Scouting out the nutrition information of several supplement products I repeatedly come across the phrase Proprietary Blend on the label.
I had only a vague idea of what proprietary blends were, so I decided to research the facts and share my interesting findings in this article.
What is a proprietary blend?
A proprietary blend is a term that is given to manufacturers’ unique mixing of multiple ingredients into a single formula.
The Food and Drug Administration requires the use of the phrase Proprietary Blend (or something similar) to identify it on Supplement Facts labels, but permit manufacturers to keep the quantities of each ingredient in the proprietary blend secret.
Next we’ll look at how the Food and Drug Administration label requirements for proprietary blends affect what you see when you’re looking at labels of nutritional supplements.
The article also explores how the government’s regulation of proprietary blends is used as a loophole by manufacturers to withhold useful information from consumers buying supplements from them.
Science resources included
As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant sports science & medical resources, clinical studies, and nutritional data used in this article.
What “Proprietary Blend” really means
When you see that exact term or even a unique name like Super Mega Awesome Energy Matrix, then you know the manufacturer has combined several ingredients into a concoction they consider their own invention.
Manufacturers are required to name their multi-ingredient invention using a term like “blend”, “complex”, “formula”, etc., somewhere in its name to distinguish it as a formula that’ll fall under Federal regulations assigned to proprietary blends.
The manufacturer is also required to list all of this specific ingredients that they put into this multi-ingredient combination.
This is meant to provide you the consumer with the information you need to decide if you’re going to buy the stuff & take it.
On the bottle’s label, you’ll find all of the ingredients contained in the manufacturer’s Bootiful Beach Buns Blend directly underneath its name.
Sounds good right?
After all, since the ingredients are disclosed you should know what they’re putting in the bottle.
They’re not hiding it behind a trademarked kind of name like what occurred in the olden days, when ingredients weren’t even listed (1).
However, there is a pretty big issue with this, and we the consumers are the losers because of it.
What could be required, but isn’t
The problem is that makers of proprietary blends are not required to disclose how much the quantity is for any of the ingredients in the proprietary blends they market.
So in the example above of our ___ Proprietary Blend, we’ll see on the label that it contains 6 different ingredients, because the manufacturer has to provide the names of the individual ingredients.
Yet we’ll have no idea how much of each one of those 6 ingredients is contained in that blend.
This leads to a gaping hole where important information for us consumers should be instead.
Just because they’re green and there’s a fern in back doesn’t mean they’re healthy…
Why avoid proprietary blends
The main problem with the current guidelines regarding proprietary blends and the manufacturers who sell them is the lack of full transparency.
We are talking about a product that we consumers are putting into our bodies without knowing exactly what is in the product, nor how much of the active ingredients there are.
Yet if it’s a proprietary blend, we have no idea what quantity we’re digesting of any of its ingredients.
Consumer safety & getting ripped off
Additionally, I see two serious problems for the buying public to deal with as a direct result of buying products that the supplement makers withhold the ingredients’ quantities.
- The health & safety of the consumer is compromised.
- The consumer could be getting ripped off and never know it.
An ingredient’s quantity is important to know
And so I can tell you with certainty that not knowing how much of something you’re taking can lead to unwanted side effects & potential health problems you don’t want.
Consumers have to be informed buyers
On top of that, the supplement industry is huge and the FDA is stretched thin.
They don’t test or review supplements before they hit the market like they do with prescription drugs.
They’re unlikely to become aware of a bad supplement until it’s already damaged somebody.
There was a case where a popular weight loss & bodybuilding supplement was linked to liver failure, hospitalizations, & death (2).
And another popular workout supplement was independently tested and meth-amphetamine — which is dangerous and highly addictive — was found in amongst the other ingredients (3).
Legitimate safety concerns demand that consumers know exactly what they’re taking.
How much of every ingredient is this person ingesting?
How to hide behind a Proprietary Blend
Here’s a quote from the highly respected supplement testing organization Consumer Labs:
“Proprietary formulas are often developed around an expensive ingredient, like CoQ10, because this allows a company to use less of the expensive ingredient, creating a formula in which the expensive ingredient is just a small part of the formula.” (4)
As an example, let’s say that XYZ Blend has 7 ingredients in it.
