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Proprietary Blends - Deception or Protection?

What’s a Proprietary Blend?

Proprietary blends are “bundled” ingredients in which the dosage amounts of all ingredients in the blend are stated as only one cumulative number. In the absence of individual ingredient amounts, FDA requires that the dietary ingredients in a proprietary blend are to be listed in order of predominance by weight (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The nutritional supplement label above contains a proprietary blend (Proprietary Diet Boost Blend) in which the ingredients contain a stated cumulative amount of 1418 milligrams (mg).

As you can see from the label above, the ingredient named Guarana Extract is the most abundant ingredient in the blend. Acetyl-L-Tyrosine is the least abundant ingredient in the blend. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to review this product based on clinical efficacy doses (effectiveness to produce desired result) since the label doesn’t state the individual ingredient amounts used in this proprietary blend.

The label below could have used a proprietary blend but instead states every ingredient along with the amount of each ingredient in the product (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The nutritional supplement label above contains no proprietary blend and therefore allows better review of the product based on ingredient clinical efficacy doses.

Why do Companies use Proprietary Blends?

Proprietary blends exist for a few specific reasons:

  • DECEPTION – When a company wants to hide a low-dose ingredient(s), they will typically use a proprietary blend. Remember, if the amount of an ingredient in a product is lower than the clinical efficacy dose then the effectiveness of the product will not produce the results shown in clinical trials.

Figure 3: Brand X‘s nutritional supplement label above contains a proprietary blend of three ingredients, which are listed in order of dose weight. The total weight of the three ingredients is 7,060 milligrams (mg).

In the chart below is a side-by-side comparison of both the Clinical Efficacy Dose (produced a desired result in clinical trials), and the amount that Brand X (Figure 3) put in their proprietary blend:

Ingredient Clinical Efficacy Dose Brand X’s Dose
Creatine Monohydrate 5000 mg 7000 mg
Phosphatidylserine 750 mg 50 mg
Alpha Lipoic Acid 100 mg 10 mg

As you can see from the chart above, Brand X has used an ultra-cheap ingredient (Creatine Monohydrate) to mask the ultra-low ingredient contents of both the expensive Phosphatidylserine and the mid-expensive Alpha Lipoic Acid.

To make matters worse, Brand X has priced this product at $59.99 while advertising how effective Phosphatidylserine is for muscle recovery! They justify their high price because of the Phosphatidylserine content, which we actually know isn’t even close to being an effective dose.

Brand X has produced a product that will offer almost no additional benefit in comparison to consuming straight creatine monohydrate, which could be purchased at about 1/15 the cost of Brand X‘s product. Unfortunately, this deceptive business practice is happening every day, and sometimes with seemingly legitimate companies.

  • PROTECTION – While some companies may use proprietary blends to protect their deception, other’s are using proprietary blends to protect their investment.

Let’s say Brand X used the following ingredient doses in their product:

Ingredient Clinical Efficacy Dose Brand X’s Dose
Creatine Monohydrate 5000 mg 6160 mg
Phosphatidylserine 750 mg 800 mg
Alpha Lipoic Acid 100 mg 100 mg

In this case Brand-X feels the need to protect their proprietary blend in order to remain competitive in the market. Sometimes a company spends tens-of-thousands of dollars to invest in research and human trials of a proprietary blend. With this type of financial investment, these companies cannot afford a cut-throat copycat of their product to enter the marketplace. So, to mask their ingredient doses, they create a proprietary blend. Oftentimes these companies can easily prove their legitimacy and will acknowledge their strict use of clinical efficacy doses in their proprietary blends.

Discovering the Deception

While there’s no easy, quick solution to determine if a company’s proprietary blend is deceptive, there are indicators to watch for:

  • The company’s website or media advertisements are excessively flashy, oftentimes with images of oversized bodybuilders, popular sports figures, or even celebrities.
  • The company’s advertisements indicate that a particular high-profile athlete used their product to achieve the advertised results, or “gained x-amount of size by using product-x”.
  • The company promises or guarantees that you’ll “gain x-amount of size in just x-amount of days”, or some other outrageous claim.
  • The company uses “Before-and-After” images to promote a product.
  • The company advertises that “product-x has been backed by years of research”, yet they never actually list any supporting research or anything substantial to backup their claim. Remember, research isn’t normally conducted on a particular product, but rather the individual ingredients. (Read Evaluating Dietary Supplements).

This list isn’t conclusive for every situation but it should help you decipher which companies are pushing snake-oil versus those who could have a legitimate product. Remember, marketers know how to push your buttons, but now you are armed with the insider-knowledge that many companies don’t want you to know! Choose your supplements wisely and you’ll experience the benefits of productive choices.

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Written on January 21, 2010 by Brian Putchio
Last Updated: June 17, 2010

This information is not intended to take the place of medical advice.Please check with your health care providers prior to starting any new dietary or exercise program. CasePerformance is not responsible for the outcome of any decision made based off the information presented in this article.

About the Author: Brian Putchio is owner/operator of NUTRI-BODIES, LLC in Dubuque, Iowa. Through his extensive knowledge and experience in the nutraceuticals industry since 1999, Brian offers a unique perspective to his blog readers. Brian's refusal to simply flow with the marketing strategies of the industry conveys a strong sense of credibility that helps consumers successfully navigate the nutraceutical minefield.