Do you want the red pill or the blue pill?
I started selling products on amazon around 2015. My first product was an essential oil called Tamanu Oil. It was not long before my Tamanu Oil was the number one ranked tamanu oil on amazon. Honestly it was not that tough as there were not many tamanu oils available. I kept that number one spot for a few years, but eventually that changed. More and more sellers started selling the oil on amazon as well. My sales began to fall and my ranking on amazon began to fall as well. I saw that the tamanu oils outranking mine were incredibly cheap. Mine is $15 for one ounce, while many of these new ones were priced for as little as $10 for 4 ounces. All of a sudden my product looked extremely expensive.
I began to wonder about these cheap oils and how they were priced so low. I had been sending my own oil to a lab in Canada for purity testing, so I bought a few of these cheap oils and shipped them off to be tested as well. You see, there are laboratories that can test essential oils to see if they really are what they claim to be. At reputable labs, scientists with training in plants can run various tests. Its complex but to simplify it, they compare the amounts of various fats in the oil against another oil (the reference) that they know to be authentic. They look to see if oil a is similar to the reference oil b. If it is then oil a is deemed authentic. If its not they deem oil a to be fake. They don’t say “fake” but rather use the scientific term, “adulterated”.
And guess what they said about these cheap tamanu oils I sent to them? Adulterated. But I already knew that. There was no way a real tamanu oil could be priced that low.
And so began my distrust of the wellness products industry. My sales eventually plummeted 80%. Shoppers didn’t know what I knew. All they saw was the price tag and what they thought was a huge bargain. Little did they know they were not buying what they thought they were buying.
So if these oils are not tamanu oil, what are they? You’re guess is as good as mine. Only the manufacturer who is making these fake oils knows what is really in it. It could be anything. But the ingredients list on the bottle will say “100% tamanu oil”.
With sales plummeting I started thinking about new products I could sell. I knew of people having success in the supplements category so I started researching it heavily. First I wanted to know if the supplements industry was as bad as the essential oils industry in terms of the amount of deceit. It didn’t take long to find out it also had its share of sketchiness regarding ingredient truthfulness.
What I’m about to tell you may be hard to believe for some people. For that reason I’m going to follow it up with evidence that you can go look at for yourself if you choose.
Here is what I found in my research:
Ingredients lists are not always truthful. There are just too many products – millions in fact – for the FDA to try to police. This is the reason the FDA can not check a product’s authenticity before it gets to the market. With millions of supplements and other nutrition products on the market, the FDA doesn’t have the resources or manpower to check all of them before they get to market.
Perhaps one of the biggest examples of a false ingredients list is a supplement called Ginko Biloba. Stefan Gafner Phd of the American Botanical Council wrote an extensive piece outlining many examples of of false ingredients labels with this particular supplement. You can read the piece yourself here
Some examples from this article of false ingredient labels with this particular supplement are:
“In 2010, the German Central Laboratory for Pharmacists (Zentrallaboratorium Deutscher Apotheker) investigated 10 ginkgo food supplements purchased in Germany. The researchers calculated the quercetin/(kaempferol + isorhamnetin) ratio after hydrolysis, and found a range of 0.8 – 1.2 for authentic ginkgo leaf material. However, in seven of the ten commercial samples, the ratio was above 1.7 (1.78 –7.70), suggesting that these products were adulterated.”
In simplified terms its saying seven out of the ten samples they tested were likely not an authentic ginko biloba. As to what exactly they are is impossible to say. But their labels probably say 100% ginko biloba, which is not true. The point is that you don’t know what it is. I don’t know about you, but if I take something, I want to know what it is that I’m taking. If there are some studies that show benefits from using a pure ginko biloba, then it can be said that you will likely not get those benefits taking one that is not pure.
For people with food sensitivities, it’s especially important that you know 100% what it is that you are taking. If ingredient lists are not truthful then how do you know you are not taking something that might upset your stomach?
Here are some other examples from the same article:
“The adulteration of ginkgo extracts with pure flavonoids or flavonoid-rich extracts was also detailed in 2011. In this study, Chandra et al. reported that chromatographic profiles of three out of eight products labeled to contain ginkgo extracts closely resembled those of commercial extracts obtained from Japanese sophora.”
Translation: Three out of eight samples labeled as ginko were actually Japanese Sophoro , which is a completely different plant. Or they were a mix of ginko and Japanese sophoro, but its unknown what the mix was. Was it 80% Japanese sophoro? No one knows. But one thing is for sure, the ingredients list did not list Japanese sophoro as an ingredient.
