The problem with experience goods
Supplements and cosmetics are ‘experience goods’, which basically means that they are products that need to be consumed in order to judge their quality.

Other popular experience goods include restaurants, wine, and movies. It’s no surprise that we turn to the experts at Zagat and Wine Spectator to point us to the best buys. In the case of movies, we even prefer meta-studies of expert opinion, surveying hundreds of reviewers at once at Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.

The scary truth is that markets like dietary supplements have a more desperate need for expert ratings and reviews. Getting stuck with a poor product in one of those other industries will simply leave a bad taste in your mouth. In an industry like dietary supplements, consumers also risk the daily consumption of a contaminated product or the increased chance of drug-supplement interactions. Uncertainty causes fear, which leads to indecision at the purchasing point.

An opportunity for supplement retailers
In these other industries, research shows that adding expert rating labels in a retail setting significantly increases consumer demand and decreases price sensitivity.

Three research studies have attempted to isolate the impact of expert reviews vs. product quality on consumer behavior, specifically in the wine retail market.

The most recent study found that adding an expert label increased overall consumer demand by 25%. (Hilger, et. al., 2010)

Using a 100-point rating scale, they found that products scoring an 81 or higher received higher consumer demand and those scoring 80 or fewer points saw decreased consumer demand.

The overall sales increase of 25% came from a 32% increase in sales of highly-rated products vs. a 7% decrease in sales of lower-rated products.

Researchers also found a statistically significant decrease in price sensitivity in retail stores while the expert rating labels were present.

Simply presented, giving consumers product quality information can significantly increase sales and margins.

Why this is great for consumers
Thankfully, consumers are smart, and stores that added expert opinion labels actually saw decreased sales in the lower-rated products.

The overall increase in sales came from the overwhelming increase in purchases of highly-rated products. Consumers in these studies have shown that they are happy to spend more money if they know they’re receiving a high-quality product.

We all know the dietary supplement industry is broken. A 2010 Thomson Reuters study found that 62.3% of respondents had seen at least one dietary supplement advertisement in the past six months; however, only 11.5% reported that the ad influenced them to purchase a product. Why? Because only 10.2% of them labeled the “claims made by dietary/nutritional supplement manufacturers” as “trustworthy.”

Imagine that. Facts work. Ads don’t. Consumers have spoken. Retailers – take notice.

Interested in partnering with LabDoor? Email or call 415-549-7339 to get started.

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San Francisco, CA – November 7, 2013 – Consumers will spend over $8 billion this year on protein supplements promising to help them add muscle, lose weight, and feel healthier. But many of them are unwittingly adding something else to their diets –  spoonfuls of excess sodium.

LabDoor recently purchased popular protein powders and ready-to-drink (RTD) formulations and performed analytical chemistry analyses to find out what’s really inside.

Among the 50 protein supplements analyzed by LabDoor, 47 were found to contain higher sodium content than their Nutrition Facts claims. On average, the 50 protein powders and drinks exceeded these claims by an alarming 91.7%. Cytosport Muscle Milk RTD was the worst offender, understating its actual sodium content by over 350%.

“These errors go way beyond simple ‘manufacturing variance’,” said Neil Thanedar, CEO of LabDoor. “It is clear that supplement companies have chosen to misrepresent their health claims. And without any pre-market regulation by the FDA, they have gotten away with it until now.”

Protein shakes have long been a staple among professional bodybuilders and athletes. However, supplement companies are increasingly targeting men and women of all ages, with new brands advertising weight loss, meal replacement, and muscle gain benefits. 

“Many protein powders promise rapid muscle growth. Excess sodium at these levels can cause significant bloating, and may temporarily trick consumers into believing the marketing hype,” Thanedar said.

There is some good news though - for the first time ever at LabDoor, all protein powders tested in this batch passed heavy metals screens for arsenic, lead, cadmium, bismuth, antimony, and silver (below 1 part per million).

“Many of the positive benefits of protein supplementation, including muscle gain, appetite suppression, and weight loss, are supported by significant scientific evidence. However, without an accurate understanding of the actual content of their protein supplements, many consumers have been forced to risk their health on dishonest products,” Thanedar noted.

All of LabDoor’s product testing is performed in FDA- and USDA-registered analytical chemistry laboratories. Research funding is provided through premium memberships purchased by consumers and angel investments from Mark Cuban, Rock Health, Band of Angels, and others.

LabDoor’s full report on protein supplements is available at

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Soy, whey, and casein are the three most popular supplemental protein sources in the United States. Soy protein is cheap, vegan, and claimed to fight heart disease. But many men continue to steer clear of food and supplement products with soy content due to rumors of pro-estrogen effects and accusations of overall de-masculinization. In this review, we will assess the consensus on these positive and negative claims in the clinical literature, and see how soy protein stacks up vs. whey and casein.

Sex hormones, namely testosterone and estrogen, are vital in the physical appearance (secondary sex characteristics) and overall health in men and women, respectively. While it is often believed that a sex hormone is solely specific to a certain sex, clinical evidence suggests that a balance of both hormones is necessary, with testosterone predominating in men and estrogen predominating in women. This delicate balance relies on only minor chemical modifications, since estrogen is directly synthesized from testosterone, primarily by liver, brain, muscle and fat cells.

Testosterone is known to increase muscle mass, bone density and have positive cardiovascular, neurological, and libido-enhancing effects. However, as men age, testosterone levels drop and estrogen levels rise, contributing to less developed musculature, more fragile bones, and decreased libido. Furthermore, clinical studies have suggested that this switch plays a role in the development of several chronic diseases in men, such as diabetes, depression, heart disease, and prostate cancer.

So, how do soy products affect the presence or absence of testosterone and estrogen?

Soy protein is a source of isoflavones, compounds known to have estrogen-like effects in the body (subsequently referred to as “phytoestrogens”). They are also implicated as the main culprits in soy protein’s testosterone-lowering claims. 

Clinical and epidemiological evidence have backed soy protein’s cholesterol-reducing, total lipid-lowering, and cancer-preventative effects, but concerns still remain over its role as a muscle-building supplement, especially in men.

Soy protein’s testosterone-lowering effect has been documented by a limited number of clinical studies and anecdotal reports; however, high dosages were often used to isolate the effects of soy and serve as an unrealistic measure of average daily intake. One study, for example, found that 56g of soy protein for 28 days significantly reduced testosterone levels in healthy male volunteers.

A greater number of clinical studies, however, suggest that normal intake of soy protein is unlikely to trigger hormonal imbalance and effeminizing effect. To this point, a separate study conducted on a test group similar to the first found that 20g of soy protein daily for 4 weeks had no testosterone-lowering effect.

While these effects are likely representative of the majority of healthy men, it is also important to measure soy protein’s specific effect on muscle gain, a major objective of protein supplement buyers. A 2007 study examined the effects of soy protein supplementation in men who were involved in resistance training (weight-lifting, squats, abdominal crunches, etc.), and concluded that 50g of soy protein daily for 12 weeks had no testosterone-lowering effect or decreased testosterone/estrogen ratio. Subjects in this study also experienced similar increases in lean body mass as subjects receiving only whey protein.

In the classic “Fast vs. Slow Protein” debate, whey (fast) and casein (slow) proteins get the most attention. Soy is an intermediate protein in terms of absorption, which makes it a strong candidate for meal replacement shakes. One key negative claim against soy protein is its relatively poor digestibility. Soy protein ranked last, behind egg, whey, and casein protein sources, in overall protein efficiency and biological value.

However, there is some clinical support for the use of soy protein in balanced protein blends to help support muscle gain and athletic performance. Additionally, soy protein is one of a select group of supplement ingredients to receive the FDA’s approval for positive health claims, stating, “The daily dietary intake level of soy protein that has been associated with reduced risk of coronary heart disease is 25 grams (g) or more per day of soy protein.” These studies suggest that soy protein has major health benefits to consider before choosing to completely avoid it.

Everything in moderation. Soy included.

Current evidence suggests that excessive intake of soy protein may lead to decreased testosterone/estrogen ratio and attributed side effects in men, with the effect likely mitigated by increasing regularity of physical activity, primarily resistance training. Normal doses of soy protein (20-25g daily), however, are unlikely to lead to any de-masculinizing hormonal changes and may, instead, promote better cardiovascular and prostatic health. 


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Protein supplements usually consist of one, or a combination of, whey, casein, egg, or soy protein. This review will focus on the two most popular sources of supplemental protein, casein and whey, whose names have become synonymous with “slow” and “fast” digestion, respectively. 

For dietary protein to be utilized in the body, it must be absorbed by the small intestine and transported to the blood, where it will circulate to various tissues. Proteins can be thought of as long chains of linked amino acids, but these long chain peptides cannot be absorbed. It is generally thought that only single amino acids or chains of two or three amino acids (di- and tri-peptides) can be absorbed by intestinal cells and passed into circulation. In the stomach and small intestine, proteins are broken down into smaller peptides or single amino acids by gastric juices and a variety of proteolytic enzymes.  However, not all proteins are created equal; some, depending on their source, may be harder to break down than others. Absorption becomes dependent not only how well your body can break down protein, but also on how easily the protein itself can be broken down.

What does this mean for protein supplement users? To tailor protein intake to your needs (say, for building muscle), understanding protein quality and absorption tendencies becomes an important step in reaping maximum nutritional benefits.

Whey and casein are both excellent sources of essential amino acids (those that cannot be produced by the body) and both share the highest Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) of 1.0, a measure of protein quality based on amino acid utilization after digestion. The two dairy proteins, however, differ drastically in their rates of absorption.

A protein’s digestive properties are rooted in its chemistry. Whey protein’s solubility allows it to be emptied from the stomach and into the small intestine for absorption shortly after ingestion. This process results in a large and rapid spike in plasma amino acid levels, which may then be transported to various tissues to promote protein synthesis. Clinical research has supported whey protein’s ability to stimulate protein synthesis shortly after ingestion, but also indicates that the response is short-lived, lasting only a few hours post-ingestion. 

Casein, unlike whey, is not very soluble in water and tends to coagulate with other casein molecules to form small, circular structures called micelles. This property makes it easy for casein to form a gel or clot in the stomach and effectively delay gastric emptying. This causes a much slower but steady rate of amino acid absorption into the blood, leading to a less pronounced effect on initial protein synthesis when compared to whey, but a positive long-term effect on preventing protein breakdown. 

Does faster-digesting protein lead to a greater increase in muscle synthesis? This metric, net protein gain, is the result of the delicate balance between protein synthesis and protein breakdown and serves as the primary factor in determining muscle growth.

In several clinical studies, casein has been shown to be absorbed at 6-7g/hour while whey is absorbed in the range of 8-10g/hour. Rapidly absorbed proteins, such as whey, have been shown to stimulate protein synthesis by up to 68% and moderately prevent protein breakdown. However, this effect only lasts a few hours, and peaks within an hour. Slowly absorbed proteins, on the other hand, only moderately increase protein synthesis but prevent protein breakdown by up to 30% for 7 hours post-ingestion. Overall, slow-digesting proteins, such as casein, promote a higher net protein gain than fast-digesting proteins such as whey.

To mitigate some of these effects, whey protein may be taken in smaller, but more frequent doses to maintain good protein balance. In several studies, 2.3 g of whey protein taken every 20 minutes showed a significantly larger net protein gain vs. one large dose.

It’s all in the timing. Optimal athletic benefit will likely be achieved if whey supplements are taken when muscles and tissues are in need of short-term repair, such as shortly after exercise or early in the day. Casein will be most effective when long periods of time without activity are expected, such as immediately before nighttime sleep. This will provide the body with a steady influx of nutrients, and limit the risk of muscle breakdown (catabolism) during a fasting period.

