Scams in Supplements

As young adults, we learn there are good people, and bad people; honest and ethical, and those that just aren’t. There are all types of people, from the brilliant and awesome to the ignorant, gullible, enablers, suckers, and scammers.

The goal is generally to try to safeguard against getting ripped off; however, it’s clear truth, science, and reality don’t matter with many supplement companies (or the customers they suck in with their misinformation, misleading and sometimes completely false claims). Once you understand what to look for, you can easily spot the hyperbole (exaggerated truths, that just really aren’t so) it in most infomercials, paid celebrity endorsements, stacks of advertisers pushing products; and yes, even on product labels.

Infomercial Examples
Vital Jokes
Proprietary Formulas

Infomercial Example

Last night there was a guy on an infomercial pushing ‘his’ joint supplement. Personally, it’s just my opinion, but he reminded me of what I’ve seen in movies, with actors on speed or something, as he spoke extremely fast and his eye’s never blinked, and his mannerisms were abnormal… more like a used car salesman on crack, pushing hard and fast to get his next fix.

His repeated claim of ‘trying them all’ is complete lunacy, and far too easy of a lie to give him any credibility! At my last count a few years ago, there were nearly 600 ‘joint supplements’ and nearly 100 ‘drugs’ specific to joints, arthritis, and related issues. And while some are merely pain maskers, like Viox (no longer sold in the USA), Celebrex, and a few others still prescribed to reduce chronic pain, the majority of the ‘supplements’ boasting a ‘quick fix’ contain plant derived drugs (aka herbs) – which mask pain or symptoms (and don’t really promote healing). The reality is he couldn’t have ‘tried them all,’ as he claimed. Likely hadn’t even ‘looked at’ most of them.

This guys hype is akin to Dr. Barefoot’s (the defunked Coral Calcium guy)… taking a grain of sand of SOME truth, with a little science and reality about that OTHER TRUTH or proven fact, on some specific thing that is kind of, sort of, somehow indirectly related… though not really or actually, then adding piles of speculation, opinions, purposeful misrepresentation, and outright lies, to promote mountains of false claims on a product that does NOT (and can not) actually do what he claims! And didn’t even contain what he claimed, or the same ingredient(s) the science he used for the claims used. Ultimately, it was a grain of truth used to misrepresent a mountain of lies and misinformation.

Like Dr. Barefoot, and so many other ‘scammers’ in the ‘Alternative Medicine’ products world, his goal is to apparently offer the illusion of healing, the promise of results, with a tough to cancel ‘autoship’ – a monthly bill his company will charge you to mask the pain, and feel the false sense of security of doing something, rather than nothing.

For an assortment of reasons, I’m not going to ‘name’ the product (or guy)… but when you see fast talking, high pressure, too good to be true claims… you’ll know. For those still wondering, I will list the ingredients claimed to be ‘in’ THAT product:

It has this ‘ingredients’ listed:

Vitamin C
Vitamin D3

“Proprietary blend”………………….. 1027 mg
N-Acetyl-D-Glucosamine (NAG)
Chondroitin sulfate
Tumeric Extract
Rice Flour

Boswellia Serrata
Yucca (root)
Evening Primrose oil
Perna Canaliculus (Green Lipped Mussel)
Hyaluronic Acid (Sodium Hyaluronate)

I’ll address the ingredients (in their product):

Now, we all know Vitamin C is fine & good, though his product label & website doesn’t specify what TYPE of Vitamin C (and yes, there are different types). Having it listed ‘first’ on a product label means that it is the largest ‘quantity’ ingredient in this product, which is usually last (or close to last) in most ‘good’ (to great) joint supplements… because it is the most common ‘nutrient’ in the American diet. Maybe if you lived in Africa, or some place foods weren’t ‘fortified’ or fruits weren’t common additives to the diet, it would be more necessary. But most American nutritionists added it because it – in and of itself in dry form – it helps increase shelf life of a product and stability, not because it’s a necessary additive for a joint supplement ‘to work’ – and dang sure not the ‘Number 1’ highest level in their product. That alone should start yellow flashing lights, and lead to questioning the OTHER ingredients.

The Vitamin D3 is interesting… though if you get out in the sun light at least 15 minutes a week, don’t have any immune deficiency or serious bone density issues, it could be questionable WHY it’s included (aside from something most joint supplements don’t contain, and most bodies don’t need extra of). Like the Vitamin C, it’s not bad or dangerous, but shouldn’t be the second largest quantity of ingredient in their product. Seriously, another yellow flashing light, now spinning.

