Variance Can Equal Quality in Natural Products

Variance Can Equal Quality

Product expectations

Each time you buy a supplement, you have expectations for how the product will look, smell and taste. Often your 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 you’ve used a particular supplement a few times, you become familiar and comfortable with its appearance, and your expectations for how this product will look and perform are established.

Fast-forward to your fourth purchase of this supplement. This time the color is no longer beige, but off-white. Naturally, your first thought is that there’s probably a mistake. Perhaps the manufacturer might have put the wrong product in the bottle? Or, could it be that the product has changed or, even worse, expired? The label information all seems to be the same, to the best of your recollection. However, it’s clear that this product is different from the vitamin C that you’ve 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 pharmaceuticals. Thankfully, with a better understanding of natural products, these doubts and misconceptions can be put to rest.

Synthetic products have a uniform look, while natural products may have variations

Pharmaceuticals rely heavily on the use of synthesized and/or laboratory-derived ingredients, which 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, the use of synthetic dyes and other synthetic ingredients that maintain texture and consistency is unacceptable and often unsafe for sensitive individuals. Instead, we may choose to use natural additives that add some color without detracting from the product’s intended benefits. In other instances, it is more appropriate to leave a product or ingredient in its native 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 changed. In such a case, it was more than likely that this vitamin C formula contained bioflavonoids, which can vary significantly in color and appearance due to differences in the raw material, typically citrus fruits. The supplement is still vitamin C, with the same potency levels as stated on the label.

Color variations can actually indicate quality in natural products

In the case of many herbs, especially those that are not standardized, we often see a wide range of colors. For instance, the herb goldenseal can vary from brilliant yellowish-gold to a light green. This is often a direct result of when and where it was harvested. However, it is still goldenseal in its pure, unadulterated state.

Non-uniformity within a particular supplement is also 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 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 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.

Natural is good

All the wonders that nature offers for our health come in a vast variety of colors, shapes and sizes, without the use of synthetic additives and dyes. At NOW we take the necessary extra steps to maintain product quality while still accepting natural variance in our products. We utilize targeted testing to assure the proper identity and potency of every natural product we offer.