Editorial: It's About Efficacy

By Len Monheit
[email protected]

Many have been critical of Consumerlab.com, as they report various industry categories, but each time one of their reports gets published, questions get asked about natural products and supplements—in several cases, legitimate questions. One may disagree with the negative slant or the report focus on a few outliers, or the sensationalizing of results, but fundamentally, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

This past week, Consumerlab.com released a report based on the analysis of garlic products. (http://www.npicenter.com/index.asp?action=NBViewDoc&DocumentID=3476) examining thirteen non-aged and one aged garlic product. Although the titling of the report talked about strength variation, atypically, a key focus of this release was to compare shelf strength with efficacy data from research. The results indicated that one quarter of the non-aged garlic products yielded less allicin than what was considered therapeutic. When one compares this fact to the marketing material of the products examined, it is clear that marketing statements are consistently made with no connection to ingredient levels and research.

Critics will argue that in many cases, actives are unknown and determining efficacious amounts based on marker compounds is not acceptable practice. Yet tying marketing statements to the science and only allowing these statements to be used if certain levels are met would seem responsible on the part of ingredient suppliers and the industry as a whole. When you combine this approach with a higher awareness and cataloging of products, processes and batches of materials used in trials and studies, you begin to produce a framework of statement qualification. At a certain point, perhaps you’re even able to make a ‘privileged claim’, supported by either an industry supported regulatory framework or possibly even regulatory authorities themselves that truly differentiates your product and company, that translates into value and market share and at the same time, provides a barrier to the cannibalization of science and IP.

Perhaps this is just a wistful moment, but I cannot help but feel that tying analytical results of products on store shelves to ingredient and therefore product efficacy is a strong step in the right direction.

There are stories of companies using nominal amounts of ingredients so that these appear on the label and the company can then benefit from powerful consumer associations and the marketing efforts of innovators. There are also examples of companies who take cheaper ‘knock-offs’ of proprietary ingredients at a fraction of the cost and incorporate them into finished goods. The financial benefits are obvious, and if the market environment permits it, to some, particularly those with a short term focus, this practice makes good business sense.

This does create a responsibility issue, though, one which I’m sure some ingredient suppliers are pointing out. If a junior buyer makes an ingredient switch and marketing makes a misleading or inappropriate statement (not to speak of any potential safety issues) , or if the product developers (outsourced or internal) knowingly put less than adequate and efficacious amounts of an ingredient into a final product, ultimately, whose responsibility is it? In these days of increasing focus on corporate responsibility, at the highest level of the organization, it’s not hard to imagine senior executives, directors and managers with a renewed interest in how their products are made and just what goes into them.

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