The principles of fast and slow digestion do not only pertain to whey and casein protein. Protein absorption rates also vary widely between supplemental and dietary protein sources. A better understanding of these tendencies will help increase the nutritional benefit of your supplements and shorten time-to-goal.

Note: Protein supplements should be taken responsibly. Excessive intake may lead to impaired kidney function, especially in those who have suffered prior kidney damage.

  1. A Review of Issues of Dietary Protein Intake in Humans – International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism
  2. Protein Powder – Natural Standard
  3. Protein - Which is Best? – Journal of Sport Science and Medicine
  4. Protein and Exercise – Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition

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Protein is known to have an essential role in muscle and tissue structure and has been shown to promote satiety, supporting weight loss and appetite suppression. An often overlooked, yet equally important protein function is its role as the building blocks of hormones and enzymes vital for maintaining normal health.

To obtain greatest nutritional value and decrease time-to-goal, it is helpful to understand a few things about the factors affecting protein function:
  • Absorption Rate
  • Protein Quality
  • Dietary Intake

In this review, we briefly cover protein quality and absorption, and then narrow our focus on the effects of dietary intake, namely carbohydrates and fats, on protein digestibility and absorption. Importantly, we will review how these dietary habits affect physiology.

A high quality protein will be a rich source of all essential amino acids, which include the branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s) known to stimulate protein synthesis, and allow for efficient digestion and absorption. This is a best-case “quality” scenario for promoting protein synthesis. 

Different proteins will vary in their rates of digestion and absorption, resulting in varying physiological effects. Quickly absorbed proteins will lead to a fast spike in blood amino acid levels, promoting protein synthesis for a short time, but eventually leading to increased amino acid oxidation and protein breakdown. Slowly absorbed proteins will generally provide a slow, but steady supply of amino acids for absorption, resulting in only a moderate increase in protein synthesis but a significant effect on long-term protein breakdown prevention, resulting in greater net gain than fast-digesting protein sources. 

High protein diets have long been associated with greater weight loss benefits vs. high carbohydrate diets, largely due to the satiety benefits and high metabolic costs of protein consumption. This means that protein consumption significantly alters carbohydrate absorption and mitigates blood glucose level increases. Similarly, a high-fiber diet can decrease overall fat absorption. But does high carbohydrate or fat consumption affect protein absorption?

Three key factors could cause a deviation from ideal protein absorption rates. First, the inhibition of proteolytic enzymes, which break dietary proteins into digestible amino acids and peptides, would significantly decrease absorption. Excessive carbohydrate and/or fat consumption could decrease protein absorption due to competitive inhibition effects. Third, some research has indicated that the quality and quantity of microflora moderately affects protein absorption.

Existing clinical research studies have predicted mild decreases in protein absorption when consumed concurrently with high carbohydrate or fat content. However, since most experimental methods for measuring protein absorption rely on indirect measurements of nitrogen excretion, it is difficult to conclusively determine whether these increased nitrogen levels are caused by protein absorption issues or outside factors. More research must be performed in this area to achieve conclusive results.

Overall, current scientific research indicates that the quality and absorption properties of dietary protein sources have a more significant effect on overall protein absorption vs. variations in macronutrient consumption.

  1. Slow and Fast Dietary Proteins –
  2. Protein Digestibility and Absorption – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  3. Factors Affecting the Digestibility of Nutrients – Proceedings of the Nutrition Society
  4. Metabolic Effects of High-Protein, Low-Carbohydrate Diets – The American Journal of Cardiology

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The quality of a protein is determined by its essential amino acid composition and the digestibility and bioavailability of its amino acids, according to the Food and Agriculture Association and the World Health Organization (FAO/WHO). Several metrics have been developed in an effort to condense these qualitative terms into easy-to-understand scores:
  • Protein Efficiency Ratio
  • Biological Value 
  • Net Protein Utilization
  • Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS)

As a reference, the table below outlines how the four most popular protein sources fare in each of these metrics:

Protein Type

Protein Efficiency Ratio

Biological Value

Net Protein Utilization






















Protein Efficiency Ratio determines protein quality by measuring animal growth. In this rating, rats are fed a test protein and are measured for weight gain vs. every gram of consumed protein. The computed value is then compared to a standard value of 2.7, the value of casein protein. Any value higher than 2.7 indicates an excellent protein source. However, this measure of growth in rats does not strongly correlate to human growth. As other methods (below) were developed, this ratio has become increasingly outdated.

Biological Value determines protein quality by measuring how efficiently the human body uses dietary protein. Specifically, BV measures the nitrogen (largely obtained from dietary protein) that is retained in the body and theoretically used in tissue and muscle formation, and divides it by total amount of nitrogen absorbed from dietary protein. Since BV is a function of how much protein is absorbed and how much ends up being utilized, the theoretical top score is 100. However, since whole egg (the best whole food source of protein content) was originally set as the protein digestibility standard, it is possible for processed protein sources like whey protein concentrate to exceed this value.

Net Protein Utilization aims to determine the percentage of amino acids consumed that are eventually converted into proteins and utilized by the body. To maximize NPU values, dietary protein sources must both be easy to digest and provide an effective ratio of essential amino acids. NPU values are usually measured indirectly using protein intake vs. nitrogen excretion.

Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) measures protein quality based on human essential amino acid requirements and our ability to digest it. The test protein is compared to a standard amino acid profile and is given a score from 0-1, with a score of 1.0 indicating maximum amino acid digestibility. Common protein supplements (whey, casein, and soy) all receive 1.0 scores. Meat and soybeans (0.9), vegetables and other legumes (0.7), and whole wheat and peanuts (0.25-0.55) all provide diminished protein digestibility. PDCAAS is currently considered the most reliable score of protein quality for human nutrition.

Putting It All Together
These metrics are not intended to serve as definitive measures of protein quality, and are known to depend on several factors, such as age, activity level, and overall dietary intake. Each methodology suffers its own drawbacks, but serves as an approximate estimate of protein quality, particularly under dietary conditions. Currently, both the Biological Value and PDCAAS are held in high regard.

Understanding these metrics is a good way to make informed decisions about the protein supplements you choose for your needs. High PDCAAS scores, for example, indicate that a protein will provide close to 100% of the essential amino acids, including the branched-chain amino acids (BCAA’s) known to have the greatest effect of protein synthesis. But a lower biological value or net protein utilization value may indicate that not all of the amino acids absorbed or ingested, respectively, will be efficiently used by the body. For example, while all of these proteins share excellent essential amino acid profiles, the amino acids obtained from whey and egg protein appear to be better utilized by the body then casein or soy, especially under dietary conditions.

All protein sources are not created equal. The quality of a protein and its absorption tendencies are important when developing a diet tailored to your specific health requirements.

  1. Protein Powder – Natural Standard
  2. Protein – Which is Best? – Journal of Sport Science and Medicine
  3. The Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score – The Journal of Nutrition

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Natural and artificial sweeteners are present in products in every aisle of your favorite supermarket. They are traditionally marketed towards those who are looking to satisfy their sweet tooth without giving up an increased risk of tooth decay, weight gain, and the possibility of developing or worsening diabetic state. Sugar substitutes are considered as any sweetener that is not sucrose (table sugar).

Artificial Sweeteners

Sugar Alcohols

Novel Sweeteners

Natural Sweeteners



•Stevia extracts

•Agave nectar




•Date sugar

•Acesulfame Potassium

•Hydrogenated starch


•Fruit juice concentrate





•Sucralose (Splenda)



•Maple Syrup






Artificial sweeteners are FDA-regulated synthetic sugar substitutes that are often much sweeter than sugar, but do not contribute any dietary calories. They are usually used in foods or beverages instead of sugar to help lower foods’ calorie content for those looking to lose or maintain weight and to help consumers with diabetes control their blood sugar levels more effectively.

Artificial sweeteners have long been scrutinized for their side effects. Here’s the history of the three top artificial sweeteners:
  • Aspartame was discovered in 1965 but not approved until 1981 due to reports linking it to cancer. It is also known to contain the amino acid phenylalanine, in high dosages may lead to neurological symptoms including hallucination, panic attacks and manic episodes. Excessive intake of aspartame has been shown to lead to more severe side effects, including intellectual instabilities and seizures.
  • Limited evidence suggests that sucralose may lead to the development of migraines and may stimulate the production of insulin, despite being an artificial sugar substitute. It has not been linked to carcinogenic, reproductive, or neurological side effects. According to current scientific consensus, is considered among the safest artificial sweeteners for human consumption.
  • Saccharin has been linked to certain forms of cancer in laboratory and animal studies, but the lack of connection to human clinical effects has led the FDA and international health bodies to remove it from their lists of hazardous food additives. Milder side effects include pruritis (itchiness), hives, difficulty breathing, gastrointestinal problems.

Natural sweeteners, including agave nectar, molasses and honey, are often touted as healthier sweetener options to processed table sugar and its substitutes. Despite being marketed as “natural,” these sweeteners, including honey and agave syrup, usually undergo some degree of processing and refining. Some supermarket-shelf honey products, for example, have a very similar overall nutritional profile to table sugar. Additionally, honey may contain small amounts of botulism toxin-producing bacteria. For this reason, it is not recommended for those who may be immuno-compromised or for children less than 1 year of age, whose immune systems have not fully developed.

Natural sweeteners are generally safe, but, as with any sweetener, moderation is recommended. Too much added sugar may contribute to a variety of health problems, including tooth decay, poor nutrition, weight gain and increased triglycerides.

Sugar alcohols (polyols) are carbohydrates that occur naturally in some fruits and vegetables, but may also be synthetically manufactured. They are usually found in processed products including candy, frozen desserts, chewing gum, fruit spreads, and even toothpaste due to their ability to add sweetness, bulk, and texture. Despite the name, they do not contain any ethanol, like what is found in alcoholic beverages. Sugar alcohols are much less sweet than artificial sweeteners and may even be less sweet than sugar, but are favored by some brands because they still possess fewer calories than sugar (about 2 calories/gram, half that of sugar) and are not associated with the major side effects of artificial sweeteners.

Sugar alcohols are not clinically shown to lead to any severe side effects, but are known to have a laxative effect when consumed in higher quantities, and may lead to bloating, intestinal gas, and diarrhea.

Novel sweeteners are hard to fit into any particular category because of their manufacturing process. For example, despite being promoted as natural sweeteners, highly-processed stevia preparations have been approved by the FDA but whole-leaf stevia and crude stevia extract have not.

Aside from being calorie-free, Stevia rebaudiana, the plant from which the popular stevia sweetener is made, has been linked to health benefits:
  • The herb has been widely used by holistic and naturopathic practitioners in South America to treat diabetes, with animal studies supporting these claims. Human research has shown decreases in blood sugar when taken by healthy volunteers, but there is a lack of conclusive evidence showing the same blood sugar decrease in diabetic patients.
  • In addition, stevioside, a natural glycoside from the stevia plant, has shown blood pressure-lowering effects. Some human and animal studies have supported these findings, but further clinical trials are required to compare stevia’s effectiveness to other health remedies.

Stevia has been associated with few mild side effects, including muscle pain, muscle weakness, dizziness, nausea, and abdominal fullness, although the effects usually wear off after first week of use. Higher doses taken consistently may lead to more serious side effects, such as impaired kidney function.


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  • While it may seem that artificial sweeteners cater perfectly to diabetics and “weight-watchers”, many artificially-sweetened foods hide a high Glycemic Index (GI) and/or Glycemic Load (GL).
  • The Glycemic Index is a measure of how a food affects blood sugar level.
  • High GI/GL foods are widely considered to result in higher and more rapid increase in blood glucose levels and may present a danger to diabetics looking to avoid blood sugar “spikes.”
  • Manufacturers often replace common compounds like sugar with ingredients like sucralose and refined starches, which can actually lead to worse GI/GL effects than sucrose.

