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Vitamin Manufacturing

2008-08-02 03:21:02.644144+00 by Dan Lyke 7 comments

For the past day or two, Charlene has spent some time trying to figure out the supply chain for various vitamin manufacturers. The results have been fascinating, I think she's going to try to find some way to write this up in a much more comprehensive form as her database grows, but here's a few tidbits:

[ related topics: Health Invention and Design Databases Economics ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2008-08-02 06:11:33.068477+00 by: ebradway

We've been very happy with Nature's Sunshine. Yet another Utah company...

Vitamins (rather Supplements) are at the cross-roads between scientific medicine and alternative medicine. It's as common to find mistaken ideas in the professional medical community as it is in the alternative medicine community. Factor that uncertainty into a manufacturing process and you're pretty much guaranteed to get questionable results.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-08-02 10:09:43.458691+00 by: spl

You may find this article from the Science-Based Medicine blog interesting: Should I Take a Multivitamin?

#Comment Re: made: 2008-08-02 15:21:41.798593+00 by: m

A few recent meta-metastudies have demonstrated that more than half of all medical research studies generate false results. This finding presumably includes the results of those meta-metastudies. To point to a single publication, or even a metastudy, only demonstrates a potential area of "isn't that interesting". Or, at least a defensible basis for making a decision. Scientific truth is difficult to pin down in pure laboratory studies. Given the vagaries of medical practice, the difficulties of dealing with the primary experimental animal, and ethical guidelines, it is difficult to impossible to design conclusive experiments. No single paper, or even group of papers should be used as the sole basis of medical decisions unless there is no other choice.

For example, to this date there is no definitive work that demonstrates that supplementary antioxidants are useful in achieving or maintaining health. There is a significant group that believes that providing exogenous antioxidants is very harmful because it seriously inhibits the bodies system for synthesizing endogenous antioxidants, resulting in a net loss to antioxidant function.

Another concern is the synthesis and/or other origin of vitamins and other supplements. In 1988 the Japanese company Showa Dowa KK used a new method to produce the supplement amino acid tryptophan. This nutraceutical is found in high concentrations in turkey, milk and other common food items, and is known to be safe. But the new synthetic process introduced toxins that resulted in the deaths of 37 as well as the permanent disability of some 1500.

It is not only failures in synthesis, but also the biological origin of many nutraceuticals that can cause problems. For example, rose hips are often used as source of vitamin C. Sometimes in their native form, other times with little processing. Many individuals are allergic to rose hips, and may go into anaphylactic shock on consumption. Death can result through shock and/or suffocation if immediate treatment is not obtained.

The American Association of Clinical Chemists defined vitamins and supplements as substances with the potential for abuse, as far back as 1982. Megadoses can have toxic, sometimes fatal results. Even doses provided commercially can be problematic. Vitamin A is fat soluble and accumulates in the body. It is available in 25000 IU capsules, which if taken for several months will build up body concentrations that are toxic to a significant percentage of the population, and can lead to blindness amongst other difficulties.

I take a multivitamin. I suspect that it is safe for me to do so. I also add B12 because my wife is an ovolacto, and my dietary sources are hence minimal. For a number of reasons, the body most likely has protections for 100% overdoses of these micronutrients.

But as much as I distrust the major pharmaceutical houses, I distrust the nutraceutical industry even more.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-08-02 16:57:06.168611+00 by: Dan Lyke

One of the interesting stories Charlene is chasing a little bit is a quote from a "consumer's group" representative over an incident where they discovered (quite a lot of) lead in one brand's multi-vitamin. The gist of the quote was that they tended to find anomalies like this when the supplement was sourced from plant materials rather than synthesized ones. Not enough info to start publicly naming names yet, but it seems like if your contract manufacturer is sourcing their herbs from somewhere in China or India downwind of the electronics recycling plant, this could be the natural outcome.

So, yeah, not only do the side effects of the source, like Rose Hips, have direct consequences, sometimes the sourcing of them has indirect consequences as well.

And, of course, no brand wants to tell you who their contract manufacturer is, this stuff only shows up in places like EDGAR filings when it's an admitted liability.

Also amusing are all of the trademarked names for standard enzymes, when you can figure out what the standard name for the trademarked name is. It's the equivalent of "Retsin™" in Certs.

In general, I see many/most of these supplements as "American Cheese" is to real cheese, why is it reasonable that grinding these things up, drying them and chemically reorganizing them is going to be better for me than getting those nutrients directly from my diet? And if we're just going off of one barely published paper, or a whole slew of contradictory ones, where's the evidence that we're working with causation and not just correlation?

Eric, interesting, Nature's Sunshine actually claims that they make "most" of their products themselves, which separates them from a whole lot of the big brands (and quite a few of the small ones). That makes sense in light of the corporate story that they started out filling gel-caps with cayenne powder on the kitchen table. Of course, place of manufacture doesn't say much about how they source the ingredients.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-08-02 18:28:17.622218+00 by: meuon

You'll find who makes/processes/resells what when the FDA issues recalls. I used to get the detailed medical ones when I worked in hospitals, always interesting to read.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-08-02 19:01:08.038931+00 by: Dan Lyke

Looking at the top few entries there reminds me of the peanut packet I got on the recent Southwest flights:

Ingredients: Dry roasted peanuts.

Processed in a facility that also processes peanuts.

#Comment Re: made: 2008-08-02 19:09:15.537873+00 by: Dan Lyke

Okay, here's some more wackiness: Hammer Products sued by competitors who tested positive for 19-norandrosterone, claiming that Hammer Nutrition Endurolyte supplements were contaminated with the steroid precursor norandrostenedione.