Four years ago, the startup LabDoor promised to bring more transparency and accountability to the U.S. supplements and vitamins industry. From what TriplePundit can see, the company is succeeding. On average, the company purchases roughly 50 supplements and energy drinks off of store shelves, tests them rigorously and then ranks their overall effectiveness, potency and accuracy for consumers. From B-complex to zinc, LabDoor has evaluated 32 supplement categories, with more reviews on the way.
Now LabDoor is taking on the health claims of celebrities, from right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to the Kardashian clan.
Supplements from the conspiracy theorist
Goaded by media outlets such as Buzzfeed and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the company scored some of Alex Jones’ Infowars supplements and tested them in the lab. Jones claims that the online store of health supplements provides necessary funding to keep Infowars online. “We have never been funded by globalist advertising dollars or by government tax dollars and stand by that decision,” Jones explains to online visitors.
After running tests on tonics such as Super Male Vitality, Child Ease and Survival Shield, the results came in. On the plus side, heavy metals such as cadmium and lead were barely traceable and posed no risks to users.
But when it came to active ingredients such as horny goat weed, maca and alleged-sperm-generator tongkat ali, these products did not contain high enough concentrations to have any notable effect. Overall, the dosages in all of these Infowars supplements were too low to be effective. And in some cases, users would be better off making their own concoctions. “Specialized forms of ingredients turned out to be simple, and relatively cheap formulations, albeit effective in certain cases,” concluded LabDoor’s researchers.
As far as Jones’ anti-corporatist message goes, LabDoor’s staff suggested the web site’s hucksters take a look in the mirror. “You could grab a bottle for around $10 and skip the 2X+ price markup from Infowars,” the company told Buzzfeed’s Charlie Warzel.
Keeping up with the Kardashians’… product placement
The Kardashian-endorsed SugarBearHair Hair Vitamins did not fare much better, according to LabDoor. The company dinged the product several points because of concerns over its heavy metals content. “Its lead levels would exceed California Proposition 65’s safe limit for lead if just one more gummy was taken above the serving size recommendation,” concluded LabDoor’s staff.
Lauren Valenti of Marie Claire may want to pay a visit to her doctor. “Flavored with natural berries, the SugarBears weren’t Haribo-Gold-level tasty and, okay, yeah, they were a liiiiittle chewy,” she wrote last year in a product review, “but limiting myself to just two a day was actually kind of hard.”
And when it comes to value, LabDoor noted that SugarBearHair Vitamins are priced three times higher ($84, according to Valenti) than a top-rated gummy manufactured by VitaFusion. Furthermore, in the interest of transparency, LabDoor also suggests that consumers worried about hair-related nutrient deficiencies consider an easy and cheap option: pop a daily multivitamin instead. The highly-rated TwinLab multivitamin will offer the same benefits at one-third the cost of a “hair” vitamin.
The South San Francisco-based company has no shortage of work ahead. After all, the supplements industry is largely unregulated, as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) categorizes them as food, not drugs, even though many of these products claim to have similar effects to drugs available over-the-counter or by prescription.
While pharmaceuticals must undergo a relatively rigorous approval process, tonics, vitamins and herbal supplements have an easy path from laboratory to drugstore shelves or online on sites such as Amazon. Other factors are behind the federal government’s lax oversight of supplements, including the work of U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, who authored a 1994 law that allows companies to make health claims about their products – but exempts them from any federal safety reviews.
Image credit: LabDoor