If you’re like most consumers, comparing healthy products usually comes down to one of three numbers – calories, fat, and sugar. Supplement and food manufacturers know how to use this to their advantage. The number one tool in their arsenal is artificial sweeteners. Replacing natural sugar sources with artificial sweeteners can quickly decrease the calories and sugar content, and make a product look much healthier. However, there are hidden risks associated with these products, especially for consumers at risk for diabetes.

When manufacturers replace glucose with artificial sweeteners, they often use the saved calories for ingredients that can have similar or greater nutrition risks, due to their Glycemic Index. The Glycemic Index is a measure of an ingredient’s effect on increasing blood sugar levels. Replacing glucose refined white flour or rice powder (GI > 80) can actually increase a product’s overall Glycemic Load (total Glycemic Index content). For reference, pure glucose (sugar) has a glycemic index of 100, and fructose (GI = 15) and sucrose (GI = 65) have even lower Glycemic Indexes than refined flour.

Many of the world’s most popular diets, from the Adkin’s Diet and South Beach Diet, to the more trendy picks like the Paleo Diet, are rooted in the concept of minimizing Glycemic Load. While scientists and dieticians have long fought over the details of these diets, the GI/GL portion of the diet is well-supported, and is often recommended to diabetics and non-diabetics alike.

To show how common artificial sweeteners are in the dietary supplement industry, LabDoor’s scientists recorded the presence of various artificial sweeteners during its most recent product quality analyses. Among protein supplements analyzed by LabDoor, over 80% contained the artificial sweetener sucralose, which was actually higher than the proportion that contained whey protein.

And just as artificially sweetened food can hide a high GI/GL and pose a threat to diabetics, their high calorie content may also prove counter-effective to those trying to diet or lose weight. Artificially sweetened cookies, cake, and ice cream, for example, usually contain little or no calories from sugar, but replace the flavors with artificial preservatives, sweeteners, processed carbs, and assorted fats. The overall health effect of the artificially sweetened product ends up being worse than a naturally-sweetened one.

It is generally recommended to consume artificially sweetened foods with caution, especially those who tend to eat ‘diet’ or ‘low-sugar’ products on a regular basis. LabDoor’s ‘Nutrition Score’ and ‘Ingredient Safety’ ratings on dietary supplement products measure the overall effects of this trade-off, including the clinical health risks associated with added sweeteners and preservatives.


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Sugar, usually in the form of sucrose (table sugar) and glucose, is conclusively linked to major health risks, including an increased risk of tooth decay, weight gain, and, most significantly, the possibility of developing or worsening diabetic state.

Diabetics lose their ability to process sugar effectively, causing sugar to remain in circulation instead of being used for energy and fuel. High levels of blood sugar contribute to cardiovascular disease, neuropathy (nerve damage), retinopathy (eye damage), and osteoporosis.

While most artificial sweetener packets are listed as containing “zero-calories,” this is due to a specific loophole in the labeling guidelines that allows for any products under 5 calories/serving to be listed as containing 0 calories.

For example, Splenda is measured at 3.36 calories/gram, due to the addition of dextrose and maltodextrin. Since the average serving size (one packet) is only one gram, Splenda is able to label itself as zero-calorie, even though this calorie density is comparable to that of table sugar (3.86 calories/gram). Replacing sugar for artificial sweeteners will not necessarily provide a weight-loss benefit.

These sweeteners have vastly different sources, from sweeteners extracted from the Stevia plant to compounds like aspartame synthesized in laboratories.

Popular sugar substitutes like sucralose and stevia are considered safe in moderation, and, in stevia’s case, may have a better benefits/risk health profile vs. sugar. Many substitutes have, however, been implicated as the cause of serious disease in laboratory, animal, and human testing. Sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, and acesulfame potassium have all been labeled as GRAS (generally regarded as safe) by the FDA, but major health and scientific organizations continue to call for long-term clinical trials in humans before reaching a scientific consensus on overall safety. Health professionals usually recommend the use of natural sweeteners in moderation before considering artificial alternatives.

Sucralose, by itself, has a very low glycemic index since it has no carbohydrate content. However, brands like Splenda® commonly use maltodextrin and dextrose as bulking agents, which should effectively raise its glycemic index well over 50, which is in the range of highly-processed simple carbohydrates and sugars. However, since Splenda is often used in such small amounts (rarely over 5g per serving of food), its overall Glycemic Load in your daily diet is relatively low.


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Artificial sweeteners are FDA-regulated synthetic sugar substitutes, and among the most common ingredients in dietary supplements and processed foods. These compounds can be 100-600x sweeter than regular table sugar, but contribute little or no dietary calories. This unique high-sweetness/low-calorie combination makes them ideal for those who want to satisfy their sweet tooth without giving up sugar’s well-noted risks; however, many artificial sweeteners introduce health and nutrition concerns that meet or exceed those of natural sugar sources.

As we cover artificial sweetener side effects, it is beneficial to understand the amounts that are considered safe, especially as compared to sugar consumption. Sugar has prominent drawbacks, including increased risk of tooth decay, weight gain, and the possibility of developing or worsening diabetic state.

In comparison, many of these sweeteners have been implicated as the cause of serious disease in laboratory, animal, and human testing. It is important to understand the risk/benefit profile of each to be able to make informed decisions about the foods you choose to consume. The table below shows the acceptable daily intake (ADI) of four popular artificial sweeteners. 

Artificial Sweetener

Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI)*

Equivalent to…


5 mg/kg

9-12 powder packets/day


50 mg/kg

18-19 cans of diet soda/day

Acesulfame K

15 mg/kg

31-32 cans of diet lemon-lime soda/day


5 mg/kg

6 cans of diet cola/day

*ADI (and related Dietary Reference Intake, or DRI) are international health standards designed to replace the nearly 50-year-old Recommended Dietary Allowances that are currently found on Nutrition Facts statements. The ADI represents the amount that is 100 times less than the smallest amount that could cause negative health effects in humans if consumed every day over the course of a lifetime. 

Aspartame, measured as 200 times sweeter than sugar, was accidentally discovered in 1965. It was not approved until 1981 due to numerous conflicting studies linking it to cancer. Since then, it has been connected to a variety of neurological symptoms, including headaches, panic attacks, visual hallucinations, manic episodes, mood changes, and dizziness. Additionally, aspartame is known to contain phenylalanine, an essential amino acid found throughout the body. Excessive phenylalanine consumption has been known to cause more serious neurological side effects, including intellectual instabilities, delayed mental and social skills, hyperactivity, seizures, and jerking movements of the arms and legs.

Aspartame-containing products are required to bear the warning labels:
  • “Phenylketonurics - Contains Phenylalanine”
  • “The amino acid L-phenylalanine should not be used by pregnant women or by those who suffer anxiety attacks or those who have high blood pressure or with pre-existing pigmented melanoma (form of cancer), or people with phenylketonuria (PKU). The amino acid DL-phenylalanine should be used with caution if you are pregnant or diabetic, if you have high blood pressure or suffer anxiety attacks.”

Sucralose was discovered in 1976 and has been measured as 6oo times sweeter than table sugar. Early reports suggested that sucralose consumption may lead to negative side effects on the thymus, an organ essential for proper autoimmune function. Further studies have shown no negative effects on the thymus and did not find any possible carcinogenic, reproductive, or neurological side effects.  

There is limited clinical evidence suggesting that sucralose may lead to the development of migraines. Furthermore, according to a small scale study on obese subjects, sucralose was shown to lead to peak plasma glucose levels and increased insulin secretion. More research is warranted to investigate the effects of sucralose on glycemic and insulin response and migraine development before any definitive conclusions can be drawn. According to relevant clinical literature researched for this report, sucralose was linked to the fewest negative health effects of these four artificial sweeteners.

Saccharin is the oldest known artificial sweetener and thought to be 300-500 times as sweet as table sugar. Laboratory rat testing in the 1970’s linked saccharin to the development of bladder cancer, especially in male rats. In response to these studies, the FDA mandated that saccharin-containing foods bear the label: "Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals."

Subsequent studies, however, suggested that the mechanism of cancer formation in rats is not similar to the one in humans. Because there was no clear, conclusive evidence of saccharin leading to bladder cancer in humans, saccharin was delisted from the U.S National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens in 2000, and has been removed from other confirmed lists of hazardous compounds pending further investigations.

Saccharin consumption has been conclusively linked to mild and moderate side effects in some humans, including pruritis (itchiness), hives, eczema, photosensitivity, wheezing, nausea and diarrhea.

Acesulfame Potassium (often labeled as Acesulfame K or Ace K) was discovered in 1967 and is thought to be 180-200 times sweeter than table sugar. In laboratory research, conflicting studies on rodent species have indicated a potential, but unconfirmed risk of carcinogenicity. However, the FDA and international health bodies have maintained its approval in food and supplement products.

Additional rodent-based studies have raised concerns over this sweetener’s connection to impairment of cognitive function over chronic usage and pre-natal development risks, especially in connection to long-term effects on taste and food consumption in offspring. Scientists and critics alike are advocating for additional clinical trials, especially assessing the long-term risks of Acesulfame Potassium consumption in humans.

  1. Artificial Sweeteners – Natural Standard
  2. Artificial Sweeteners and Other Sugar Substitutes – Mayo Clinic
  3. Safety Ratings of Food Additives – Center for Science in the Public Interest
  4. Artificial Sweeteners – American Diabetes Association

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  1. The top generic competitor to Lipitor (atorvastatin) comes from Ranbaxy Laboratories.
  2. Pfizer’s huge recent efforts to discount Lipitor with its $4 Dollar Lipitor Card have extended its battle with generic manufacturers.
  3. Generics aren’t the only pharmaceutical products that have quality issues. Lipitor was recalled in huge quantities in 2010 for chemical contamination issues.

The Basics (For those who never took CHEM 101):
  1. Check with your insurance company for price differences between the generic and brand name Lipitor. Prices vary widely between providers, and in some cases make the brand name product your cheapest option. Click the following link for more information about the $4 Lipitor Co-Pay Card.
  2. Raxbaxy Laboratories, an Indian pharmaceutical manufacturer, is the leading generic competitor to Pfizer’s Lipitor. Pfizer has also partnered with Watson Pharmaceuticals to distribute an authorized generic version of the best-selling drug.
  3. In general, atorvastatin (Lipitor) is most highly prescribed for patients with high LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. If you have milder cholesterol issues, other statins (cholesterol fighters) may be your safest option.

Intermediate Information (For our favorite amateur researchers):
  1. The $4 Lipitor Co-Pay card is not for everyone. According to Pfizer’s Lipitor site, “This Card is not valid for prescriptions that are eligible to be reimbursed, in whole or in part, by Medicaid, Medicare or other federal or state healthcare programs.” See full terms and conditions here.
  2. Lipitor sale’s peaked at nearly $13 billion a year, and has kept its manufacturer, Pfizer at the top pharmaceutical company by total revenues. But the end of Pfizer’s patent on Lipitor could significantly change their position.
  3. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a generic drug is the same as a brand name drug in dosage, safety, strength, how it is taken, quality, performance, and intended use. Drug products evaluated as "therapeutically equivalent" can be expected to have equal effect and no difference when substituted for the brand name product.

Advanced Science (For those MD/Ph.D. geniuses):
  1. LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) levels are still the top indicator utilized by physicans to diagnose patient risk for cardiovascular illness.
  2. For over a decade, researchers have focused on the correlation between C-reactive protein levels and cardiovascular events. High-sensitivity C-reactive protein testing has been used to prescribe statins to individuals with 3mg/L or higher of C-reactive protein even if LDL levels are normal, a controversial practice according a recent Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs study.
  3. That same study indicated that expected LDL reduction from atorvastatin daily use ranges from 42%-46% for 20mg prescriptions to 46%-54% for 80mg prescriptions. These figures are higher than those for Zocor but lower than Crestor’s LDL reduction potential.