1. XYZ’s supplement company doesn’t have to reveal how much of each those 7 ingredients is in their product.
2. This FDA loophole allows the supplement maker – if they so choose – to have the first ingredient be 99.99% of XYZ‘s weight, and then use the remaining 6 ingredients for that last .01%.
3. This first ingredient could be a cheap, low-quality ingredient that does nothing and is essentially filler material. Except in this case, it makes up 99% of the XYZ Blend.
4. The 6 ingredients that hardly exist in XYZ could be expensive, of high quality, & well-known for their effectiveness.
But since there’s so little of them in the XYZ Blend, they won’t do anything except be on the label in name only.
5. The supplement is marketed & priced on the reputation of the 6 well-regarded ingredients, even though the product is 99% cheap filler.
The above scenario is very real.
The term in the supplement industry for the shady practice I described above is fairy dusting.
Sprinkle a teeny bit of sparkle in a supplement just so the supplement maker can list those proven ingredients, & fill the other 99% of it with cheap fillers.
Then make up a name like Z-Factor Metabolic Matrix, create an ad with pictures of fitness models, and charge a lot for it.
And under the current FDA guideline, this practice is totally legal.
How to make a proprietary blend in 1 easy step
The case for transparency regarding proprietary blends
A number of supplement companies who are transparent with the ingredients in their proprietary blends are speaking out against the practice of other manufacturers engaging in fairy dusting.
Says the head of EndurElite, a supplement maker for endurance athletes:
“…that just saves them a lot of money…saving them a dollar at your expense.” (5)
And from the editor for 4 Gauge, another workout supplement company:
“…the best supplement companies are always completely transparent about which ingredients and exactly how much of each make up their product, others aren’t …(and) hide their contents behind a brand name.” (5)
Proprietary blends & the FDA
The FDA is our government’s entity that oversees food & medicines (6). After all, they’re the Food and Drug Administration.
One of their jobs is to insure that the public —who is really into taking supplements these days — is provided truthful information from drug & supplement companies regarding things like:
- what are the clinically effective doses;
- what side effects are possible;
- what’s the nutrition profile
But where do products like proprietary blends fall?
The broad range of supplements we take by mouth contains things like:
- diet & weight loss products
- herbal supplements
- pre-workout powders & drinks
- energy drinks
- protein bars & protein powders
- fat-burner pills & drinks
- other athletic performance enhancers
The FDA calls them dietary supplements
Supplements of all kinds are not classified as drugs — they’re in the FDA’s food category which is why they’re considered dietary supplements.
I’ll let the (NIH) National Institute of Health explain their reasoning (8):
“Dietary supplements are products intended to supplement the diet. They are not drugs and, therefore, are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure diseases.
Unlike drugs, which must be approved by the FDA before they can be marketed, dietary supplements do not require premarket review or approval by the FDA.”
So knowing those facts above it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to learn that that top-selling “detox blend” has zero clinically proven ingredients in it.
Or that those proprietary blends have no beneficial ingredients in them & are ineffective at treating any medical condition.
Supplement manufacturers are less regulated than pharmaceuticals
In general, food products (including the massive supplement industry) aren’t as strictly policed by the FDA as prescription & over the counter drugs are.
I’ve been to the FDA’s website and read the section in their Code of Regulations that deals specifically with the handling of proprietary blends.
Here it is if you’d like to read it for yourself.
(Tip:It’s a giant wall of text type of document. I suggest doing a search in the article for the word proprietary; it’ll take you to that section.)
Another example, this time with multiple proprietary blends
FDA rules for proprietary blends
Here’s a summary of what’s expected of companies who make nutritional supplements, specifically proprietary blends — and what they need to put on their packaging.
They have to:
*Give it that blend/complex/formula name;
*List all of the ingredients that they used in it;
*List the ingredients in descending order according to their weight;
*Provide the total weight of their blend on the same line as its name;
*List the percentage (%) of daily value for each ingredient, unless there is no daily value established for it by the FDA;
(Note – Only common, well-known things like vitamin C, iron, sugar, protein, etc., have been given daily values by the FDA.)
*If there’s no daily value established, use an asterisk like this *. Then on the bottom of the nutrition label, do this:
“* – Daily Value Not Established”
That’s it. As mentioned earlier, the supplement maker discloses the total weight of the blend but not the exact amount of its individual ingredients.
I hope my article on proprietary blends is useful to you, and I wish you well on your fitness journey.