If you have been following me on Viva Woman Facebook page, you might have seen my alert regarding astaxanthin, a supplement I wrote about in 2012. In my alert, I’d highlighted that some astaxanthin supplements out in the market are not safe to consume. Based on what I’ve read, it appears that a high demand for the supplement have prompted a flood of cheap, synthetic astaxanthin derived from petrochemicals.
I’ve stopped consuming astaxanthin for over a year now so I have not really kept up with the news of this supplement (reason I stopped has nothing to do with its safety but everything to do with my interest in other supplements). However, I got curious about the supplement again because I have been receiving some unsolicited emails from China suppliers promising cheap sources of astaxanthin. The promises look too dubious and that was when I dug around the Internet and discovered the alerts about fake astaxanthin (source).
Three ways to test for fake astaxanthin
The good news is, there are apparently easy ways to identify fake astaxanthin supplement according to Algaeworld.org. What you need to do is to cut up the soft gel containing the supplement and test what’s inside using oil, water or paper to determine if it is the real deal and not some petrochemical or red dye. Here’s what should happen if it’s the real stuff:
1. When you cut a soft gel and release its content into a bottle of cooking oil, real astaxanthin will cause the cooking oil’s color to turn red after gentle mixing because astaxanthin is lipid soluble.
2. When dropped into water, real astaxanthin will spread evenly on the surface of water just like an oil drop on the surface of water. It does not diffuse well into the water.
3. Finally, real astaxanthin is very sensitive to light and will undergo photodegradation and oxidation within 48 hours, or even shorter on paper. A normal red dye or food grade red dye is resilient to light and will not experience photodegradation.
Also, astaxanthin products which are not at absolute 100 percent purity may comprise trace amount of chlorophyll, which will only be revealed when the color of astaxanthin faded.
I’ve never tested the astaxanthin soft gels I bought back in 2012 and 2013 but I remember cutting them up and what was inside was red oil that smelled kinda fishy. The quality was close to the topical astaxanthin I’ve purchased.
Anyway, while the alert pertained to astaxanthin, it got me thinking about the whole situation with supplements. Besides astaxanthin, China suppliers are probably involved in supplying ingredients to other types of supplements. But consumers have no idea because there is currently no rule requiring labeling the country of origin for ingredients. In fact, it appears that a lot of the vitamin C products come from China.
According to this article, 5 Facts You Need To Know If Your Vitamins Are From China in Epoch Times, ingredients from China should be a concern not just because they may be synthetic but their vitamin and supplement production areas are among the most polluted in the world.
The pollution mentioned here is not just filth but rather soil pollution from heavy metal and water pollution industrial waste. We are talking about real toxicity here. And it seems that even those labeled as “organic” are not safe, since USDA organic standards place no limit on levels of heavy metal contamination for certified organic foods.
Time to re-evaluate
As a blogger who blogs about beauty supplements regularly, I realized that I should bring this matter to your attention. While I have no idea if the supplements I’d recommended contain China made ingredients or if they’re indeed toxic, I feel I owe you an apology for having recommended astaxanthin. I know some of you have purchased the supplement after reading my post so I feel responsible about it even though there were no indications of fake astaxanthin back when I wrote the post.
However,I can’t promise that I’ll stop writing about supplements unless I eradicate them totally from my life. For me, taking supplement is a lifestyle choice and there is no right or wrong about it. Obviously, I take it at my own risk as I’ve always indicated, whether directly or implicitly. But what I’ll do is to re-evaluate some of the supplements that I’m currently taking and I suggest you do that too.
I may continue with those made in Europe or Japan but keep them minimal. If I do blog about supplements, I’ll remember to include a disclaimer about the source of the ingredients just as a reminder. In fact, I’ll do that for all my past posts as well.
Health supplements in Singapore
Unlike medicines which contain potent medicinal ingredients, health supplements are currently not subjected to approvals, licensing or registration before being sold in the market. Even if you look at HSA’s website, health supplement dealers generally do not need to apply for a permit from HSA before they advertise their health supplement products. However, they must ensure that their products do not make claims to treat illnesses or diseases.
Dealers must also be responsible for determining that the claims on their products are accurate and truthful, as well as ensure that the information is printed in a clear and legible manner. The label and packaging material should also provide sufficient information to enable consumers to make informed decisions when purchasing and consuming the products.
General tips to minimize risks
So I don’t know if there is a way to check for the safety of supplements but here are some tips:
1. Avoid taking supplements for weight loss, sexual enhancement, and bodybuilding as these have been problematic since some contain steroids and prescription drugs.
2. In US, you’re advised to look for the “USP Verified” mark. It indicates that the supplement manufacturer has voluntarily asked U.S. Pharmacopeia, a trusted nonprofit, private standards-setting authority, to verify the quality, purity, and potency of its raw ingredients or finished products. USP maintains a list of verified products on its website.
Products manufactured under the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) program are also considered reliable as the program ensures that products are consistently produced and controlled according to quality standards.
3. Always conduct your own esearch about the supplement you are looking at, including reading reviews.
4. Another thing I learned from the astaxanthin alert is that going for supplements that are popular and new may not be a good idea as such popularity tends to fuel unscrupulous supplies. In the case of astaxanthin, demand exceeded the real supply and that left a gap for the black market to enter.
Well, if any of you have any other ideas on how to check on the safety of supplements, do share with us in the comments.
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