by Mitchell Clute
Supplements labels are often so full of information that it’s hard to sort out what all the terms and claims mean. Some are merely marketing terms, but many others have well-defined, even regulated, meanings. Below are some of the common terms and what they say about the product inside the bottle.
A bilayered tablet is one made up of two separate layers, with each layer intended for a specific result. Layers can be formulated to dissolve at different times, to deliver the product to different locations or to achieve different results, as in the case of a tablet with a rapid-release and sustained-release layer. Multi-layered tablets work on the same principle but with three or more layers.
This term refers to a method of oil extraction that uses pressure rather than solvents. In the European Union, the term cold-pressed has a regulatory meaning, requiring that the oil never exceeds a certain temperature, generally around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. In the United States, the term has no regulatory meaning, and in some cases the technique of expeller-pressing an oil can create high temperatures. All cold-pressed oils are expeller-pressed, but not all expeller-pressed oils are cold-pressed.
Enteric refers to the small intestine. An enteric-coated product passes through the acid environment of the stomach and is absorbed instead in the small intestine. Enteric coatings can protect a supplement from degradation in the stomach, allowing it to have greater bioavailability. In addition, coatings can be used with products such as fish oil to avoid fishy reflux. Sometimes product labels contain the abbreviation “EC” to denote an enteric coating.
A food-based vitamin or mineral supplement contains ingredients that are fermented with yeast, usually in soy-based media. The yeast is then deactivated with enzymes that break down molecules. The resulting vitamins and minerals are not chemical isolates, as is the case with many U.S. Pharmacopoeia ingredients, but are mixed with micronutrients that proponents say increase their bioavailability.
Freeze-drying, or lyophilization, is a process for removing liquid from a food or supplement. The material to be freeze-dried—in most cases for supplements or a liquid herbal extract—is placed in a low-pressure freezing chamber. When small amounts of heat are applied to the frozen product, the ice shifts from solid to gas and is removed from the chamber.
Full-spectrum herbs are, in a sense, the polar opposites of standardized herbs. Rather than isolating an herb’s key active compounds, a full-spectrum product includes all the plant’s active compounds. Proponents believe the resulting product has greater biological activity and safety than a standardized extract.
Hexane is a hydrocarbon produced in the refining of crude oil. It is frequently used as a solvent for extracting edible oils from nuts and vegetables. Hexane-free products are produced without the use of solvents, as is the case with cold-pressed oils.
Under food- and drug-labeling law, the term high-potency can only be used on a product, such as a multivitamin, containing 100 percent of the recommended daily intake of at least two-thirds of the product’s vitamins and minerals for which an RDI is established.
Kosher products are produced to specific standards based on Jewish dietary law, which stipulates precisely what can and cannot be used in a product. For supplements, this generally means that the product is vegetarian and free of animal, dairy or other additives. Kosher-certification agencies supervise the production process to ensure all ingredients and processes are kosher. KSA, or Kosher Supervision of America, is an Orthodox kosher-certification agency based in the United States.
Molecular distillation is a method used primarily with fish oils to remove metals, polychlorinated biphenyls and other contaminants to levels that are safe for human consumption and meet California’s strict Proposition 65 labeling requirements. Proponents point to the purity of the distilled product, while detractors say that the distillation process, which uses heat, can alter or oxidize the oil.
This is an herbal extract taken from the root of a plant. Some herbs are used in both root and aerial form, while others, such as rhodiola rosea, ginger and panax ginseng, are used only in root form.
Standardized to active constituent
A standardized extract results from manufacturing processes that preferentially select a particular phytochemical or group of phytochemicals, guaranteeing a certain dosage of the active constituent. For example, kava products are generally standardized to provide a certain percentage of kavalactones, the active constituent in kava. Proponents say the process guarantees consistent activity of a product from batch to batch.
A sustained-release product is formulated to dissolve slowly and release a product over time, allowing its active ingredients to be bio-available for a longer period of time. In some cases, the product may be designed to dissolve partially in the stomach and further in the small intestine. This process can also help mitigate side effects, such as the “niacin flush” caused by many niacin products.
This term refers to a plant that was gathered from its natural habitat in the wild for use in herbal supplements. Wildcrafted plants cannot be certified organic because they are not cultivated.
Mitchell Clute is a Fort Collins, Colo.-based freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 11/p.