoids are added to the Vitamin C formula, they will affect the entire color of the end product. However, the supplement still remains Vitamin C with the same potency levels as stated on the label. Thus, the product’s quality is still intact despite natural color variations.
In the case of many herbs, especially those that are not standardized, we often see a wide range of color. For instance, Goldenseal can vary in color from brilliant yellowish-gold to a light green. This is often a direct result on when and where it was harvested. However, it is still Goldenseal in its pure, unadulterated state.
Non-uniformity within a particular supplement can also be common within our industry. Classic examples are liquid herbal extracts, liquid nutritional oils and softgel supplements. High Lignan Flax Oil will often have particulate matter either floating in the oil or resting at the bottom of the bottle. Although, it is not uniform in its appearance, these particles are a very good sign. They are indeed the source of the health providing lignans, which are added to the oil from the fiber portion of flax seeds and are not oil soluble. Our liquid extracts, as well, will frequently have varying amounts of sediment resting at the bottom of the bottle. Again, although it may not be aesthetically pleasing, the sediment is loaded with many of the natural nutritional components of the herbs. These products should be shaken well before each use.
Many softgel supplements often enclose liquids with the same health-providing substances that create the same appearance issues as noted above. Instead of hiding these visual imperfections with additives such as titanium dioxide or unsafe dyes, we will often use natural additions to the product such as carob to make the softgel less transparent and make its appearance and color more uniform. But these natural methods are not as effective as pigments like titanium dioxide at masking separation or color variations within a softgel capsule.
So, although we live in a world that values visual perfection, enforced further by the pharmaceutical world of pills in bright and exacting colors and shapes, we must not forget that imperfection can also be beautiful. All the wonders that nature can offer up for our health come in all colors, shapes and sizes without synthetic additives and dyes. NOW Foods recognizes this, and makes every attempt to maintain quality while accepting the natural variance in our products. NOW utilizes targeted Quality Control testing to assure the proper identity, potency and weight of each product sold.