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Adderall is a prescription medication used to treat Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This medication uses two different types of active ingredients, amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, to control the effects of ADHD for patients. However, a major concern with Adderall is the side effects that come along with it.  

All medications have important side effects to consider. As with any pharmaceutical or supplement product: patients should consider all side effects with a medical professional to determine whether the benefits of the medication are worth its costs.

The types of side effects form Adderall can be broken into two categories: minor and major. 

The minor side effects of Adderall include the following:
  • Minor weight loss
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Restlessness
  • Dry mouth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting

Minor side effects can vary greatly from patient to patient and can be short-lived, diminishing in intensity over extended dosage periods.

The more severe side effects of Adderall require medical attention as soon as possible as they could be signs of something dangerous and/or long-lasting. 

These major side effects of Adderall include:
  • Uneven heartbeat
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Burning during urination
  • Bi-polar symptoms (extreme emotions)
  • Hallucinations
  • Muscle tremors
  • Muscle tics or twitches
  • Extreme (high) blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath

If any of these major signs and symptoms is present, the patient should be taken to their physician as soon as possible. 

Additionally, there is a risk of an allergic reaction to Adderall. Signs that a patient is having an allergic reaction to the medication include the following:  problems breathing, problems swallowing, facial swelling, swelling of the throat, and swelling of the tongue. If signs of allergic reactions appear, the patient’s doctor should be alerted immediately. 

As with any prescription medication, side effects are possible with any patient. When you are taking a medication like Adderall, make sure you are aware of the possible side effects so that you can be prepared for them if they appear. Because some side effects can be quite severe, you should consider discussing your concerns with a physician before you begin the medication. 

Adderall is a common medication for the treatment of ADHD in children, so it is important to monitor your child when on this medication for signs of side effects. 

  1. Adderall Side Effects - Side Effects Database
  2. Adderall Side Effects -
  3. Adderall - Wikipedia

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As citizens of the United States, we hope and trust that government entities are always looking out for our best interests. However, in 2011, the Food and Drug Administration made a serious blunder that calls into question the FDA’s ability to keep us safe.

The United States General Accountability Office (GAO) became concerned that the FDA was passing along medications without truly reviewing them. To test the strength of our regulatory system, they essentially set up a sting operation. This involved the organization creating a fake company (Device Med-Systems) with a fictional product (Adhesiabloc). The GAO did not even try to make this sound like a real product. The description is as follows:

“A gel that would be poured into a patient’s stomach after surgery to collect the bits and pieces left over from an operation.” 

What happened next in the FDA process is downright scary. The product was approved for human testing.

What many people do not realize is that the FDA itself does not evaluate potential products. Instead, these evaluations are contracted out to private companies called Institutional Review Boards. Here is another scary fact: these for-profit Institutional Review Boards are contracted and paid directly by the pharmaceutical and medical device companies they regulate. At the very least, this implies a serious conflict of interest that puts the health of consumers at risk. 

When the Adhesiabloc product was introduced to the IRBs, two agencies did in fact turn it down for issues with the product application. However, a third agency indicated that the product would be safe for human use. It took almost six months for the issue to be noticed and addressed, and that only happened through an irregularity review of files at the approving IRB office. 

What does this mean for Americans? We must find better ways to review and understand the products approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

We can hope that this sting created and implemented by the GAO was enough to get the attention of the FDA and its parent organization, the Department of Health and Human Services. However, history indicates that we as private citizens, businesses, and advocacy organizations must remain strictly vigilant over products released into our markets.


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No one likes to talk about hair loss. However, with over $1 Billion spent each year on hair loss remedies, it is clear that many of the 40 million bald Americans are taking notice of these effects.

Because hair loss is so common (and profitable), it is no wonder that thousands of products have been introduced in order to help people reverse the effects of hair loss. So, how do you know which products are the best? The team at LabDoor has compiled short reviews of top-selling hair loss products, including important safety and efficacy data.

Rogaine (Minoxidil) is perhaps the best known remedy in the world of hair loss products. It has received Food and Drug Administration approval and mainstream OTC distribution. Additionally, scientific studies show the product is effective with consistent use (Twice a day for a minimum of four months). Johnson & Johnson heavily advertises the fact that their Rogaine product is capable of helping 85% of men grow their hair back and/or to stop further hair loss. 

Rogaine is a product specifically for men, and is available without a prescription in both liquid and foam dosages. But while it has clearly proven its efficacy, Rogaine’s major limitation is that it only treats the symptoms and doesn’t cure any underlying conditions causing the hair loss. Rogaine users should expect to see hair loss patterns return soon after ceasing product usage.

Propecia (finasteride) is the leading prescription hair loss remedy. A once-a-day oral pill treatment, Propecia is designed to both help regrow hair and stop any existing hair loss. 

Five year studies following over 1500 participants assigned to either finasteride treatments or placebos found 90% of patients given the active treatment maintained or grew hair. 

The main drawbacks of this hair loss product are the significant male sexual side effects, such as impotence (present in 18.5% of test subjects) and decreased libido (10%), which were recorded during clinical trials.

According to the official drug monograph, “if the treatment does not show results within 12 months, further treatment is unlikely to be of benefit.” Also, like with Rogaine, if the treatment is stopped, any hair that is gained will gradually be lost. Propecia is for men only and should not be taken by women or children. 

Another pill-based supplement for hair loss, Advecia does not include any active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). Instead, it includes herbs and minerals that are claimed to provide a hair rejuvenating and/or regrowth effect. The product is labeled for use by both men and women.

While the company itself produced a positive product review, no independent scientific study has yet shown that the all-natural product has any tangible efficacy value. 

Nizoral (Ketoconazole)
Ketoconazole has been prescribed and recommended by health professionals for many years as a treatment for fungal infections, dandruff, and dermatitis, but has also been listed as the top ‘active’ ingredient in many hair care products promising hair regrowth benefits. However, Nizoral has not been FDA approved as a hair loss remedy, and we have not uncovered any long-term independent scientific trials that have conclusively proven the benefits of Nizoral-type products directly for the purposes of hair regrowth.

The information on this page does not constitute medical, legal, commercial, product, and/or service advice or endorsement of any vendor, supplier and/or brand. LabDoor does not provide a warranty of the quality or efficacy of the products or services furnished by any entity.


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It is no secret that pharmaceuticals, especially prescription medications, are not cheap. In fact, many people go without the medicines they need simply because they cannot afford the high cost. This sparks interest in a relatively new phenomenon – the online pharmacy. Everywhere you look online, there are advertisements for these pharmacies promising real medications at a fraction of the cost. 

It all sounds too good to be true, and it often is. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continuously issues updated warnings to consumers about the dangers of unregulated, foreign online pharmacies. 

Why are online pharmacies so dangerous? Here are some facts to consider:
Online pharmacies use a variety of different methods to provide low cost medications. The most minor of these would be expired products. Expired medications could be dangerous and/or provide decreased potency. 

The worst of the online pharmacies could provide medications that are fake, contaminated, or mislabeled. Considering the power of active pharmaceutical ingredients and the numerous side effects associated with specific combinations of prescription drugs, this set of problems could lead to a serious and detrimental outcome for patients of online pharmacies. 

Of course, some could argue that there are genuine and safe online pharmacies from which they could buy their medications. Even if this were true, the overabundance of fake and illegal pharmacies makes it hard to find the real ones. Here are a few of the warning signs that a pharmacy is not upstanding:

  • They do not ask for prescriptions.
  • They add you to spam email lists or sell your contact information.
  • They advertise prices that are “too good to be true.”
  • They are located in foreign countries to avoid regulations.
  • They cannot provide a pharmacy license.

If you choose to use an online pharmacy, you must be careful to find a legitimate one. A true pharmacy will require that you send them your doctor’s prescription. They will also be licensed by their state to be an official pharmacy. An upstanding pharmacy will be able to provide you with pertinent information like contact details and communications with a real pharmacist.

Online pharmacies are dangerous. For more information, please review the FDA resource guide and online pharmacy reference: BeSafeRX.

If you are having trouble affording your medicine, there are a number of safe and legal alternatives. Government agencies have created programs that provide prescription drug assistance. Sites like GoodRx help locate pharmacies with the cheapest prescription prices. And the pharmaceutical companies themselves have implemented reduced co-pay systems to help defer the cost of many branded medicines.


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  1. What happened to brand-name Accutane? The product most commonly known as Accutane (Roaccutane), was pulled off the market by Roche and its subsidiary Hoffman-La Roche in 2009.
  2. Why is Accutane no longer available? While the brand name product is no longer available, generic versions of its active ingredient, Isotretinoin, are still available under strict physician and pharmacy restrictions.
  3. What are Accutane’s dangerous side effects? Accutane has been linked to serious birth defects, mental health issues such as depression, pyschosis, and suicidal thoughts. See more at the FDA warning label for Accutane.

The Basics (For those who never took CHEM 101):
  1. Accutane is intended for the treatment of severe acne. Due to its long list of side effects and thousands of lawsuit cases, some manufacturers of these products have stopped selling it.
  2. According to the FDA, “If the drug is improperly used, it can cause severe side effects, including birth defects. Serious mental health problems have also been reported with isotretinoin use.”
  3. LabDoor supports the FDA’s efforts to heavily educate those trying to buy Accutane online. Please consult a doctor before considering any medications, especially those, like Accutane, that have publicly been linked to severe side effects.

Intermediate Information (For our favorite amateur researchers):
  1. Isotretinoin has been marketed under the names such as Accutane, Amnesteem, Claravis, and Storet.
  2. The FDA’s iPLEDGE program was created to ensure that women who were considering use of Isotretinoin are not pregnant or intending to become pregnant. Accutane’s risk of severe birth defects cause the FDA to allow only patients enrolled in the iPLEDGE program and under the supervision of a doctor to start a Isotretinoin prescription.

Advanced Science (For those MD/Ph.D. geniuses):
  1. The IUPAC name for the key compound in Accutane is 13-cis-retinoic acid, which sounds familiar to most chemists due to its similarities to retinol, Vitamin A (C20H28O2 vs. C20H30O).
  2. Institute of Medicine set the Tolerable Upper Intake Level of Vitamin A at 3mg/day for adults. Initial dosages for Accutane is set at levels as high as 20-200mg. This is one potential reason why Accutane side effects can be similar to those of Vitamin A overdose.


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Erectile disfunction (ED) was once a topic rarely discussed, even in private. Now, ED treatments are among the most commonly advertised products on daytime television. With the glut of purported ED treatments flooding the market, two prescription treatment options have remained the most commonly recommended by physicians: Viagra and Cialis.

Below is a comparison of the positives and the negatives of the two medications:

This medication has the longest history, and is also the most studied and prescribed prescription ED treatment. Other positives of Viagra include the following:

  • Considered to provide the strongest erections relative to other medications.
  • Effects can last for several hours, so it does not have to be taken right away.
  • Can start working in as little as 30 minutes.

Viagra’s most commonly experienced side effects include:

  • Facial flushing
  • Symptoms similar to the flu
  • Blurred or hazy vision

Another major concern: Viagra’s efficacy is affected by food. Patients who take this medication on a full stomach could experience a delay of several hours for the expected effects to occur. 

The second medication, Cialis, is most requested and prescribed for its long lasting benefit. Cialis has gotten the reputation as the “weekend ED pill” because its effects can last multiple days without the patient having to take a second dose. Other positives of Cialis include:

  • Very few reported side effects.
  • Available in multiple strengths.