The ‘type’ of Magnesium isn’t listed. That could be huge, and the differences are significant… in absorption & bioavailability. Yellow light flashing and spinning faster. Something just isn’t right here, and the fact it doesn’t list the type, or whether the amount listed is ‘combined form’ or ‘elemental’ just sounded the sirens, THAT COMPANY DOES NOT REALLY KNOW NUTRITION!

Then we come to the ultimate ‘slap in the face’ of true nutrition, a ‘Proprietary Blend’ which is – in and of itself – LOW! Just over 1 gram (1,000mg). With no specifics as to how much of what in the list makes up that gram. But lets assume the best, even though it’s physically impossible, and ethically improbable:

N-Acetyl-D-Glucosamine (NAG) is great for the gut (stomach & intestines), but has been scientifically proven to NOT HAVE ANY active uptake by joint tissue! That’s huge, but lessened (some) when you consider that there are ingredients included in that product which are HARD ON THE GUT! Maybe it’s a blind hope of some counter activity? Especially the Boswellia, Ashwaganda; the latter of which is generally used TOPICALLY (rubbed on the skin, not ingested because those herbs can cause stomach issues, including ulcers, as well as serious diarrhea when over used) and has been shown to ‘mess with’ the brain receptors! WOW ~ talk about wild choice of ingredients, huh? That yellow light is now orange, and the siren is now saying WARNING, WARNING, WARNING!

Chondroitin sulfate70% of the best ends up in the poop within 24 hours, not in the joint tissue. Very well covered in nearly 50 years of studies, including the GAIT Study. Density wise, it’s HUGE, over 250,000 daltons (the atomic measurement), which is why so much of the best stuff passes through the body, unused.

Tumeric Extract – nothing bad here, but HOW MUCH is in their product? Because it IS A BLOOD THINNER. It can impact the heart rate, and be dangerous in high doses (over 20g should be a concern if there are preexisting conditions). While they clearly don’t have a generally dangerous amount, but it’s irresponsible to not state how much there really is… when the ingredient absolutely impacts the blood and heart, and can absolutely negatively interact with other medications, especially blood thinners.

Rice Flour – FILLER (why it’s listed as an ‘active ingredient’ in a proprietary blend, or ‘in’ a capsule that only contains just over 1,000g’s is frankly beyond my understanding, unless that is one of the largest portions of this ‘blend’). Can you say PLACEBO? Yep, placebo without the ‘sugar.’

The following are plant derived DRUGS – pain blockers & maskers. At least two can mess with the digestive tract, at least two mess with the brain receptors, one is a steriodial saponin. WHY any company calling themselves ‘nutritional’ would have any of these ‘ingredients’ in any supplement intended for daily prolonged use, in my opinion, is irresponsible at best… and at worst, they are totally ignorant of what these ingredients can really do within a mammals body with daily prolonged use.

Boswellia Serrata
Yucca (root)
Evening Primrose oil
Perna Canaliculus (Green Lipped Mussel)

Oral HA (Hyaluronic Acid) isn’t an herb, but there are some interesting studies on that too. Three of the best, most interesting studies, were done over a decade ago by Weider Int’l (the body builders company). The results (on rats, then beagles) showed that 95% passed through the body (unused), and of the 5% that remained, 90% of that was found in the brain stem and spinal column (NOT THE JOINTS). The speculation was any bodies ‘noticing’ any positive reduction of pain, or greater range of motion, was because it acted as a pain blocker (not healing agent).  Other studies have found that HA & HAS naturally occurring in the body are MARKERS FOR CANCER, and play an absolute role in PROTECTING cancer cells.
Hyaluronic Acid (Sodium Hyaluronate)

Moral: LOOK AT THE LABEL, LEARN about the nutrients, and their side effects. And shy away from companies that PUSH products that mask the pain & symptoms. Be aware… because it ultimately effects & impacts the health & longevity of the bodies that use hyped garbage like that.

The Company Above’s Return Policy

The next huge blinking flag on this company is their ‘Return Policy.’

According to the purchase policy page of {their product} website, Buying a 30 day supply of {their product} comes with a 30 day return policy. The 30 days begins on the day the product is received. People who buy a 3 bottles gets a 90 day money back guarantee (starting the day it was received).

To return {their product}, people must follow these steps as is outlined on {their product} website purchase policy page:

1. Call their Customer Satisfaction Department at 800-609-xxxx and
a) Ask for a Return Authorization number (RA number).
b) Ask for the address to return the product to.
c) The RA number must be placed on the outside of the package.
d) Include a copy of the original invoice AND
e) A written reason why you are returning {their product}.
f) Use Fed Ex or UPS to return the package so you have a record that it was sent and received. (notice they specifically exclude USPS, even with tracking information, which is frankly strange… and the easiest way to return most small items here in America)

2. Return {their product} within 10 days of getting the RA Number. ALL returned bottles and empty bottles (and refused bottles) will be subject to a $10 restocking fee. So, for example, if you bought 3 bottles, $30 will be deducted from your refund (for their processing fees).

