The Shell Game that is the "Proprietary Blend" Nutritional Supplement
Recently I wrote an article entitled "Terms, Terms, Terms, An Inside look to buying supplements" which can be found on the Gurus and Guests section of my private forum. The article covered many of the misleading marketing terms buyers have to deal with in an attempt to make informed decisions on the supplements they spend their hard earned money on. Some of the more potentially misleading commonly used marketing terms I covered were:
"Used for thousands of years"
Readers interested in understanding why the above terms can be so misleading, can read my write-up on each of those terms.
In a nut shell, I went onto cover each of these common marketing terms that are used to sell supplements to unwitting consumers and explained each in detail as to what I view as their common misuse within the market place.
However, one term I didn't cover, was "proprietary blend" which in many cases is the most potentially misleading term of them all, though not a term always seen in ads per se, but the side of the bottle.
Thus, why I felt it was a separate topic to be covered at a later date as it does not fit under the classic definition of a commonly used marketing term found in ads. I also decided to cover this term in a separate article as it requires much more space dedicated to it then the other terms needed for reasons that will be apparent shortly.
Proprietary blends are not inherently a negative for the consumer, though they are inherently confusing for the buyer in most cases.
A supplement that lists a "proprietary blend" on the bottle can be there for one of two reasons:
(a) to prevent the competition from knowing exactly what ratios and amounts of each ingredient present in the formula to prevent the competition from copying their formula exactly (commonly referred to as a "knock off") or
(b) to hide the fact the formula contains very little of the active ingredients listed on the bottle in an attempt to fool consumers.
Sadly, the latter use is far more common then the former. They see a long list of seemingly impressive ingredients listed in the "proprietary blend" none of which are there is amounts that will have any effects. This is commonly referred to as "label decoration" by industry insiders. The former use of the term is a legitimate way for a company of a quality formula from having the competition copy or "knock off" their formula and the latter use of the term is to scam people.
So how does the consumer tell the difference?
They can't, or at least they can't without some research and knowledge, which the scam artists know few people have the time and energy to dedicate to finding the answers. Although there are a few tips the consumer can use to decide if a product with a "proprietary blend" is worth trying, no one, not even me, can figure out exactly how much of each ingredient is in the blend or in what ratio of each is contained within the formula, hence why the honest and not-so-honest companies employ "proprietary blends" so often.
Thus, we have something of a conundrum here and conflict between a company making a quality formula attempting to protect that formula from other companies vs. the company simply looking to baffle buyers with BS.
There are at least some basic tips or food for thought here regarding this problem. A formula that contains say 10 ingredients in a "proprietary blend" is by no means defacto superior then one with three ingredients in it. It's the dose that matters. Clearly, it's better to have higher amounts of ingredients that will have some effects vs. a long list of ingredients in doses too low to have any effects.
Some times it helps to look at both what's in the blend and how much of the blend actually exists. As an example, if say the blend is 300mg total and contains ten ingredients, that's only 30mg per ingredient, assuming (and you know what they say about assuming!) that each is found in equal amounts. Clearly, for most compounds out there, 30mg wont do jack sh*&.
On the other hand, if say the blend is 3000mg (3 grams) and contains three or four ingredients, there is at least a better chance that the formula contains enough of each (and remember, we can't tell how much of each is in there as that information is "proprietary") to have some effects you are looking for such as an increase in strength, or a decrease in bodyfat, etc.
Unfortunately, the above examples are so vague as to be close to worthless as it's easy enough to formulate a 3000mg blend where all the ingredients are worthless to begin with or a 300mg blend that contains compounds that only require small doses to have an effect and or can be toxic at higher doses.
For example, the mineral zinc tends to be no more then 30mg in most formulas and no more is needed or recommended. Much of this comes down to the consumer knowing what the various ingredients are and how they work (to decide if they are even worth using in the first place) then deciding if said blend appears to at least contain a dose that would have the desired effects, which just brings us back to my prior comment: most people have neither the time or inclination to research all that info just to decide if they want to use a product and thus the many "proprietary blends" on the market that are no more then a long list of under-dosed ingredients.
Wish I could be of more help giving specific advice to readers of this here article as to what makes a good blend and what constitutes a poorly made blend, but the above advice is the best I can do under the circumstances. Although a "proprietary blend" is not by default a negative to the consumer, it is by all means the poster child for the well-known Latin term Caveat emptor which translates into English as "let the buyer beware".
About the Author - William D. Brink
Will Brink is a columnist, contributing consultant, and writer for various health/fitness, medical, and bodybuilding publications. His articles relating to nutrition, supplements, weight loss, exercise and medicine can be found in such publications as Lets Live, Muscle Media 2000, MuscleMag International, The Life Extension Magazine, Muscle n Fitness, Inside Karate, Exercise For Men Only, Body International, Power, Oxygen, Penthouse, Women's World and The Townsend Letter For Doctors.
He is the author of Priming The Anabolic Environment and Weight Loss Nutrients Revealed. He is the Consulting Sports Nutrition Editor and a monthly columnist for Physical magazine and an Editor at Large for Power magazine. Will graduated from Harvard University with a concentration in the natural sciences, and is a consultant to major supplement, dairy, and pharmaceutical companies.
He has been co author of several studies relating to sports nutrition and health found in peer reviewed academic journals, as well as having commentary published in JAMA. He runs the highly popular web site BrinkZone.com which is strategically positioned to fulfill the needs and interests of people with diverse backgrounds and knowledge.
The BrinkZone site has a following with many sports nutrition enthusiasts, athletes, fitness professionals, scientists, medical doctors, nutritionists, and interested lay people. William has been invited to lecture on the benefits of weight training and nutrition at conventions and symposiums around the U.S. and Canada, and has appeared on numerous radio and television programs.
William has also worked with athletes ranging from professional bodybuilders, golfers, fitness contestants, to police and military personnel.
He can be contacted at: PO Box 812430
Wellesley MA. 02482.
Natural Bodybuilding at its Finest - Lift for Life.com