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What to have in mind when shopping dietary supplements. How to read the labels?


What to have in mind when shopping dietary supplements. How to read the labels?

The best healthy diet is based on a whole and preferably raw food (whole grains, seeds, fruits - not peeled, not extracted in oils, not smashed with chemicals, not oxidized, not thermally cooked). The idea is that the Nature has created a fruit, vegetable, nut or seed to be perfect and in perfect nutritive balance when consumed whole. The herbs, however, need some manipulation beofore being consumed. The active substances of the herb should be extracted in order to get the herb working for you. The simplest and easiest extraction is the tea. Yes, everybody knows that when he gets a common cold, his mother or grandmother prepared a tea from chamomile, mint, dried licorice root, chrysanthemum flowers, lime leaves, etc. with honey and grinded ginger. If the simplest and weakest extract (that is exactly what the tea is) is believed for centuries to cure, just imagine what some dozen times more concentrated and stronger extract can do! Now imagine you drink it regularly, everyday... The results can be exceptional! The problem is that not everyone can produce such an extract at home. And here come the manufacturers of extracts and the suppliers of dietary supplements. But how can you trust them?! How to be sure that the declared substances and their concentrations are actually present in the capsule or pill? Honestly, it is not so easy, but here are some advices that can help:  


Look at the quantity in one capsule. It varies from 200 mg to 2000 mg. If a capsule/pill is very big most probably the concentrations of the active substances are low and so is the effect. 


Here is an example how to calculate the concentrations of active substances contained in one capsule:

VemoHerb Ginkgo Hypericum Supplement facts:

One capsule contains: 120 mg dry extract from the leaves of Ginkgo biloba, standardised at 24% ginkgoflavone glycosides, 130 mg dry extract of Hypericum perforatum  with content of hypercin 0.3%

Explanation: "active substance"  or "active ingredient"  is the ingredeint with specific terapeutic action, known to have beneficial effect on the body (in our example, these are - ginkgoflavone glycosides and hypericin). In most of the herbal supplements, the active substances have been identified.  "Standardised at" means that the manufacturer of the dietary supplement has produced the extract of the herb in such a way so to obtain especially that "active substance". Then, they analyse it in the laboratory, and therefore, the substance is guaranteed to be present in the product exactly in the same amount as written on the label. Many herbs can be extracted and standardised according to different active substances, which is why it is also important to know what is the active substance and what is its actual quantity.

Be very cautious if the active substance that the product is standardized to is not present on the label; or if the name of the active ingredient is written but its concentration is not mentioned. These are indications that the product is faulty. Imagine you buy a bottle of alcohol and on the label is written just "Alcohol". You need to know what frouit is fermented to produce this alcoholic drink. But the label doesn't say this. Also, you need to know what is the alcohol percentage, it can be 8.5% (beer), 12.5% (wine), 40% (vodka), etc. But the amount of alcohol is not written on the label either. Would you buy that bottle of "alocohol"? I suppose, not. It can easily be 100% ethanol with absolutely no value and weird effect on your body.

Although this comparison is not so accurate, it is more or less similar with the herbal supplements. You need to know what to look for on the labels and never buy supplements which do not give you that mandatory information. There is a reason that the manufacturer or distributor does not want to share that information with you. Most probably it is because the product contains just a grinded herb which is not a herbal extract. It will be very difficult for your body to extract the active ingredient by itself and even if it does, it will be in negligible amount. Most of the standardized products are concentrated and purified in order to get the best effect from the herb. However, when the product is not standardized, then its quality is questionable and you risk to get different quality with different batches.

Let's take a close look at the calculations of the active ingredient percentage and the quantity of the extract contained in one capsule:

"120 mg dry extract from the leaves of Ginkgo biloba, standardised at 24% ginkgoflavone glycosides" means: 24% is the concentration i.e. 24% out of 120 mg of the Ginkgo extract is pure active substance. That means that 24% of 120 mg equals 28 mg  pure ginkgoflavone glycosides.