Of course, as with any medication, there are also negatives to Cialis. One side effect reported by some men prescribed Cialis is lower back pain. Additionally, since the medication’s expected benefits may require a long delay to take effect, it is not intended as a ‘quick fix’. Finally, Cialis is reported to provide weaker overall erections as compared to Viagra.

While we aim to help consumers do their homework about specific treatments, it is also vital for patients to work with a physician to determine which medications will be right for their specific health profile.


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Deadly Side Effects: Major Heart Dangers Stop Fen-Phen Craze
One of the most infamous FDA cases ever, fen-phen only lasted a couple years on the market in the late 1990’s. But its meteoric rise and fall affected FDA and public opinion about prescription weight loss medications for well over a decade.

Fen-phen became so popular that even early signs of danger, including bans in specific states, just drove customers across state lines to get their fen-phen fix.

Eventually, the ‘fen’ component, fenfluramine, was proved to cause major side effects, such as heart-valve abnormalities and pulmonary hypertension. Serious side effects were present in up to a third of all fen-phen patients in those clinical studies.

The controversy brought up serious concerns about the responsibilities of patients, doctors, and the FDA in minimizing adverse events. First, patients of all sizes rushed to buy a pill originally only intended for cases of severe obesity. Doctors saw a chance for easy money, and wrote too many prescriptions without reviewing the clinical studies. And the FDA lacked adequate approval and monitoring processes and couldn’t catch fen-phen before it was too late.

The manufacturer, Wyeth, has spent over $10 billion in total damages. The FDA significantly increased its standards for new drug approval in the wake of the fen-phen controversy, and didn’t approve another prescription weight loss product until 2012. The ‘phen’ component of fen-phen, phentermine, lives on as one of two active ingredients in a new diet drug called Qsymia, recently approved by the FDA.

Why do these major market failures keep happening?
With rising obesity levels and a huge demand for quick weight loss solutions, pharmaceutical manufacturers keep pushing new drug compounds through clinical trials. Prescription drugs must pass pre-clinical trials and three phases of clinical trials before receiving FDA approval. However, even after a new drug is approved for the U.S. market, clinical trials continue into Phase 4, where long-term studies search for side effects caused by extended use. These post-marketing clinical trials have led to the death of prescription diet pills like fen-phen, but not before the products cause serious harm.

LabDoor believes that consumer product safety is too important to leave up to the manufacturers, so we lead the analysis of thousands of compounds and products using independent labs. LabDoor answers the most important questions about each product: Does it work? Is it safe? What’s the cost?


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Abandoned, but not Buried: Meridia and Sibutramine
Unlike many other dangerous prescription weight loss products, Meridia and its active ingredient were never officially banned by the FDA. The compound was saved from this fate by its manufacturers, including Abbott Labs. The makers of Meridia withdrew their sibutramine product from the market just ahead of impending FDA action.

At the time of Meridia’s withdrawal, an FDA director stated “There was no identifiable population of patients for whom the benefits of Meridia outweighed its risks.” Officially, sibutramine is no longer available in the United States.

However, sibutramine keeps showing up in the U.S. market. In numerous independent laboratory analyses, LabDoor has found heavy sibutramine contamination in imported weight loss pills and ‘all-natural’ herbal supplements. Supplements purchased from international sources via online pharmacies are a particularly dangerous source of hidden sibutramine, often escaping the relatively lax dietary supplement restrictions of the FDA.

Why do these major market failures keep happening?
With rising obesity levels and a huge demand for quick weight loss solutions, pharmaceutical manufacturers keep pushing new drug compounds through clinical trials. Prescription drugs must pass pre-clinical trials and three phases of clinical trials before receiving FDA approval. However, even after a new drug is approved for the U.S. market, clinical trials continue into Phase 4, where long-term studies search for side effects caused by extended use. These post-marketing clinical trials have led to the death of prescription diet pills like Meridia, but not before the products cause serious harm.

LabDoor believes that consumer product safety is too important to leave up to the manufacturers, so we lead the analysis of thousands of compounds and products using independent labs. LabDoor answers the most important questions about each product: Does it work? Is it safe? What’s the cost?


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Thanks to modern scientific advances and increasing environmental awareness, we now have more access to commercial organic products. This includes the rapidly-expanding organic cosmetics market. 

Most standard cosmetics include a wide variety of chemicals, preservatives, and contaminants, which can come with a number of different side effects. The organic cosmetics movement claims to solve this problem with “all-natural” formulations that provide the efficacy without the chemical safety issues.

However, before you make the switch to organic cosmetics, make sure that you’re buying products with real organic ingredients and proven efficacy, instead of falling prey to greenwashing tactics. Find cosmetics are made from natural products, do not contain harsh chemical additives, and are not tested on animals. 

Below are the benefits of choosing organic when it comes to your cosmetics: 

Avoid Parabens
Parabens are preservatives that are used in chemical cosmetics to avoid product breakdowns and bacterial formation. However, these preservatives have also been linked to a number of different health concerns, like infertility, cancer, and allergies. Organic products very rarely include parabens, a major health and safety advance. 

Limit Skin Irritants
Many people have sensitive skin, and harsh chemicals can cause all sorts of irritation like redness, swelling, itching, and blistering. However, organic products are often formulated differently to exclude many key allergens and irritants. They are also made from all-natural ingredients that are usually much easier on the skin. But beware – according to the FDA, “many plants, whether or not they are organically grown, can contain substances that may be toxic or allergenic.”

Minimize Toxins
Detailed reverse-engineering analyses from independent analytical chemistry labs like LabDoor have found heavy metals in best-selling cosmetics powders, creams, and gels. The cosmetics in your medicine cabinet could include trace amounts of lead, mercury, cadmium, and/or arsenic, which open up the risk of severe long-term side effects. High-quality organic products can be developed and manufactured with fewer heavy metals and other toxins.

Benefit From Dual Regulation
All cosmetics products are regulated for labeling and safety requirements by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Additionally, the products must be approved by the USDA before they can be labeled organic as well. For more on the distinction between the USDA and FDA regulation of organic cosmetics, please reference this USDA document “Cosmetics, Body Care Products, and Personal Care Products” from its National Organic Program.

Overall, there are quite a few different advantages to choosing organic skincare and cosmetic products instead of those that contain chemicals, dangerous preservatives, and even toxins in their true list of ingredients. Just be careful - An ingredient’s source does not determine its safety. Take the time to search out products with proven efficacy and safety benefits.


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Acne and Eczema are two of the most common skin ailments for Americans. Whether triggered by contaminants or predisposed through genetics, both conditions can cause embarrassing breakouts that you will want to control or cover up.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that acne and other skin conditions are a teenage affliction only, but many adults deal with breakouts as well. Eczema can affect anyone and it can cause rough patches of red, scaly, and itchy skin.

How can you find cosmetics that will work well for those at increased risk for acne and/or eczema symptoms? Consider our three simple recommendations:

1. Choose Organic Products
One simple fix for your skin could be to switch to organic cosmetics with low levels of skin irritants. A major cause of eczema outbreaks is environmental triggers, from allergens or lack of humidity in the air to chemical irritants in common household products.

Chemical preservatives and other compounds in standard cosmetics could be to blame for breakouts. Those chemicals could actually cause acne or eczema symptoms to flare up. Organic cosmetics include “all-natural” ingredients and could limit exposure to allergens, irritants, and toxins. 

2. Select a Treatment
In addition to using cosmetics that cover up the acne or eczema or that may help avoid their symptoms, you will also want to consider products that actually treat the conditions. 

For acne, topical treatments include both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription options. Acne lotions that include benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or sulfur as active ingredients will help clear up oil and bacteria. You will also want to choose products that will cleanse the skin and clear the pores without damaging the skin. Avoid products with alcohol or acids that can dry out or damage the skin. Treatments like isotretinoin (Accutane) should be reserved only for severe skin cysts due to the high risk of severe isotretinoin side effects.

For eczema, consider topical steroids, either over the counter or prescribed by a physician. Cortizone creams, especially prescription-strength products, are highly effective but should be used in moderation to prevent permanent damage or aging of the skin.

3. Consider Mineral Makeup
Makeup powders containing ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide could help minimize skin breakouts associated with traditional cosmetics. Mineral makeup lacks many of the traditional acne/eczema triggers such as oils, dyes, parabens, and chemical preservatives. Also, zinc oxide has been FDA-approved as a skin protectant ingredient, so the benefits could extend beyond prevention.

The first step to solving long-term issues like acne and eczema is prevention. Reduce allergens and irritants, and many problems will clear up quickly. If that doesn’t solve the problem, choose products that actually treat the skin conditions. As a last resort, select cosmetics that will help to soothe the irritated skin and cover up any breakouts. Acne and eczema are definitely irritating, and sometimes embarrassing, but they can be managed better if you choose the right products and treatments.


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What is the science of aging? We all know the effect – dry, wrinkly, flaky skin. But the causes are also more straight-forward than you think. On a basic level, skin dries out as we age due to decreased efficacy in oil-producing glands. Damage from sun and wind exacerbates the damage, and pretty soon we’re comparing expensive night creams made by manufacturers whose names we can’t pronounce.

How do you know which products will actually work? Is there any relationship between cost and effectiveness? Which cosmetics could cause harmful side effects? We’ve curated some simple answers about the benefits and risk of common product categories you may find behind an anti-aging counter at the mall:

Of course, as skin ages, it becomes dryer. Dry skin will look dull and lifeless. As you grow older, moisturizer becomes very important.

One popular anti-aging moisturizer is Chanel Ultra Correction Lift Lifting Firming Day Cream. While this product comes with a high price tag (up to $150 at, it has provided proven efficacy in both subjective and independent research analyses. 

For those looking for a lower cost alternative, Oil of Olay offers a number of different moisturizers and facial cleanser products:
  • Best-Selling: Olay Definity line ($27 to $100 online).

Night Creams
Another common sign of aging is wrinkles or fine lines on the face. Night cream has long been used to help remedy these problems while you sleep. A popular line of night cream from L’Oreal Paris can be found at any department store, grocery store, or pharmacy and can be used on sensitive skin without irritation.

  • Popular: L'Oreal Paris Advanced RevitaLift Complete Night Cream ($50 at

Dark Circle Relief
Another type of anti-aging product helps treat the dark circles and puffiness that can appear under the eyes. Oil of Olay once again makes an appearance, providing a popular eye cream product called Olay Professional Pro-X Eye Restoration Complex

  • Low-Cost Alternative: Clarins Sun Wrinkle Control Eye Contour Care SPF 30 (found online for $30). 

One final category of anti-aging products is serums, which are used to firm the skin and make it smoother and more even-toned. A Good Housekeeping study highly rated the Mary Kay TimeWise line of serums for makeup primers and skin toners.

  • Low-Cost Alternative: Boots No. 7 Protect and Perfect Intense Beauty Serum (found online for $25). 

As with any cosmetic product, it is vital to ensure that the items chosen include as few chemicals as possible for less skin irritation.


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  1. Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) is one of the most common ingredients in the LabDoor database.
  2. It is commonly used as a colorant in pharmaceuticals and supplements, as the compound that gives many pills and powders a bright white color.
  3. In cosmetics, Titanium Dioxide acts as an active ingredient, serving to absorb UV light in many sunscreens and face cream products.
  4. In sunscreens, Titanium Dioxide’s UVB blocking benefits should outweigh its side effects. In other products, its relatively small value as a colorant leads LabDoor to recommend minimizing your overall exposure to the compound as further studies are performed.
  5. As additional clinical trials and independent laboratory data are generated, LabDoor will continue to update ratings and articles to reflect current scientific opinion.

Is Titanium Dioxide Safe?
Clinical trial data linking Titanium Dioxide to a low to moderate cancer risk has seen widespread publicity through media outlets. LabDoor’s job is to separate the fact from fiction.

