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Summary

When your diet falls a bit short, health supplements like multivitamins, protein blends, and others can help you stay on track and make sure you get the nutrition your body needs to run properly and maximize your physical capacities.

Supplements must now list all their ingredients by law, but many describe their product as a “proprietary blend.” What does proprietary blend mean?

It means the company that made it will not disclose how much of each ingredient there is in their product [1]. They’ll tell you, for example, that your multivitamin contains vitamin A but not how much vitamin A.

Proprietary blend descriptions can make it difficult for consumers to know exactly what they are buying and the true nutritional value of our supplements.

When is the Label “Proprietary Blend” Used?

This label is used when a product contains multiple ingredients, and the company will tell you what those ingredients are, but not how much is in the product. For example, recently, a study was performed using what researchers described as a “proprietary blend of fruit rind and tamala leaf extract” [2].

This means that they gave subjects some fruit rind and tamala leaf extract for their health, but you don’t know how much of each they received. This partial information can make it confusing to know if a product is beneficial and replicate the results boasted by a company (should you choose to get your products elsewhere).

Why is This Confusing?

Current FDA rules require naming all ingredients in a product (for health reasons like allergies), but it is legal to not state quantities, instead of calling the product a “proprietary blend.” This makes marketing unclear and can confuse the buyer to decide what the best product to use is [3].

You can use online database to decipher some additional details about supplements and their contents, but this service can also be misleading and confusing [4].

Another point of confusion for us consumers and product companies alike is that humans’ dietary needs are always changing as more research is done in the field. For example, we know now that we need more than the previously recommended 400 IU of vitamin D for ideal health, increasing the amount used to calculate your recommended daily intake [5].

This means supplements all must change their labeling and percent daily value constantly, based on what we know about required nutrients currently.  

How Do Supplements Differ From Pharmaceuticals?

The rules for supplements are different from pharmaceutical drugs. Pharmaceutical drugs are known from animal and human clinical trials to improve or resolve a condition or disease [6].

They also state exactly the dose of the compound contained in the drugs, as is required by law. This ensures we are taking the right dose for our condition, and the dose is below the safety limit determined in clinical trials. But for supplements, proprietary blends are allowed because this field is less stringently monitored [7].

Many supplements are made of compounds considered safe but have no research backing proving their effectiveness. FDA monitors dietary supplements, but they do not have to prove their effectiveness before being sold or making claims about their potential [7].

For example, a study examining supplements marketed as “brain health-promoting” found that the labeling was misbranded or confusingly worded, based on what was known about the product.

Researchers suggest that advertisements and product labels in the supplement industry are often deceiving, and FDA must improve its standards regarding supplements [8].

How Popular are Health Supplements?

Given that 66% of adults over the age of 16 in the United States said they used health supplements of some kind in a recent survey, this is a growing field and one that has previously not had hard-and-fast rules about labeling requirements [9, 10].

From 1994 to 2014, the number of registered dietary supplements increased from 4,000 to 90,000, with an estimated 150 million US adults taking health supplements [11].

The increase in use has prompted many researchers to question FDA rules regarding supplements and whether better proof of their effectiveness should be enforced.

 Potential Solutions for the “Labeling Crisis”

An improved, easy to understand database and naming and labeling standardization are needed in the supplement industry to ensure you can understand what you’re taking and compare products accurately [12, 13].

Perhaps a new regulatory board needs to be appointed to regulate this system and ensure that all products follow standardized labeling rules, making it clear what products are [14].

In conclusion, what does proprietary blend mean?

Whatever the solution, the labeling and claims surrounding supplements must be regulated more stringently than the current system allows [15].

For now, you must be the judge and be aware of what your supplements contain. This is where proprietary blends come in, making this a difficult decision.

If you’re unsure about taking a new supplement, always consult your doctor about whether or not a product is safe (and the best choice) for you.

You might be interest in “Why and When to Take Collagen?”

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