"Excipients": do not worry about them. Those are generally harmless substances. "Excipients" are binders, fillers and “glues” that are typically non-nutritive substances and are added in small quantities to aid in the manufacturing process and help stabilize products so they can be taken in various dosage forms.

What to have in mind when shopping dietary supplements. How to read the labels?

Let's compare it to Another product:

One capsule contains: 150 mg dry extract from the leaves of Ginkgo biloba, standardised at 16% ginkgoflavone glycosides... means 16 % out of 150 mg equals 24 mg pure active substance. The conclusion is obvious: the first product delivers more concentrated product hence a better effect with a smaller dosage.  

The stronger product is the first one. In spite of the fact that it contains less extract (the first product contains 120 mg dry extract from the leaves of Ginkgo biloba while the second product contains more: 150 mg dry extract from the leaves of Ginkgo biloba), the second product is more diluted (the concentration of the active substance is lower in the extract), therefore, you get less of it if you take the second product.  

It is a common mistake that people read only the quantity of the extract. For some people which are not well informed it may be enough just to see the name of the extract they are looking for on the label...  I realise you are not an expert and the merchants apply their tricks in that regard quite often. So, you should avoid buying supplements with unclear and vague information about their contents. You are not interested only in the quantity - you are most interested in the quality because that is what actually works. You should never buy a supplement if the label cannot give you answers on 3 simple questions:  

- what is the active substance?  

- what is the quantity of the extract in one capsule?   

- what is the concentration of the active substance?  

There are so many types of extracts - from the weakest and simplest to the most purified and strong extracts.  Next time, when you buy supplements, just pay attention to the labels and you will see that the qualified and reliable brands provide that information while the fake ones - do not.


Some information on the label can be misleading. In this case they usually show the concentration “by a serving” which does not always mean concentration “by a capsule”. For example if the dosage is “2 capsules 3 times a day”, “a serving” means 2 capsules, and the quantity on the label “per serving” is for 2 capsules which is obviously more if you compare it with a product which declares its contents in 1 capsule.  


Contact the manufacturer/distributor if you have questions about specific products or if you want to perform your own quality assessment. You can ask for copies of the quality certificates and lab analysis of the products you are going to buy. Most of the manufacturers have copies of the certificates on their pages.  


Here it makes sense to mention the simple fact that if a concentration is very high compared to other similar products, it is most probably not true. It is for a fact, if the price is lower or equal the other similar products but with lower concentration. High quality has its high price. High concentration of a high quality product as well. Do not be tempted by the lower prices. A product which is below 10 EUR retail price probably contains suspiciously low quality active substances (if any). It doesn't matter if the herb is  widely spread and not so rare. The extraction process is the one that adds value to the product.

The rarer the herb, the more expensive the product. Let me give you an example with our dry extract from Tribulus Terrestris: We standardize our extract at 60% furostanol saponines determined as protodioscine, according to the Bulgarian spectrophotometric assay. There is a big difference between the furostanol saponins determined as protodioscine, and the general saponins which are common in Chinese and Indian extracts.

Just to make a comparison, in the Chinese and Indian extracts with declared content of 60-90% saponins, which have flooded the market, and there are even such claiming that are Bulgarian extracts, the actual content according to the Bulgarian spectrophotometric assay which we are using, is not more than 4-5%.

So you see that our product is more than 10 times more potent than these extracts and that reflects to the dosages at which it should be applied in the end products, or in other words the dosage will be less because the extract is stronger.

For obtaining such a potent extract we use an extract ratio of min. 1:50, (i.e. we produce 1 kg extract from 50 kg dry herb). Further, the production process is very complicated, it generally includes more than dozen extractions, in order not only to guarantee the highest content of the active ingredients, but also to purify the product from all unnecessary ingredients which may lower the beneficial effects of the extract. All of that contributes for the high quality of the famous Bulgarian Tribulus extract with well proven through the years medicinal properties. 

I am sure that you can understand and agree that all of this mean a lot of production expenses, and that's where the high price comes from. Also, I guess you know very well that the high quality has its price.  


Lorita Ilieva