Much of the clinical concern over Titanium Dioxide is related to occupational hazards. Manufacturing workers are exposed to large quantities of TiO2, including airborne particles and uncoated materials. These conditions have been linked to cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

However, the risk of TiO2 on the skin is expected to be less dangerous to users. Titanium Dioxide particles are often coated with silica to minimize negative side effects.

Does Titanium Dioxide Work?
Titanium Dioxide is effective as part of a multi active-ingredient sunscreen product. Titanium Dioxide is solidly effective as a UVB skin guard, but a range of sunscreen compounds are needed to cover the full spectrum of UV rays.

Its secondary use, as a coloring agent in thousands of products, is much less valuable. Customers are used to white pills and powders, so manufacturers sell them. But it offers no real health benefit.

Verdict: Use Sparingly Outside of Sunscreens
Further studies are required to conclusively determine the risks of coated Titanium Dioxide compounds through extended exposure to the skin. However, the fact that TiO2 has been proven to be an effective UV absorber, helping to prevent cancers, means that you should not avoid sunscreens containing Titanium Dioxide.

The moderate risk of TiO2 is less justified when dealing with its use in pharmaceuticals, supplements, and many makeups, where the effect is purely visual. Though it is hard to find many products without Titanium Dioxide, avoid it when possible.


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Preservatives play an important role in our society. Many pre-processed foods include preservatives to extend shelf life. But did you know that many common cosmetics include preservatives as well, including parabens?

Parabens show up in everything from makeup to toothpaste to deodorants. However, increasing scientific research indicates a connection between parabens and certain cancers (The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology). The potential for parabens to mimic the activity of estrogen in the body, along with its associated risks, has caused the European Union to issue a strict Scientific Committee on Consumer Products report limiting the presence of parabens in cosmetics to under 0.4%.

There are essentially four different types of parabens: methyl, ethyl, propyl, and butyl. These compounds are almost guaranteed to be in products from your medicine cabinet, so take a few minutes to understand the world of parabens:

Methylparaben and Ethylparaben
These parabens are added to both cosmetics and foods during the manufacturing process to inhibit bacterial formation. Studies have shown concern about these parabens because it seems that they may contribute to cancer and allergy issues. One study even showed parabens, in the presence of UV rays from sunlight, caused DNA damage.

In synthetic form, these parabens are used in cosmetic products that are water-based instead of oil-based. This paraben is used to keep the water from separating or breaking out of solution from the other ingredients. Some studies indicate that the propylparabens may have a negative effect on the male reproductive system

The final type of parabens is used specifically to keep fungus and mold from growing in cosmetics. When used in small amounts, these parabens seem to be relatively safe. However, in higher quantities, they can cause skin irritation and may contribute towards significant reproductive issues. 

Cosmetics that Contain Parabens
Are you wondering what products you may be using that contain these preservatives? It is a very long list, but some categories include:

  • Facial moisturizer
  • Wrinkle creams
  • Makeup
  • Makeup removers
  • Lotions
  • Deodorants
  • Sunscreen
  • Concealer
  • Eye Shadow
  • Lipstick

Parabens of all types pose a significant health risk, even at concentrations under 1%, when used in common cosmetics. Consumers who are worried about the potential side effects of paraben exposure should consider switching to organic cosmetics, specifically those that avoid the use of dangerous preservatives.


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Ginseng is a natural herb root with a huge list of claimed health benefits. Ginseng is a common active ingredient on product labels, found in everything from supplements and energy drinks to teas and even cosmetics. But is Ginseng truly safe? Are there enough benefits to the herbal product to outweigh the potential risks? 

The most commonly researched ginseng family is Panax Ginseng, or Asian (Korean) Ginseng. A number of key health benefits have been isolated through numerous Ginseng clinical trials. Additionally, few major side effects have been identified through Ginseng usage in isolation. However, there are a number of key drug interactions that should be considered and discussed with a health professional.

Here are the key facts that you need to know about Panax Ginseng:

Panax Ginseng Benefits
Clinical studies have shown statistically significant benefits from Ginseng supplementation in humans, including:

  • Better attention, processing, and reaction time
  • Reduced influenza symptoms
  • Reduced respiratory infection symptoms
  • Improved blood glucose levels (Type II Diabetes)

Current research, including clinical trials proven through animal models, are hoping to prove a connection between Ginseng and these human health benefits:

  • Improved sexual function
  • Anti-cancer effects

Further studies found that many common health claims based on Ginseng’s efficacy are overstated or, at the least, show no clinical effect. These unproven effects include:

  • Enhanced physical performance
  • Improved ergogenic (workout/anti-fatigue) capabilities
  • Increased concentration or memory

It is vital that you also understand the risks that come along with ginseng (see below) and consult a physician before you make the decision to take the supplement yourself.
Panax Ginseng Side Effects
Ginseng is linked to a few side effects, including:

  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure

The most common Ginseng side effects are relatively minor, but consumers considering Ginseng supplementation should also seriously consider potential drug interactions before consuming this product. 

People who are taking medications and treatments for uterine and breast cancer should never take a ginseng supplement without consulting with their physician. Scientific studies have indicated the supplement could adversely affect the efficacy of cancer medications.

Another study has indicated that using ginseng in excess can induce manic-like symptoms in a certain situation if the user is also taking phenelzine/Nardil (an antidepressant). Ginseng consumption may also decrease the efficacy of Warfarin. The National Library of Medicine has developed a detailed report on Panax Ginseng including known drug interactions.

What is the bottom line? Unlike many herbal dietary supplements tested by LabDoor, there are actually significant clinical trials measuring the safety and efficacy of Ginseng. However, it is important to understand that herbal or “all-natural” products are also subject to drug-supplement and supplement-supplement interactions. You should carefully track your supplement usage and report any new or existing dietary concerns to your physician or other health professional before adding any new treatment.

  1. Panax Ginseng - American Family Physician
  2. Efficacy and Safety of Ginseng - PubMed (National Libraries of Medicine)
  3. Herb-Drug Interactions - The Lancet (Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman)
  4. Panax Ginseng - MedlinePlus (National Libraries of Medicine)
  5. Image Credit: Keira Bishop

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What Is Ginkgo Biloba?
Ginkgo Biloba is one of the most popular herbal supplements in the world, used as a natural remedy for centuries in Asia. It has gained recent international attention as a supplement with the potential power to ease the effects of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss, and low or poor circulation. 

Unlike many herbal dietary supplements tested by LabDoor, there are actually significant clinical trials measuring the safety and efficacy of Ginkgo Biloba. While a 2010 meta-analysis (study of studies) found no overall proof of memory enhancement for healthy individuals, there is some evidence to support the efficacy of Ginkgo treatment for dementia patients.

Ginkgo Biloba Drug Interactions
Once you have determined whether Ginkgo is right for you, it is important to understand the potential drug and supplement interactions in your medicine cabinet. When it comes to oral supplementation of Ginkgo Biloba, there is a serious drug interaction risk with a common over-the-counter (OTC) product – Aspirin. Aspirin pain reliever used to help fight inflammation and ease pains associated with everything from headaches to muscle soreness. Aspirin is not usually associated with dangerous side effects, but when combined with a Gingko Biloba supplement, risks increase significantly.

Aspirin is a blood thinner, often used to help patients avoid blood clots. When combined with Ginkgo Biloba, the effects can lead to a wide variety of bleeding-related side effects. This can include excessive bleeding of the gums, bleeding in the eyes, and even brain hemorrhages. Pharmacists, physicians, and scientists alike all highly warn against the use of Ginkgo Biloba in conjunction with Aspirin. 

Aspirin is not the only common medication to avoid. When Ginkgo Biloba is combined with Warfarin, patients can suffer from excessive bleeding as well. When the supplement is used with Thiazide, the patient can suffer from high blood pressure. And when combined with Trazadone, Ginkgo can cause severe side effects like coma.

It is important to understand that herbal or “all-natural” products are also subject to drug-supplement and supplement-supplement interactions. You should carefully track your supplement usage and report any new or existing dietary concerns to your physician or other health professional before adding any new treatment. Specifically, never take Aspirin and Ginkgo Biloba, a known interaction with serious health risks. 


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  1. Raw, crushed garlic: A
  2. Raw, bottled garlic: B+
  3. Garlic supplements: (Grades vary. Average score: B-)

Beware any supplement that makes bold safety and efficacy claims on the front of the bottle and hides a “This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA…” on the back. Many ‘all-natural’ products have been found in our testing to include contaminants and false claims.

The Basics (For those who never took CHEM 101):
  1. Garlic is most effective when crushed raw at room temperature. It is somewhat less effective in the form of bottled, chopped garlic. Garlic is expected to be least effective in supplement form.
  2. To maximize the health benefits of garlic, crush at least fifteen minutes before cooking. Light heating is much better for the active compounds vs. microwaving.
  3. Aged garlic extract is most commonly used as a source of cancer-fighting antioxidants, while raw, fresh garlic is most frequently connected to the treatment of high blood pressure.

Intermediate Information (For our favorite amateur researchers):
  1. Raw, crushed garlic has been linked to decreased risk in high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and certain cancers.
  2. “NIH specifically recommends that breast and uterine cancer patients avoid this product, as it may have an adverse interaction with some cancer drugs.”
  3. Due to the careful preparation required to maximize the active ingredients in garlic, there will be wide variations between the effectiveness of different garlic supplements. LabDoor will continue its academic research and perform detailed chemical analyses of their own in the near future.

Advanced Science (For those MD/Ph.D. geniuses):
  1. The active ingredient expected to unlock the major anti-oxidant benefits of garlic is allicin, a thiosulfinate released when garlic is crushed.
  2. At a cellular level, allicin increases the production of hydrogen sulfide, a natural anti-oxidant already produced in our cells.
  3. A meta-analysis of 11 academic studies from the past 50 years suggests that garlic preparations are superior to placebo in reducing blood pressure in individuals with hypertension.


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Most people think that juice cleanses are a new fad. While it certainly has become more popular in the last few years, this concept has existed for more than a century. Juice cleanses were once promoted as ‘miracle cures’ for almost any disease. While no longer considered a medicine, juice cleanses are used to provide “detoxification” for the body. Why do people try cleanse diets?

  1. To remove toxins from the liver, colon, and intestines.
  2. For quick, long-lasting weight loss benefits.
  3. To ‘shock’ a body’s system back into health.

Just look around. There are hundreds of herbal cleansing and juice diet kits and many more juice cleanse books and programs, all claiming to provide “healthy detoxification”. However, is there any scientific backing to these cleanses? Do they really work? Through decades of clinical studies and research, scientists have identified serious problems with each of these claims:

First, the human body has evolved over many centuries into a very efficient machine. Your body has its own ways of cleansing and detoxifying through organs like the kidneys and liver. External sources of detoxification, from juice cleanses to enemas, are unnecessary and potentially dangerous health options.

Also, while these crash diets do cause weight loss, a large amount of the decrease can be attributed to lost water or muscle mass. Humans are not equipped to properly handle extreme weight loss in a short amount of time, and programs like juice cleanses can often lead to decreased metabolism and other side effects. 

Finally, these cleanses cause extreme spikes and valleys in blood sugar levels, which can be extremely dangerous, especially to those at risk of diabetes. Juice cleanses and other ‘extreme’ fad diets also can contribute to accelerated aging effects.

Juice cleanses do not sound that bad when you review their ingredients lists. After all, their nutritional labels often include natural ‘superfoods’ like kale, carrots, ginger, turmeric, lettuce, celery, cucumber, parsley, and lemon. The ingredients themselves are actually all very healthy for the body. However, the problem with juice cleanses centers around the nutrients that are lacking in these juices and how that can negatively benefit your health.

