Ever noticed how many of the supplements are packaging their products so that they appear more…medical? The packaging is in all white with hints of green or blue, has a medical name, and will often use the term ‘Pharmaceutical Grade’ (if the packaging doesn’t then often you will hear this from the sales rep.)
What is Pharmaceutical Grade? The FDA has three grades which it uses for determining the purity of a product intended for consumption. These are:
Pharmaceutical Grade – the highest in purity (it must be bioavailable and have 99.1% purity)
Food Grade – over 10% purity
Feed Grade – intended for agriculture
A Pharmaceutical Grade supplement must have ZERO % of fillers and binders in it’s ingredients. Which theoretically would make it a good supplement. No binders and no fillers is the first thing I look for (silicon dioxide is a classic example, as is magnesium stearate – both used to help lubricate the machines, improving binding of the pill, and speed up production).
A Pharmaceutical Grade supplement must be bioavailable – in other words it has to be easily absorbed by the body (intravenous administration is an example of 100% bioavailable).
Usually, Pharmaceutical Grade supplements are sold by medical professionals and are rarely found in the supermarket. Unfortunately the FDA does not regulate the supplement industry in the same way it regulates the Pharmaceutical Industry. Supplements can’t have any ingredients that the FDA have banned but they can contain pretty much anything else. Currently there is not anything in place where a supplement company cannot claim that their product is pharmaceutical grade – scary huh?
So, if the number one nutrition company tell you their product is Pharmaceutical Grade, then ask for a list of their ingredients (all of which are found in their marketing material once you take a sample or buy it, but rarely are they published online). If their ingredients contain fillers, lubricants, and binders, then they are just lying.
How are they lying you ask? The term Pharmaceutical Grade only applies to the individual ingredient itself. This means a supplement can contain both pharmaceutical grade, food grade, and a whole bunch of FDA approved fillers and binders. This therefore allows that particular supplement to label itself as Pharmaceutical Grade, as it contains a pharmaceutical grade ingredient. The FDA do not regulate the final products that supplement companies make – they only ensure that these products meet legal requirements and do not use banned ingredients.
This is a deceptive practice that occurs in the supplement industry – using ingredients that meet pharmaceutical standards, but do not deliver the same high quality in the finished dietary supplement.
They’ll probably tell you that they adhere to GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice), which is great if they do, but this doesn’t stop them from adding fillers, binders, and lubricants to their products.
So what does this mean for us? Well you simply have to choose your supplements wisely. Don’t fall for marketing hype and deceptive terminology. Don’t self medicate (you may not even need that supplement). If you are going to supplement your diet, then go for something that is just what want. If you want protein, then buy protein (I’m a personal fan of Pulsin and Sunwarrior but just to it make clear I do not get paid by them and I am not obliged to mention them – they’re just good value for money, clean and honest products which I personally like).
If you’re in doubt then remember, Pharmaceutical Grade is defined as a standard which is suitable for Medicine. Medicine is defined as the diagnosis, practice, and treatment of disease. Supplements are not allowed to claim that they can cure or prevent ill health or disease – by definition alone, a supplement which calls itself Pharmaceutical Grade is going against it’s own legal definition.
and if you really want to know about what is and is not regulated, then go here: