The brain supplement industry has, at times, suffered from worryingly low standards. Times when almost anyone could outsource the manufacture of a new supplement and make claims with little accountability. It has been up to independent bodies like Brain Reference to be a watchdog for the customer. We review each supplement under close scrutiny and report our findings with transparency.
So we are delighted that there is an emerging new set of industry standards. These are increasing the quality of brain supplements on the market. We will always need to investigate each product as it arrives. But the new standards we are seeing are gradually raising the game for our industry.
So What Exactly Are These New Standards?
First, let us define exactly what we mean by the term ‘industry standard’. This is the generally accepted requirements used in the brain supplement industry. It is the criteria that describe most operations, processes, and functions. As practices emerge and become the norm, most companies are obliged to rise to meet the new standard.
We’ll be investigating six of the new industry standards in the brain supplement industry. We’ll look at the shift to new processing methods and effective ingredient selection. We’ll look at the way companies select high-quality ingredients. We’ll see how the new standard for getting your product tested by third parties is now a ‘must’. We’ll discuss the recent demand for transparency with the Clean Label Program. We’ll then take a look at the environmental responsibility manufacturers are taking. Finally, we’ll explore how the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) is no longer the highest standard. And we’ll look at what has replaced it. We will also look at the areas where there is still need for improvement.
Let’s begin with effectiveness. The key here is how the body absorbs supplements and the choice of active ingredient. There used to be an emphasis on herbal supplements. These are convenient for marketing because of their association with being ‘natural’. This is misleading. In actual fact, herbal remedies behave like a drug. That means they either stimulate or inhibit a function. This means their effects are short-term and often come with side effects. Some of these may even contradict the benefit of the supplement. These may have become popular because you can ‘feel’ the effects a short time after taking.
So What’s the Alternative?
The industry is moving towards a different way of supplementing the brain. Rather than masking issues with herbal supplements, new supplements aim to rebuild. This means they actively provide ‘building blocks’ for the brain to rebuild neurotransmitters. These building blocks are amino acids. Amino acids are present in every tissue that makes up our bodies. They make the proteins that provide energy for our cells.
We can divide amino acids into two types. A ‘non-essential’ amino acid means the body can produce it. An ‘essential’ amino acid means the body cannot, and so it has to consume these through diet or supplement. New supplements are focusing on delivering essential amino acids rather than herbs. This is for the long-term benefit of rebuilding neurotransmitters. The cost is that you may not ‘feel’ the effects in the short term. Only after a few weeks of gradual change, you may notice enhanced mood and mental function.
But delivering amino acids is not as straightforward as taking an herbal supplement. Amino acids are bonded to minerals and we digest them together. But we do not digest minerals easily, so this can reduce the effectiveness of the supplement. To help, there is a new industry standard that helps the body absorb minerals and the amino acids bonded to them. The process, D-90 Micronization, break down minerals into very small particles. This allows them and the amino acids attached to pass through the wall of the intestine. From there it enters the bloodstream and the body can use it effectively.
Quality of Ingredients
We can divide this new industry standard into two main areas. What companies include, and what they omit. We’ll go into more detail on the Clean Label Initiative later. But companies are listening to demand more discerning ingredient lists. This means the industry expects them to omit ingredients in certain categories. We look for companies that add fillers, additives, colorants, artificial dyes, and allergens. We then flag this up as an issue in our reviews. The FDA regulates supplements in a more relaxed way than with food. Companies are not obliged to give as much information on additives and allergens. This is an area we hope will change for the safety of consumers.
What remains is a list of necessary ingredients. This is where the standard of quality comes in. The ingredients chosen must be sourced from a reputable origin. They must be premium quality and traceable. A supplement is only as good as the quality of its ingredients. With a high-quality ingredient list, you can rely on the safety and consistency of results.
It is easy for companies to create a supplement, do in-house tests and then release the product for profit. They can claim effectiveness based on their own studies and experimentation. The problem is, even with the best intentions, they are always subject to bias. There will always be an incentive to favor positive results. There is a new industry standard to show integrity and accountability beyond doubt. Companies do this using independent third-party validation. These external companies test the product with neutrality. The reward for companies that commit to this is the trust of the industry and a reputation for integrity. We look for and highlight companies who use this extra step.
The Clean Label Initiative calls for transparency and discernment about ingredients. There is a disturbing lack of specificity in what ingredient lists have to include. Let’s take additives as an example. Often the raw ingredients for supplements are inconsistent or difficult to work with. This is a problem as it means manufacturers cannot provide consistency. Texture, density, and moisture all affect the quality of the product. To make this consistent they may choose to use additives. Additives help solve irregularities and deliver a constant standard of product. These additives are considered ‘inert’. This means companies don’t always have labeled them on the ingredients. There are over 7,000 chemical additives that don’t have to be individually listed.
The problem is, we cannot consider any substance for consumption to be inert. We must assume there is a potential for adverse effects from any ingredient. The Clean Label Initiative seeks to hold manufacturers to a higher standard. First, they must only include the additives that are absolutely necessary. This provides an incentive for finding solutions other than additives, like manufacturing processes. Next, they must include every ingredient on the label with complete transparency. This lets consumers know exactly what they are choosing to ingest. This is a fundamental right for people, and so an ethical obligation for companies.
There are many practices harmful to the environment in supplement manufacture. New industry standards reward companies who take the initiative to do their part. There are obvious actions, like using recyclable material and BPA free bottles. But there are also subtler ways. Like finding creative methods of using fewer materials. Or choosing Sustainable Forestry Initiative providers. These all add up to reducing the negative impact of our industry on the environment.
Brain Supplement Industry Manufacturing Standards
Finally, the standards of manufacture for brain supplement is changing. At first glance, all seems well. 99% of the industry adheres to the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standard. The problem is, this standard is completely outdated. It allows products a very fast time and a low bar of entry to the market. But the GMP only requires the bare minimum of safety and quality standards. For example, it doesn’t require companies to test for allergens or include allergen warnings on labels. Ingredients from high-risk allergenic foods are available as active ingredients or additives. This lack of requirement for allergen warning is dangerous.
We want to see more companies take the decision to adhere to higher standards. The highest possible standard is held by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA). This standard classifies supplements as either low or high risk. High-risk supplements are subject to tests and proof of effectiveness. All supplements are subject to high standards of manufacture. It is difficult to determine exactly how many companies adhere to the TGA standards. But it is minimal, possibly as low as 1%.
We would like to see a trend for more companies to raise themselves to this level of standards. The supplement industry has been unaccountable for too long. We hope to be part of a movement that brings the quality and integrity of the whole industry to excellence. These new industry standards are the bar we want all manufacturers to rise to.