All juice cleanses come with health risks. While the side effects of juice cleanses have been identified by scientists, no clinical trials have proven the efficacy of these diet programs for detoxification. Physicians and scientists agree - juice cleanses are much more effective at ridding your wallet of cash than clearing your body of toxins.

All supplement and medical treatments should be reviewed by a physician or other health professional, especially those who advocate severe dietary restrictions or other practices with major health risks and expected side effects.

  1. Do detox diets offer any health benefits? - Mayo Clinic
  2. Detox Diets: Juice Up Your Health? - WebMD
  3. The Truth About Cleanses - Fit Sugar
  4. Debunking Detox - Sense About Science
  5. Image Credit: Zsuzsanna Kilian

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HCG stands for Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, which is a hormone that the female body produces during pregnancy. Essentially, the hormone’s native function tells the brain to release fat stores. This led formulators and manufacturers to advertise the benefits of HCG supplementation for the treatment of obesity.

The HCG diet was invented in 1954 by Albert Simeons, where he claimed that severe 500 calorie diets, matched with daily HCG injections, would cause significant long-term weight loss. Simeons also argued that the HCG treatment would help preferentially target the weight loss of fat over muscle, and also help suppress patients’ appetites. Patients did lose weight on Simeons’ program, but was it the shots or the diet that made the biggest impact?

500 calorie diets are guaranteed to promote weight loss, but they are also very risky, causing muscle loss, decreased metabolism, and nutrient deficiencies. In fact, most clinical studies recommend restricting caloric intake no lower than 1200 calories per day.

LabDoor’s review of high-quality, double blind studies of HCG weight loss treatments found clinical trials dating as far back as 1976 proving the ineffectiveness of HCG for weight reduction. Further studies in 1990 and 1997 confirmed this finding: there is no statistically-significant measure proving the efficacy of HCG for the treatment of obesity.

Prescription vs. Non-Prescription HCG
There is a big difference between prescription and non-prescription HCG intake. Prescription HCG treatments are FDA-approved for a number of ailments, including as a fertility remedy supporting the induction of ovulation. 

However, the FDA has repeatedly stated that “There is no substantial evidence that HCG increases weight loss beyond that resulting from caloric restriction, that it causes a more attractive or "normal" distribution of fat, or that it decreases the hunger and discomfort associated with calorie-restrictive diets.”

Non-prescription HCG drops are even less likely to provide real efficacy for the treatment of obesity. These treatments are not subject to any regulatory oversight and contain trace amounts of its labeled active ingredient, if any. The FDA officially banned all homeopathic and/or over-the-counter HCG diet products in December 2011.

Another major problem with HCG drops is they are often advertised through online pharmacies and other unlicensed distributors. The products purchased could be contaminated, expired, or mislabeled, leading to serious health risks for the user. It is vital that all medical treatments are always obtained from a licensed and reputable source for safety.

With all of this information in hand, it is clear that there is no scientific evidence that HCG drops work for weight loss. No study has shown that HCG drops or injections provide any health benefits. Don’t waste your money or risk your health on these dangerous placebos and hazardous dietary restrictions.

All supplement and medical treatments should be reviewed by a physician or other health professional, especially those who advocate severe dietary restrictions or other practices with major health risks and expected side effects.

  1. Does the HCG diet work - and is it safe? - Mayo Clinic
  2. HCG Drops Aren’t Effective for Weight Loss, Experts Say - Huffington Post
  3. The HCG Diet: Fact vs. Fiction - Doctor Oz
  4. HCG Diet Products Are Illegal - Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  5. Image Credit: Emma McCreary

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Down, but not Out: Xenadrine EFX, CortiSlim, and TrimSpa
Xenadrine, CortiSlim, and TrimSpa all experienced significant financial successes in the first half of the 1990’s selling weight loss supplements using flashy TV and print advertisements and a number of questionable diet claims. These illegal tactics ended in 2007, when the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined the manufacturers of these products over $20 million in damages to consumers.

The FTC and the FDA are jointly responsible for ensuring that claims made by supplement and pharmaceutical companies are backed up by sound laboratory and clinical data.

However, these huge fines did little to diminish the brand identity of Xenadrine, CortiSlim, and TrimSpa. All three products are now being sold again with many of the same advertising features, including dramatic ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures, weighty claims, and questionable clinical data, this time with added asterisks and disclaimers.

Claims vs. Reality: the 2007 FTC Settlements
In the case of Xenadrine EFX, the product actually led to lower weight loss benefits than its placebo competitor in clinical studies, but that didn’t stop their manufacturer from posting unbelievable ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures of endorsers in all of their promotional materials.

The name CortiSlim, along with its heavy advertisements, was designed to promote the supplement as a highly effective remedy for stress-induced weight gain. CortiSlim’s manufacturers also made public claims about the product’s ability to “reduce the risk of osteoporosis, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.” CortiSlim’s marketers were fined over $12 million for their actions.

TrimSpa made unbelievable claims, such as “it makes losing 30, 50, even 70 pounds (or however many pounds you need to lose) painless.” These claims usually revolved around the use of Hoodia gordonii in TrimSpa, an herbal supplement that has not been proven in clinical trials to provide weight loss of that intensity. TrimSpa’s marketers were forced to pay significant monetary damages and end their misleading advertisements. 

Safety Regulation: The FTC “prohibits all claims regarding the health benefits, performance, efficacy, safety, or side effects of any weight-loss product, dietary supplement, food, drug, or device, unless the representation is true, not misleading, and substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence.”

Why do these major market failures keep happening?
Products labeled as dietary supplements can be even more dangerous than prescription alternatives, since their efficacy and safety are not regulated by the FDA during the manufacturing process.

LabDoor believes that consumer product safety is too important to leave up to the manufacturers, so we lead the analysis of thousands of compounds and products using independent labs. LabDoor answers the most important questions about each product: Does it work? Is it safe? What’s the cost?


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Creatine is a naturally-occurring compound used by the body to help provide energy to muscles and organs. When used as a supplement, the creatine is designed to provide an energy reserve for longer, better workouts.

Performance-boosting drugs such as steroids have been clinically proven to cause significant and dangerous side effects. The stigma and legal status of steroids are clear, but millions of athletes and fitness enthusiasts have chosen creatine as a safer alternative to steroids without understanding its true risks and rewards.

Here are some key facts to consider before using creatine as a supplement:

The Rewards
Athletes using creatine report experiencing increased energy and gains in muscle mass, which promote the ability to work muscles longer before experiencing fatigue.

Muscle mass gains are largely attributed to a short-term increase in water retention. At a chemical level, decreased fatigue can be attributed to creatine’s effect on delaying lactic acid build-up. Because of these factors, creatine is expected to have the most benefit for athletes required to perform short-term, sudden muscle activity, including weightlifting.

On a deeper level, initial studies in mice have demonstrated the efficacy of creatine in easing the effects of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). However, human studies have yet to show that regular use of creatine will scientifically benefit people currently living with ALS. 

The Risks
There are a number of common side effects associated with the use of creatine, including the following:

  • Nausea
  • Muscle cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration

During regular and/or heavy use of creatine, the risk of dehydration increases significantly, which can cause long-term damage to kidneys. For that reason, it is vital that people who choose to use creatine ensure that they are properly hydrated.

Also, lactic acid levels are the body’s way of regulating strenuous muscle activity, and creatine’s ability to cause a delay in this mechanism could lead to increased risks for muscle injuries.

  1. Creatine: Do Risks Outweigh Rewards? - Cincinnati Enquirer
  2. Potential side effects of oral creatine supplementation: a critical review. - Journal of Clinical Sports Medicine
  3. The Benefits and Side Effects of Creatine -
  4. Creatine - WebMD
  5. Image Credit: Andrzej Pobiedzinski

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  1. Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA): The daily nutrient intake needed to meet dietary requirements for at least 97-98% of healthy Americans.1 The statistic is vital for determining vitamin deficiencies. We recommend consulting a doctor and/or dietician before adding any dietary supplement to your diet, since a number of studies have shown little to no benefit to daily multivitamins.

    Most consumers are very familiar with the idea of % Daily Value (%DV), seen on millions of current supplements. %DV values use the RDA values to calculate 100% daily value for key vitamins and minerals.

    Note: The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) standards were designed to expand upon the principles of the % Daily Value calculations, which are still based on 1968 reference data. Product safety experts like LabDoor now emphasize DRI data over existing FDA standards, where available.

  2. Upper Intake Level (UL): Many vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin A and Iron, can actually be harmful at high levels. These upper limits for daily nutrient intake do not show up on nutrition labels, but they are arguably even more important than DRI and %DV values. To help consumers make better decisions, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Health and organizations like the FDA have carefully monitored clinical studies involving vitamins and minerals to develop Upper Intake Level (UL) standards to set recommended upper limits.

  3. LabDoor Grade: LabDoor rates all supplements on an A – F grade scale, automatically calculating the RDA, %DV, DRI, and UL values for up to 25 key vitamins and minerals in each multivitamin. LabDoor answers the key questions for you: Does it work? Is it safe? What’s the cost? Instead of spending all day staring at supplement labels, use LabDoor mobile/web apps to instantly pick the best product for you. Product safety report cards can be found at


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In 2010, America’s top federal regulatory watchdog, the GAO (United States Government Accountability Office), took on the topic of herbal dietary supplements. Specifically, they collected data to measure the expected safety and efficacy of these products, along with isolating obvious cases of deceptive marketing practices. According to the GAO’s report, herbal dietary supplements manufacturers often go after those who may be the easiest to influence, like the elderly. This has led to serious misinformation in the marketplace.

In today’s world, herbal dietary supplements are virtually everywhere, from commercials on television and inserts in magazines to banner ads on webpages and unsolicited spam in your inbox. The advertising barrage is working, but what facts are they leaving out? Are these supplements safe? What products should you avoid? Here is what you need to understand:

Herbal Supplement Safety
Are herbal dietary supplements safe? According to the GAO study, there are definitely concerns. Of course, very, very few of these supplements have been proven effective in clinical trials. That’s not all, though. The study indicated that over 90% of supplements tested included hidden compounds such as pesticides, mercury, lead, and arsenic. These items are never show up on ingredient labels, but enter into the manufacturing process through contaminated raw materials. Even when these toxins are present in trace levels, it is important to understand whether the benefits are worth the risks, especially in products that are consumed regularly and/or in large quantities. 

Herbal Supplement Efficacy
First, it is important to note that none of these products have been approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). This allows supplement manufacturers to get away with making bold, unsubstantiated claims on bottles and advertisements as long as they can hide an asterisk and a “These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA…” disclaimer in the fine print.

Supplement efficacy must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by experienced scientific experts with access to advanced analytical chemistry instrumentation. LabDoor tests hundreds of dietary supplements each month, reverse-engineering products to find out what is really inside the bottles, and comparing the data to existing NIH, FDA, and international regulatory data sources.

Deceptive Herbal Supplement Advertising
According to the GAO, “FDA statutes and regulations do not permit sellers to make claims that their products can treat, prevent, or cure specific diseases.” Regardless of this fact, herbal products from teas to vitamins advertise significant health benefits associated with their products. Energy, focus, memory, weight loss, joint support, diabetes support, and even cholesterol reduction claims have illegally graced the packaging of common herbal dietary supplements. Buyer beware.


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  1. Is sushi during pregnancy safe? Beware of fish with high mercury content, including white tuna.
  2. What do pre-natal vitamins do? Provide high levels of folic acid, iron, and other nutrients that are essential to fetal development.
  3. Are pre-natal vitamins safe for men? Non-pregnant women? The added nutrients in pre-natal vitamins can significantly exceed the daily value for compounds like iron for average humans. They should only be used for their intended purposes.

