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Why Supplements with Proprietary Blends Are Ripping You Off

by Elliot Reimers | Reviewed by Advisory Board

proprietary blend supplements

Dietary supplements, notably multivitamins, protein powders, pre-workout drinks, probiotics, and herbal extracts, collectively comprise one of the world’s most prolific industries. In fact, gross supplement sales in the United States alone reached an astonishing $42.6 billion in 2018, and that number is projected to grow at least 5-fold by 2026

While high-quality dietary supplements are undoubtedly useful for a range of health and performance purposes, there is no shortage of products that are loaded with proprietary blends and questionable ingredients. 

But what is a proprietary blend? Why should you avoid supplements with proprietary blends? Read on to learn all about this deceptive marketing tactic.

What is a Proprietary Blend?

In short, a proprietary blend is a mixture of ingredients in undisclosed doses. These "prop blends" typically feature 10 or more ingredients with no specifics about the actual dose of the individual ingredients. Hence, they are “proprietary” (read: secret).   

However, a proprietary blend in a dietary supplement must list one quantity - the total amount of the entire blend. For example, many pre-workout powders contain proprietary blends under the guise of a clever name on the ingredient panel, such as “Concentrated Energy-Enhancing Blend” or “Mental Performance Augmentor,” followed by a single dose for the many ingredients that comprise that particular blend. 

proprietary blend label

But that’s all the information you get, so it’s impossible to say how much of each individual ingredient is in the blend. 

About the only thing you can ascertain regarding individual ingredients is their relative amounts in the proprietary blend since the ingredients are to be listed in descending order (i.e. the first ingredient is the most abundant). 

Though, this still doesn’t tell you much about the exact doses…

Let’s take a hypothetical supplement that contains a proprietary blend of 15 different ingredients and a cumulative dose of  7,000 mg. The first ingredient in the proprietary blend could be 6,999 mg while the remaining 14 ingredients are merely “sprinkled in” at negligible doses. This is often referred to as “label dressing” since virtually all of the ingredients are dosed so low as to be useless. 

There’s a saying that “the dose makes the poison,” and the same can be said for efficacy: the dose makes the medicine. 

Sure, a proprietary blend might contain ingredients that are generally effective, but if the dose is way below the threshold for performance/health benefits, it won’t matter. 100 mg of creatine monohydrate - the most proven supplement ingredient known to man - is not going to do anything for athletic performance, but 2,000+ mg will. 

Why Do Supplement Companies Use Proprietary Blends?

Aside from the obvious (it saves money), the only advantage of proprietary blends is that they hide the precise formula from competitor brands, making it much like a form of intellectual property. This prevents other companies from stealing your formula, but this also means consumers are left in the dark about ingredient doses, which can make or break results. 

At the end of the day, consumers deserve to know exactly what they’re getting when they purchase a supplement. This is why you will never find proprietary blends in Transparent Labs supplements. We proudly specify the precise amounts of every single ingredient on all of our supplement labels, even the inactive ingredients like flavoring. 

Understanding Supplement Label Claims

When shopping for a dietary supplement, it’s imperative that you don’t just read the label claims and assume that the ingredients will benefit you in some capacity. 

Just browse through your local supplement shop or pharmacy and you’ll see endless aisles of supplements with flashy, attractive labels that say things like  “Build 1000% more muscle!” and “Burn 5x more stubborn body fat!”

If it’s not obvious, statements like that are baseless and misleading, especially once you look at the actual ingredients. 

So, how do supplement companies get away with such egregious marketing tactics?

The Truth about Supplement Regulation

For better or for worse, there is no governing body that oversees how dietary supplements are made, what they contain, or if they are even effective. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may step in from time to time if there are multiple reports about safety concerns over certain supplements/ingredients, but beyond that, it’s essentially a free for all. 

Hence, the supplement industry operates on a bona fide honor system, leaving consumers with the predicament of “taking a company’s word it.” This is actually what spawned Transparent Labs, as we grew tired of the industry’s trend towards proprietary blends and coyness. 

Why Independent Lab Testing is Essential for the Dietary Supplement Industry

In 2015, the New York state attorney general issued multiple cease-and-desist letters to major retailers after testing their leading herbal supplements and finding that virtually all of them had unrecognizable chemicals and/or contaminants. 

In fact, nearly half of the 120 DNA samples from one of the herbal supplement lines had no plant DNA at all. In other words, it was an herbal extract supplement with no herbs!

So, what did these products actually have in them?

Sadly, cheap fillers. 

Many of the products that were tested contained little more than powdered houseplants and powdered wheat. What’s most concerning is that a good chunk of these supplements claimed to be gluten-free/wheat-free. 

Not only is this highway robbery, but a blatant disregard for the health of consumers who can have potentially fatal allergic responses to wheat/gluten. It’s a miracle someone didn’t get violently ill from taking one of these supplements. 

It’s disconcerting that the supplement industry is rife with products that contain little more than inert fillers, and in some cases, harmful contaminants like mercury, arsenic, and lead. 

Nevertheless, if a supplement or vitamin has an attractive eye-catching label, it will sell. 

If you notice, Transparent Labs labels aren’t what most would consider “flashy,” but we aren’t too worried about that. Our concern is what’s inside the bottle because that’s ultimately what you put in your body. 

As part of our ongoing dedication to complete product transparency and guaranteed purity, we take the initiative to have all our product batches tested by an independent third-party lab. You can see the test results by going to our certificates of analysis page. We also have a certificate of composition for every product that we offer.  

We are on a mission to help consumers make smarter choices about what they put in their bodies so they can reap the benefits of quality supplements that are backed by scientific research and clinical studies. 

Click to learn more about Transparent Labs supplements and how they can help you achieve your health and performance goals!




Elliot Reimers
Elliot Reimers

Author

Elliot is a NASM Certified Nutrition Coach (CNC) and M.S. candidate in the Molecular Pharmacology and Toxicology program at Michigan State University. After obtaining his B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Minnesota in 2013, Elliot began freelance writing and has since written 100s of articles pertaining to nutritional science, dietary supplements, exercise physiology, and health/wellness. As an inveterate “science nerd,” he loves helping people understand how nutrients, supplements, and exercise work on a cellular and molecular level so they can be smarter about what they put in - and do to - their bodies. When he's not busy writing or studying, you can find Elliot pumping iron, hiking the mountains of beautiful Colorado, or playing the piano.



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