Note: Refunds are only given to bottles that are returned ―even if they are empty.

3. Shipping and handling to return the product are non-refundable.

Seriously… SCAM ALERT! Restocking fees?? For a product that didn’t work? Was used? What the heck type of company does that??

Conclusion for that company:

While I can prove everything I’ve stated above about the ingredients, and what their website ‘said’ at the time of this writing (I have screen captures saved, just in case), and science backs up the assertions I’ve made, because of the sue happy society we live in, I’ve purposefully left out the name of the product and company, and their phone number.

However, if you read the label, and do a bit of research on the ingredients used in products you’re considering… you can see things to avoid. Diligence is key to your own health, safety, and longevity… and that of your pets you’re giving supplements to.

Medical Research (General, Nutrition specific) –
this link opens at

Vital Jokes

There was a company filling facebook up with ads to nearly every American over 40 years old, promising results in just 3 days. Claiming some ‘Break Through Formula’ (which really wasn’t), and years of clinical studies that can’t be found (and aren’t referenced on their website), would drastically improve their life and reverse the effects of arthritis. Since this is a field I’ve been involved in for over 20 years now, I thought it was worthy of a closer look.

So, as usual, I start with their INGREDIENT LIST, and claims.

First, I noticed they claim they don’t have any of that useless ‘Chondroitin’ or ‘Glucosamine’ in their product. You know, the one the GAIT Study proved didn’t work? Instead they say they use ‘Collagen Type II‘ – which has what? Oh yeah, mostly CHONDROITIN and glucosamine, just under a different name. Sorta like ‘humans’ vs ‘homo sapiens’ = same thing, just different words describing it. I called them out on those semantics in late 2017, on their facebook business page, where they removed the comment (and links proving my points), and I was promptly blocked. However, they changed their wording to “Collagen Type II-n 1.”

Next, TIMING. Their ‘new’ magic formula, which they claim has existed since 1991 in some marketing, yet say is ‘new’ in other places… launched their website fall of 2006, though they claim they are a 50 year old supplement business (which, by the way, didn’t register their main company website until 2003-03-11… which is a far cry from 50 years, and long after the internet ‘became a thing’ for all established businesses to actually have). So, really, what is true with them? I’ve yet to figure that out, so back to the claims.

They still claim “It contains no shellfish, no glucosamine, no chondroitin, and no MSM.” Again, chondroitin, just like the main ingredient in their product, Collagen Type II, is derived from chicken cartilage. So, that claim is completely false, scientifically speaking. Of course there is some chondroitin in Type II Collagen… there is over 60 years of research on that reality.

Next, their marketing push claims use of the “Undenatured” type. Big word, with a simple meaning. It’s not ‘magic’ or necessarily all that much better. It means: “NOT changed in the usual nature of a substance, as by the addition of methanol or acetone to alcohol.” Another words, basically ‘editable, washed, crushed or ground up’… and hope for the best. Pick something from your garden, wash and eat it… and your basically experienced ‘Undenatured.’ Toss it in a blender and puree it if you have trouble with digestion, as the smaller pieces will be easier for your system to digest. The ‘native form’ of the ingredient supposedly remains the same, just made smaller without the use of ‘other chemicals.’

However, their own website states, “biologically active peptide fragments of Collagen Type II-n1, plus distilled water and diluted acetic acid.” which is DENATURED, not UNdenatured. Hummm… Acetic acid, systematically named ethanoic acid. glacial, Methanecarboxylic acid, (all the same thing, just different names) is a colorless liquid organic compound.  So, they are using ETHANOIC acid, rather than the more dangerous methanol or acetone. OK… but still not quite what I’d guess ‘UNdenatured’ to really be.

Next, the say, “absorbed through the small intestine” – well, DUH! Nutrition 101 teaches that all ‘food stuff’ is generally not absorbed prior to the small intestine when the molecular size is above about 5,000 daltons (the atomic measurement for nutrients). Understanding that the best chondroitin on the market still is over 250,000 daltons, is the key to understanding why over 70% of that chondroitin ends up in the feeces in less than 24 hours (and that is considered the best). There is no information on what the molecular weight of this companies magic formula really is; but I’m betting it’s at least 250,000 daltons or bigger, which is tough for the digestive tract to break down quickly enough.

