Proprietary blend refers to the unique and trademarked mixture of ingredients in supplements. These mixtures do not contain an accurate breakdown of ingredient weight and dosages. This is an FDA- approved method to spur innovation in the supplement industry and prevent copying of formulations among manufacturers. However, it has also reduced the accountability for supplement manufacturers and has encouraged the use of cheaper substitutes to minimize expenses and maximize profit.
This article will explain the nature of proprietary blends and the benefits and risks of using proprietary blends. It will also explain the FDA regulation that allowed the use of proprietary blends in product information and how manufacturers benefit from using proprietary blends at the expense of consumer information. Lastly, the article will detail some of the dangers for consumers when using proprietary blends.
Proprietary Blend Explained
Proprietary blends refer to the trademarked ownership of a unique mix of ingredients in food and supplements. Proprietary blends were used to help spur innovation and prevent other companies from copying or using the unique blend of other companies. As a reference, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowed companies to use proprietary blends to hide their unique blends in from product information.
Companies are required to indicate the total weight of the proprietary blend without disclosing the amount of each ingredient used. The product’s ingredient listing, however, must be sorted by weight in descending order.
Proprietary blends are also referred to as: blend, matrix, complex, proprietary formulation, or other trademarked names. Companies name their blends as a marketing strategy/gimmick to distinguish their product from others. It also intends to increase the perceived value of the product.
Ideally, the FDA approved the use of proprietary blends to protect formulas and blends to leverage companies to innovate. However, it has been widely used to skimp on product quality and hide ineffective blend of ingredients by using fillers and lowering the amount of active ingredients.
Despite the benefits of proprietary blends for manufacturers and businesses, it contains several risks and disadvantages for the consumers. At a minimum, consumers waste money on products that have inadequate and/or inferior ingredients.
More serious risks for the consumer include the companies changing their proprietary blend formulation without providing the consumers with the exact breakdown of the changes in ingredient weight and dosages. This makes it harder for consumers to avoid allergic reactions from excessive intake of certain ingredients.
FDA Regulation on Proprietary Blends
The FDA requires food and drug companies to indicate the weight of ingredients that have established Reference Daily Intake (RDI) and Daily Reference Value (DRV). However, this requirement is waived when products include proprietary blends.
The FDA regulation is beneficial for the supplement industry because many ingredients contained in food and supplements do not have established RDI and DRV. Furthermore, supplements do not require research and clinical trials similar to pharmaceutical drugs. Thus, supplement companies can minimize expenses in production.
Supplement companies can use the FDA provision for proprietary blends to conceal their product information not only from the competition but also from the consumers.
Companies Win, Consumers Lose
Several countries, including Australia, have made proprietary blends illegal because it doesn’t allow the consumer to make an informed purchasing decision.
Making proprietary blends illegal encourages companies to have their products undergo clinical trials to ensure it is safe for public consumption, especially for people with high sensitivity to certain ingredients.
The initial intention for allowing proprietary blends was to encourage innovation and spur competition in the market, but it can provide leeway for companies to prioritize profit over consumer welfare. Reduced accountability on the part of the companies manifests through marketing strategies and claims that do not accurately translate to real-world effects.
Risks of Consuming Proprietary Blends
Proprietary blends, in general, are not detrimental to overall health and general well-being. However, non-disclosure of product ingredients can harm people with high sensitivities to certain ingredients.
To illustrate we’ll look at pre-workout supplements; A common ingredient/stimulant in pre-workouts is caffeine: People with high sensitivity to caffeine must not take more than 200mg of caffeine as this can cause over-stimulation of the nervous system causing hyperactivity and shaking.
Other stimulants that must always be disclosed to the consumers include yohimbe and phenethylamines. Some illegal ingredients like 1,3-dimethylamylamine (DMAA), 1,3-dimethylbutylamine (DMBA), and beta-methyl-phenethylamine (BMPEA) can also be included in pre-workout supplements because they provide energy and focus through increased dopamine and epinephrine. Other products can also contain synthetic products that are chemically produced.
Without lab testing or third-party certification, consumers are unaware of the products and ingredients they are taking. Consumers can only rely on testing the products themselves and making decisions based on their personal experience.
Ingredients in proprietary blends must always stay close to the recommended dosages according to clinical trials. Creatine and L-citrulline has an effective dose of 5 grams and 6 grams, respectively. Intake of beta-alanine and L-theanine should be maintained at 2-6.4 grams and 100-200mg, respectively.
The U.S Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has already warned consumers about buying proprietary blends because of the possible health risks. Companies are not required to do clinical trials nor are they required to test their products. While some companies do conduct testing, the results are not required to be scientifically verified.
According to the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, some of the possible adverse effects of proprietary blends include gastrointestinal problems, an increase in blood pressure, and cardiac arrhythmia. Proprietary blends can also cause overdosing on vitamins which can cause various toxicities including diarrhea, bloody stools, hair loss, and liver damage.
The comprehensive product review of 630 nutritional components of the Journal of Mass Spectrometry showed that 15% of the reviewed products are contaminated with anabolic-androgenic steroids and pro-hormones. Along with steroids, ephedrine is another banned performance-enhancing substance that might be included in proprietary blends of workout related supplements.
Not All Proprietary Blends Are Bad
Despite the “bad” reputation of proprietary blends, it has provided supplement manufacturers with guarantees that their investment in creating good products will not be ripped-off by other companies. Proprietary blends do not inherently mean bad quality. Choosing to buy supplements with proprietary blends from good, well-known, and reliable manufacturers can still yield advertised results.