Women that are pregnant, considering pregnancy, or breastfeeding need their usual vitamin intake, but also should be considering supplementing their diets with top vitamins and minerals necessary for early fetal development, such as Folic Acid, Iron, and Zinc. Also, vitamin and mineral overdose is more risky in these scenarios, so speak to your obstetrician, doctor, and/or other health professional before starting a vitamin of any kind.

The following are three top compounds that are often recommended to expecting mothers and two more to monitor in your diet against overuse:

Folic Acid (Vitamin B-9): The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that women who are considering becoming pregnant prepare their bodies with supplemental folic acid, up to 400 micrograms (mcg) per day in addition to normal food diets.

Iron: The HHS and many health professionals recommend the use of an iron supplement both before and during pregnancy. Women require more than double the daily value of iron (18 mg/day) than men (8 mg/day) under normal conditions, and during pregnancy, that daily value increases to 27 mg/day for women, according to the U.S. Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS).

Zinc: An important mineral for proper growth and development in fetuses and infants. Zinc is also an essential nutrient for immune system functionality. The ODS recommends increasing Zinc intake from 8 mg/day to 11-13 mg/day, likely from an altered diet or pre-natal multivitamin.

Vitamin A: Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, which leads to greater risk of overdose side effects in all humans. This overuse can have a detrimental effect on fetal development, so it is even more important for expecting mothers to guard against this issue. 

Mercury: Many health professionals, including the HHS, recommend supplementing your diet with “8 to 12 ounces of seafood per week from a variety of seafood types.” However, some seafood varieties, including white tuna, swordfish, and king mackerel, contain higher levels of mercury, which is connected to fetal brain damage and developmental issues.

  1. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 - U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  2. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheets - Office of Dietary Supplements (NIH)
  3. Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy – American Pregnancy Association
  4. Pre-Natal Vitamin Reviews - LabDoor
  5. Image Credit: Jean Scheijen

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LabDoor scientists analyzed best-selling children’s and adult gummy multivitamins for levels of over 25 key vitamins and minerals. We found major reasons to recommend that gummy vitamins are bad for you, both for your health and your wallet, especially when compared to LabDoor multivitamin reviews for best-selling standard multivitamins.

Gummy vitamins don’t contain enough nutrients: 
Common multivitamins contained over twice the average vitamin content compared to equivalent gummy vitamins. And testing on the top 12 most popular minerals found that the best-selling standard multivitamins averaged over ten of these minerals per product, while gummy vitamins contained less than two minerals per product.

Sweet Math: Gummy Vitamins vs. Complete Multivitamins

Best-Selling Gummy Vitamin Best-Selling Multivitamin Best-Selling Gummy Bears
150 servings (300 gummy bears)150 servings (150 tablets)300 gummy bears
More expensive than the combined gummy bears and multivitamins!2X vitamins per serving over gummy vitamins
Risk of vitamin overdose, especially for young children.
  10% fewer calories in the regular gummy bears!

Most multivitamins show little benefits: 
Our research has made it clear that traditional multivitamins are significantly higher-rated than their gummy vitamin competitors. But should you be taking any form of daily multivitamin? A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that over an eight year period, measuring the results for over 160,000 test subjects, those who took a daily multivitamin saw no additional health benefits from their expensive habit. As always, we highly recommend you review your medical condition with a doctor and/or dietitian before adding a nutritional supplement to your diet.

Gummy vitamins can be dangerous: 
While there are actually lower levels of vitamins and minerals in most gummy vitamins, they can still carry a risk of overdose. And the appearance and taste of gummy vitamins may increase the risk for this accidental overdose. Vitamin overdose is much more common with fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K, and with minerals like iron, so care should be taken when adding any supplemental vitamins and minerals to your diet.


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  1. St. John’s Wort has a long history of use for the treatment of insomnia and anxiety-related conditions.
  2. St. John’s Wort has been proven in clinical trials to be significantly more effective than a placebo in the treatment of mild depression; however, it is less effective than prescription antidepressants.
  3. Most people don’t know that many ‘natural’ supplements can negatively interact with prescription drugs. St. John’s Wort is a big example of this. Please consult your doctor before starting any St. John’s Wort treatments.

The Basics (For those who never took CHEM 101):
  1. St. John’s Wort is shown to be likely effective for therapy of mild depression.
  2. Side effects include: nausea, rash, fatigue, restlessness, and photosensitivity, though these may be rare.
  3. Consult a doctor before adding St. John’s Wort to your diet, since it has been shown to interact with the effectiveness of drugs such as combined oral contraceptives, cyclosporine, and indinavir.”

Note: Beware any supplement that makes bold safety and efficacy claims on the front of the bottle and hides a “This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA…” on the back. Many ‘all-natural’ products have been found in our testing to include contaminants and false claims.

Intermediate Information (For our favorite amateur researchers):
  1. According to the NIH, taking St. John’s Wort during pregnancy does not cause fetal defect nor does it affect cognitive development, but it may produce a lower birth rate.
  2. NIH states that, “Caution is warranted with the use of St John's Wort during pregnancy until further high quality human research is conducted to determine its safety. St John's Wort use during lactation appears to be of minimal risk, but may cause side effects.”
  3. St. John’s Wort can negatively affect the efficacy of antidepressants, HIV treatments, cancer drugs, and anticoagulants.” (National Library of Medicine)

Advanced Science (For those MD/Ph.D. geniuses):
  1. The use of St. John’s Wort is 23-55% more effective than placebo in the treatment of mild depression, but 6-18% lower compared to tricyclic antidepressants, according to the JAMA Network.
  2. Studies show that St. John’s Wort results in a CYP3A4 expression and because CYP3A4 is  “involved in the oxidative metabolism” of more than half of all drugs, St. John’s Wort may show interaction with more drugs than previously thought. (National Academy of Sciences)
  3. “St John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) lowers blood concentrations of cyclosporin, amitriptyline, digoxin, indinavir, warfarin, phenprocoumon and theophylline; furthermore it causes intermenstrual bleeding, delirium or mild serotonin syndrome, respectively, when used concomitantly with oral contraceptives (ethinylestradiol/desogestrel), loperamide or selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (sertaline, paroxetine, nefazodone).” (Clinical Pharmacology)


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Blueberries, tomatoes, spinach, salmon, almonds, and wheat germ. These products are all great, natural additions to a healthy diet, but are they super? On one hand, they are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and more. Their sales have also increased significantly since being named as ‘superfoods’ in marketing campaigns.
However, these successful advertising campaigns have led to the ban of the term 'superfood' in product labeling and marketing materials in Europe. Superfoods are also often advertised in combination with extreme specialty diets such as juice cleanses, which promote restricting your diet to a limited subset of superfoods.

Are superfoods healthy? Should we consider them miracle cures or marketing hype? LabDoor scientists have curated research from clinical studies and published news sources to find these key superfood facts:

Health Benefits of Superfoods
Generally, items that fall into the superfood category are low in fat and sugar but high in antioxidants or other nutrients. Superfoods can come in all shapes, sizes, and forms.
  1. Healthy snacks like almonds, which are high in minerals, fiber, and natural protein and can help promote good heart health. 
  2. 'Super' fruits include blueberries and apples, which fight against infection, lower cholesterol levels, and help promote healthy aging. 
  3. In the meat department, salmon is considered a superfood because it includes a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids, which help fight blood clots and can lower stroke and blood pressure risk. 
  4. Common lists of superfoods also include products like sweet potatoes, red beans, broccoli, spinach, and wheat germ.

The Superfoods "Miracle Cure"?
Superfoods are definitely proven to be healthy sources of key nutrients. So what’s the problem with these superfoods’ marketing claims?

First, the body needs a wide, balanced distribution of nutrients, along with proper diet and exercise to truly be healthy. No one section of the grocery aisle is enough. Consumers of extreme superfoods diets, including juice cleanses, often experience side effects like spikes in blood sugar, lowered metabolism, and decreased energy.

Also, even superfoods should be consumed in moderation. Fruits like apples and blueberries have high sugar content. Almonds, salmon, and olive oil all contain relatively high levels of fat and calories. And many products labeled as superfoods can be subject to high price markups and/or mislabeling. For example, olive oil products can vary significantly in omega-3 content, and many of the worst offenders offer none of the expected ‘superfoods’ benefits.

Finally, international consensus is against the broad, unproven use of the word ‘superfoods’. The US’ Food and Drug Administration, Britain’s Food Standards Agency, and European Union’s legislators have all worked to fight unscientific marketing terms in favor of true clinical efficacy data at the product level.

Superfoods are good, not evil. But even they should be consumed in moderation as part of a well-balanced, healthy diet.

  1. 10 Great Health Foods for Eating Well - Mayo Clinic
  2. What is Super Food? - Livestrong
  3. Superfood 'Ban' Comes Into Effect - BBC News
  4. 10 Everyday Superfoods - EatingWell
  5. Image Credit: Andrew Simpson

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Raspberries are often listed among the top 'superfoods' for healthy diets. But recent health claims, initiated by supplements manufacturers and perpetuated by health experts like Doctor Oz, argue that a chemical extract of red raspberries, called raspberry ketone, can help promote significant weight loss and fight obesity. Scientists and doctors remain skeptical, especially since no major human trials support these claims.

This compound, also found in cranberries and blackberries, has been connected to early studies and advertisements promising potential benefits like improved metabolism, increased fat burning, and reduced diabetes risk.

Manufacturers often use ketones to add flavor or aroma to food, supplements, and even cosmetics. However, raspberry ketone has only recently been advertised in supplements for dietary purposes. Is this diet safe and effective? Here are some things to consider:

Clinical Studies of Raspberry Ketone
The Raspberry Ketone Diet’s popularity stems almost entirely from anecdotal evidence and media publicity. Only two clinical studies were found that made any reference to raspberry ketone’s anti-obesity action, and these studies were both performed in rodents. Even in these two animal models, weight loss of only 2% and 0% was found in the two studies.

The first study, sponsored by a Japanese dietary supplement manufacturer, did show a small improvement in the animals’ abilities to secrete fat cells more quickly. The supplement also reduced the rats’ chances of developing fatty liver syndrome. However, these studies were not performed on humans, and have raised more questions than answers among scientists and nutritionists.

Raspberry Ketone Side Effects
While there have been no human-focused scientific studies that prove raspberry ketone has the ability to positively impact weight loss in humans, no known negative side effects have been found for the supplement either.

For now, the Food and Drug Administration and other scientists place raspberry ketone on their “generally recognized as safe” lists and are withholding judgment about any potential weight loss or other health claims until scientific data shows otherwise.

The raspberry ketone diet is a vastly unproven method of weight loss for humans. For most consumers, the supplement is an expensive placebo, not a long-term answer to weight loss and health. Physicians, scientists, and dietitians agree – long-lasting weight loss comes through a healthy diet and exercise, not fad diets and magic pills.

  1. Anti-Obese Action of Raspberry Ketone - Life Sciences Journal (ScienceDirect)
  2. Raspberry Ketone’s Frenzy Follows Dr. Oz Show - ABC News
  3. Raspberry Ketone - WebMD
  4. The Berry Essence of Fat Burning - The Wall Street Journal
  5. Image Credit: Darko Skender

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We live in an amazing high-information society. So how is it that you have instant access to pictures of your friends' latest meals, but you can't find reliable data about the quality of important dietary supplements?

For years, the FDA has had a haphazard history regulating energy drinks and other dietary supplements. A couple times a year, we see a scary story about deaths related to heavily caffeinated beverages. The local news stations and national bloggers get a ton of views, and then forget about it. That's where LabDoor comes in.

Our technical experts use a revolutionary method to grade and compare dietary supplements: real science. Tired of reading product labels and finding a "proprietary blend" hiding the real facts? We'll use advanced analytical chemistry techniques to reverse-engineer any supplement. Forget random user reviews - nothing beats true science.


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