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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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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