Why Cheap Vitamins May Be Toxic And Harmful To Your Health – And Why They Cost You More

By Deanna Catalano, RPh

Less expensive vitamins may appear to save you money. In the long run, however, they may very well cost you more money- or even fail to do their job adequately.

All vitamins- as well as most other pharmaceuticals- have certain vital components which are the results of the manufacturing process. These components are:

  • Active Ingredient – The specific component that creates the desired response.
  • Binders – These materials hold a tablet together so the tablet does not dissolve prematurely be­fore reaching the site absorption.
  • Disintegrants – This component is included to assist the body in the dissolution process. If a tablet or capsule does not dissolve in time, the opportunity for absorption is lost.
  • Fillers – This component is necessary when a very small quantity of active ingredient is used. Without fillers, some medications would be to small for us to handle.
  • Preservatives – This is sometimes included to extend the time that a compound remains in its desired form. Without preservatives, some compounds may break down into entirely different­ and possibly hazardous- compounds.
  • Coatings – Some products contain a particular type of coating. Two popular types of coating are:
    • A sugar coating which makes a tablet easier to swallow.
    • An enteric coating which prevents a tablet from dissolving in the stomach. This is most common on certain forms of aspirin which can be irritating on the delicate stomach lining.

These other ingredients are as important as the active ingredient you are ingesting. In Fact, if any of these ingredients are missing or sub-standard, your medication or vitamin supplement may not be absorbed by your body.

Besides the ingredients themselves, another crucial component in the manufacturing process is the com­pression process. A tablet that is compressed too hard may not be dissolved regardless of any disinter­grants present. This is commonly referred to as a “bed-pan bullet.” The only beneficiary is your toilet bowl. Conversely, not enough compression and a tablet could dissolve prematurely. This would leave the compound vulnerable to enzymes and acids which could destroy some or all of the compound before it is absorbed, rendering it useless.

It is important to understand that most absorption occurs in your small intestine. Think of this as a “trap door,” where drug, vitamin and nutrient absorption occurs. Anything that is absorbed by your body must be in solution form. Your body does not absorb medicinals or nutrients in solid form. Therefore, it is imperative that the medication be in the right state at the right time. If not, even if some absorption does occur, it is quite possible that the minimum effective (therapeutic) concentration will not be achieved.
Minimum effective concentration refers to the lowest blood level necessary to achieve a successful thera­peutic response outcome. This is one of the most important areas that the United States Food and Drug Administration looks at before it allows any drug to reach the consumer. Some other areas that are key in the drug approval process are the time it takes for a dose to reach a therapeutic level and how long that therapeutic level is sustained in your body.

Under current laws, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients are classified as supplements. Supplements are not regulated by the government and quality control practices are left to the discretion of the manu­facturer. As long as a supplement contains the listed strength of the active ingredient, it is allowed into the market. This certainly would be a life threatening practice if these same rules applied to your pre­scription drug. This significant difference is the difference between Food-Grade and Pharmaceutical­ Grade. Most vitamin supplements are Food-Grade. The Pharmaceutical-Grade manufacturing proc­ess is a very scientifically precise procedure. Quality control is the cornerstone of good manufacturing practices and you should select Pharmaceutical-Grade to ensure maximum benefits and peace of mind.

Metric System is Often Used As a Marketing Ploy

Most Americans are not too familiar with the metric system of measurement. It is quite easy to be led to believe that 3 milligrams is less than 300 micrograms. The truth is that 3 milligrams (mg) is ten times more potent than 300 micrograms (mcg). Clever labeling could mislead you to believe one brand is less expensive than another. An excellent example of this is calcium, an important supplement to prevent Osteoporosis (bone loss). This supplement is readily available in 500 and 600 milligram strengths. Most people are well advised to take 1000 to1500 milligrams of calcium daily. On the side of these bottles in small print is informational that tells the consumer precisely how much elemental calcium is contained in each tablet. Many of these products contain only 162mg of elemental calcium. A person would have to take almost 10 tablets a day to achieve the recommended dose of 1500mg. Another crucial factor is that less than 33 percent of these forms of calcium are actually absorbed hy your body. The ten tablets are now providing you with only 33 percent of your daily requirement. To achieve 100 percent, you would need to consume almost thirty tablets a day! If you purchased a bottle of 100 tablets for five dol­lars this would last you three days or fifty dollars a month and you still would have only purchased Food -Grade calcium. Not quite the value you thought. A chelated form of calcium would cost you about fif­teen dollars. An absorption rate of 95 percent is achieved with this form of calcium- which is clearly the real “bargain.”

How Will You Know?

To ensure that your getting the most from your vitamins, choose only those that are Pharmaceutical­Grade: At least 99% pure with no binders, fillers, excipients, dyes, or unknown substances. (Most vita­mins are Food-Grade, and may contain toxic fillers and binders like propylene glycol, sodium benzoate, and cork by-product).

Additionally, choose a product that gives you vitamins and minerals in the most bio-available form. (For instance, calcium hydroxyapatite and calcium carbonate are both calcium; However, one is easy for your body to use, while the other will just be excreted).
Make sure that your vitamin is taken more than once a day. While one-a-days may be convenient, they shortchange your health. Choose one that gives you maximum antioxidant protection.

Finally, select your pharmacy as carefully as you would your doctor. When you deal with an independ­ently-owned pharmacy, you are dealing with the individual who determines which products are carried in his or her store. Consult your independent pharmacist regarding which products are the most effective and provide the best value for you.


Apothicare 360 is designed to offer you general health information for educational purposes only. The health information provided by Apothicare 360 is not intended to be professional advice and are not intended to replace personal consultation with a qualified physician, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional. You must always seek the advice of a professional for questions related to your disease, disease symptoms, and appropriate therapeutic treatments.

If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact your physician or health care provider immediately.

You should never disregard medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read by Apothicare 360.

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