Basic Digestion Reality:

Mouth. Food starts the digestion process once chewed, and the siliva is mixed in. Then it moves through your GI tract when you eat.

Lower esophageal sphincter. When food reaches the end of your esophagus, a ringlike muscle—called the lower esophageal sphincter —relaxes and lets food pass into your stomach. This sphincter usually stays closed to keep what’s in your stomach from flowing back into your esophagus. (However, gases can escape, while can cause a burning sensation, often misconstrued as ‘acid reflux’ (but that is discussed more on if food isn’t broke down properly and passed through to the intestines quickly enough).

Stomach. After food enters your stomach, the stomach muscles mix the food and liquid with your bodies digestive juices. Then the stomach slowly empties its contents, called chyme, into your small intestine. A baby’s gut has a Ph level of 2.2, very acidic, which is why they can eat virtually anything (except batteries, magnates, hard plastics, and sharp objects). During the teenage years, a healthy gut is around 2.5 to 3.2, still able to quickly digest most every type of food stuff quickly and efficiently. In adulthood, it raises to about 4.0 in most people, which slows the breakdown process… gets fewer calories, fewer nutrients, and less benefit from the food we eat (even compared to the same exact foods eaten just a few years earlier). In many geriatrics, the Ph level can be as high as 5 or even more, making it nearly impossible to truly break down the food without some help… either extra chewing or chemical additives, such as Betane HCL and Lipanse (stomach acid and pancreatic enzymes).

Small intestine. The muscles of the small intestine mix food with digestive juices from the pancreas, liver, and intestine, and then push the mixture forward for further digestion. The walls of the small intestine absorb water and the digested nutrients into your bloodstream. As peristalsis continues, the waste products of the digestive process move into the large intestine. So yes, the vast majority of food, and poorly designed supplements, begin what ever absorption there is in the SMALL INTESTINE.

Large intestine. Waste products from the digestive process include undigested parts of food, fluid, and older cells from the lining of your GI tract. The large intestine absorbs water and changes the waste from liquid into stool. Peristalsis helps move the stool into your rectum.

Next, they claim “supports a chain reaction of natural processes that helps improve healthy joint comfort and mobility within the joint — with no side effects!” Obviously, digestion is a natural process, and if there is any nutritional benefit (even just a few percent actually absorbed) it would contribute to that process. However, their claim of ‘no side effects’ is completely dishonest, disingenuous, misleading, and contradictory to their own FAQs… because ANYONE that has any chicken or egg allergies WILL EXPERIENCE side effects. Again, double speak… found on their own website. 

I look at was OTHER information & products the company has. It’s really quite telling, what their knowledge base and goals really are.

Another thing I find incredibly interesting is that they claim they’ve spent over $45 Million dollars (since 1991) on clinical research on the product, have 10 studies (that can’t be found in any of my normal scientific ‘journal searches’ (using their company name, product name, proprietary formula name, or the names of the individuals they claim founded the company on their websites)…

In addition, they claim to supposedly have 14 US patents and 14 international patents (on process) specific to that product… yet on their company web site has 75 different products for sale under JUST the “Joint Health” category. Granted, a few of them are ‘different sizes’ (60 count vs 120 count), but there is a pile of real garbage there also (herbal masking products). Even ‘Oyster Shell Calcium’ and ‘Coral Calcium,’ as well as ‘Calcium and Vitamin D’ (using another proven ineffective form: carbonate). But aside from all that, if I really had some ‘magic formula’ that was supposed to be ‘the best’ and $45 million invested, and all these trials proving it… WHY would I be promoting DIRECTLY COMPETING PRODUCTS with garbage ingredients?

The whole series of claims they make, and the proof they provide, just doesn’t add up, or make any logical sense to me. If they really have the patents, WHY NOT SHOW THEM? TALK ABOUT THEM? BRAG ABOUT WHAT THEY PROVE (or claim)?? And these ‘clinical studies,’ don’t just talk about them, PROVE IT. Show them. Let me see just exactly what, how, how many, where, who, when, and so forth. Convince me with something other than hyperbole!

Next, they make the following statement on their website: “_____ is regulated as a dietary supplement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA requires product claims to be truthful, not misleading, and supported by clinical trials (scientific studies).”

Well, that sure does imply a whole lot that just isn’t so. The FDA does NOT evaluate ‘effectiveness’ – ‘quality’ – or ‘honesty’ in any dietary supplements. They ‘regulate’ WHAT IS SAID ON THE LABEL, not what is really in a product, or whether it does anything (other than not kill people quickly). Unless there are reports that a product is harming people, or there are direct claims of ‘drug’ like activity, the FDA doesn’t usually ‘inspect’ or ‘approve’ or ‘spank’ any supplement business if their products aren’t of good quality, consistency, or effectiveness. That is not the role of the FDA in the supplement world. So, at best, it’s an extremely misleading statement, implying some oversight and approval that just doesn’t exist (on that company or product, or in the industry).