Another supplement with well known adulteration is Rhodiola rosea, a supplement used for things such as anxiety and stress. In this study
40 products were analyzed. Close to half of them (about 40%) were found to be adulterated , ie fake. Think about that for a second. 40 products for sale on the market say Rhodiola rosea on the label, yet half of them are not. And once again since the ingredients list is false, that means you don’t know what is actually in the product. It could literally be anything. Do you want to put something in your body when you don’t know what it is?
I could go on all day with more examples. But hopefully the point is getting across. And that point is this:
Ingredients lists are not always factual.
My greatest challenge has been how to explain to people that ingredients lists are not always true. The reason it’s such a challenge is because for many, this goes directly against something they have believed their entire lives. And for many, its something that they don’t want to believe. It reminds me of the movie The Matrix. In it the main character is offered two pills: a red one or a blue one. If he takes the red one, he’ll be shown his actual reality – one that is desolate, grim and sad - not his current, pleasant reality he has always known. He if takes the blue pill he won’t be shown his true reality, and he can go on living in a state of ignorant bliss. They mention how for some who take the red pill, the truth is so unnerving they have a nervous breakdown and are unable to recover.
I’m not sure if people will believe me or not. The best I can do is offer as much proof as I can and hope that people are able to see it.
And what about super greens, also called greens powders?
Most sellers are trying to make the most they can from a super greens. In order to do this, they need to buy their ingredients at the lowest price they can. This typically means buying from either China or India. If many of the ingredients are coming from India then its worth taking a look at the authenticity of food and supplement products made in India as a whole.
Any food product coming out of India is more suspect simply because the country’s standards for food and supplement quality are known to be much lower than other countries. To demonstrate just look at this publication from India’s own food safety authority. The Annual Public Laboratory Testing Report for 2014-15 by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) indicates that of the 49,290 samples of food items it tested, 8,469, nearly one-fifth, were found adulterated or misbranded. That’s 20% folks.
And China’s standards for food quality? Let’s just say its not on the same level as the US. One can refer to the scientific article on Rhodiola rosea already mentioned as China is one of the biggest growers of this plant.
And please don’t think that “made in the USA” means it comes from the USA. That just means that it was bottled in the USA. That does not mean the ingredients are from the USA. If there is no mention of the country of origin for the ingredients in a super greens powder, then it’s likely some or all come from China or India.
The next thing that leads me to be highly suspicious of the ingredients label on super greens is that most of them don’t mention two common fillers, silicon dioxide or maltodextrin, as an ingredient. You see, fruit powders typically need one of these fillers to keep them from clumping. And these mixes always have many fruit ingredients. Furthermore they often have fruit juice powders, and most juice powders can’t be made without a carrier.
Yet as I said, I almost never see these ingredients listed. Which makes me think, if they have left that off the list, what else are they leaving off? Or what else in the ingredients list is not accurate?
Then there is the 3rd party testing. All these super greens have “3rd party tested” written somewhere on the listing, yet they never mention what test was done nor do they show you these test results. This is like going to the doctor where he checks you over and then says “you’re going to need surgery”. So you say “Ok, why do I need surgery?” And he says “Well, just because.” You would probably be wondering how that conclusion was made. This is similar to how I feel every time I see “3rd party tested” on a listing yet there are no test results shown. What was tested? Who did the test? There is so much important info being left out.
An ID test is a test in a lab that confirms that an ingredient is what it says it is. We already talked about sellers substituting claimed ingredients for cheaper inferior ingredients, as was the case with Rhodiola rosea. Or a cheaper oil like palm oil being substituted for olive oil. An ID test can show if this has been done or not.
Most people that use super greens use one that has many different ingredients mixed together. One of the more popular ones has 46 different ingredients (one of which is Rhodiola). With a product like this, there certainly is no ID test done, because its impossible. Once 46 ingredients are mixed up together, you can no longer ID test. There are too many similar ingredients mixed together. A lab technician is not able to tell so many similar ingredients apart. Its kind of like, if sugar was mixed with pepper you could tell the sugar from the pepper. But if I showed you salt mixed with sugar, you would not be able to tell one from the other.
The only way to ID test all 46 ingredients would be to test each one of them separately , before they are thrown into the mix. A comprehensive ID test for one ingredient from a qualified lab costs around $250. There is no way a seller is going to pay over $10k to test 46 ingredients every time they make a batch. They may test one ingredient, but it’s not a comprehensive ID test. Rather its a much more limited type of ID test. Its kind of like a test to see if the book The Hunger Games is actually that book. A less comprehensive ID test will only look at the front cover to see if the title says “The Hunger Games” but it won’t open the book to see if the pages are actually for that book. It’s a limited test that does not prove the ID even for that one ingredient.
And so concludes my attempt to lift the curtain on this industry, and let you in to see what I see. If you’ve read this far, you took the red pill. You know the truth. The question now is, what will you do with it?