They also claim their product “should not have an effect on skin, hair or nails.” However, that is exactly where most of the collagen and chondroitin that doesn’t end up in the poop is actually found, in the majority of scientific studies on those ingredients. So, where is the study that shows theirs doesn’t act & react like everyone else’s ‘type ii collagen’?

One of the wildest things is their ‘guarantee’ – “Simply return the unused portion within one year of purchase for a full refund (less shipping).” So, does their guarantee cover only the ‘unused portion of the product’ that was returned? What if you used it all? What if you qualified for free shipping? So many unanswered questions with that company, and their own marketing material. One of the key qualifies, aside from the return unused, is “If you have taken it as directed…” is that their backup out? Oh, due to the unique way that they claim their product works, they recommend ‘taking it for at least six weeks before determining if it has worked for you.’ Which could be another, but you didn’t take as directed… it’s just buyer’s remorse, or some other guilt, doubt, push. They aren’t looking for solutions… they are wanting CUSTOMERS, and expect (and say) it’s 3 drops a day INDEFINITELY.

While I completely understand why many supplement companies avoiding being ‘one of the products’ ‘just on the shelf’ of a big box store where only flash and advertising drive sales, I don’t understand why NO DOCTORS or STORES of any type wouldn’t stock or carry their product.

“Available ONLY through the mail.” is their claim to fame. Speaking from experience, an educated professional is going to reach (and help educate) hundreds more people than any honest supplement company ever can. And a quality retailer, that cares about education, will also reach more people than any mail order company. So, while I hear what they are saying, I suspect there are some huge reasons their product is only available directly, by mail… and it’s not to preserve any quality control measures or build actual relationships with their customers. Maybe I’m wrong. What do you think?

Medical Research (General, Nutrition specific) –
this link opens at


While I can prove everything I’ve stated above, and science backs up the assertions I’ve made, because of the sue happy society we live in, I’ve purposefully left out the name of the product and company, and their phone number. If you read the label, and do a bit of research on the ingredients used in products you’re considering… you can see things to avoid.

Due-diligence is key to your own health, safety, and longevity… and that of your pets you’re giving supplements to.

Medical Research (General, Nutrition specific) –
this link opens at

Proprietary Formulas

We have long cautioned against purchasing supplements with ‘proprietary’ formulas. There are only three reasons a company does this:

a) to protect their formula from competitors,
b) to hidden the actual ingredients (
or amounts) from the consumer, or
b) to give themselves flexibility in the formula, as ingredient costs fluctuate.

Most all companies claim it’s the first reason; however, patents, copyrights, and the reality is that even exact elemental numbers don’t disclose the actual ratios, process, methods, quality, controls, or other necessary things that absolutely impact a product. In some cases, higher levels of contaminants have been found in ingredients in a proprietary formula. In other cases, ingredients that ‘claimed’ to be in their product just weren’t there.

The major problem with “proprietary formulas,” as well as with proprietary “blends” and “complexes,” is that they permit manufacturers to hide and withhold important information about what’s really in a product, and the actual quantities of those ingredients. The company only has to list the total amount of formula, not the amount of each ingredient in the formula. That amount (or each ingredient) is actually the most important thing for a variety of reasons, but especially to those that honestly care about health, safety, nutritional intake, and potentially have interactions with other medication or treatments.

Proprietary formula’s ingredients only have to be listed in the combined weight order, i.e., supposedly in order based on their relative contribution to the weight of the formula. Therefore, it’s nearly impossible to tell just exactly what is in the formula, or if the formula changes from batch to batch without you necessarily knowing.

Proprietary formulas are often developed around a single expensive ingredient. This allows a company to use less of the expensive ingredient, creating a formula in which the expensive ingredient is just a small part of their ‘magic’ formula. However, they can make it ‘appear’ or imply it’s a whole lot more than it really is.

This is real common with a variety of ingredients, especially things such as chondroitin (cough, also known as ‘Type II Collagen’) in joint supplements, and even SAMe.

We’ve also seen proprietary formulas marketed for virtually everything, but especially joint supplements, cognitive enhancement, nerve pain, or weight loss where a company may try to impress the consumer with a laundry list of ingredients having only shreds of evidence (or really almost none) honestly relating to the intended use.

In most cases, these proprietary formulas themselves have not really or thoroughly been clinically tested. They are making a mountain of claims, with mole hills of unrelated evidence.

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