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  • How to Read Herbal Supplement Fact Tables Like a Pro!

    How to Read Herbal Supplement Fact Tables Like a Pro!

    If you feel bewildered when trying to read herbal supplement tables, you’re not alone! We all want to make the best decisions when it comes to our health and buying supplements, but how do you go about comparing products when you don’t have a clue what half of the info means?

    Read on to find out how to easily decode this information so you feel fully confident in your purchasing decisions.

    Note: To be clear, we are not talking about dietary supplements (vitamins and minerals) here, which is something very different. We’re talking specifically about herbal supplements.

    What does serving size mean?

    You would think serving size would mean the dose, and generally, it does. However, the serving size is what the health claims and the ingredient amounts below this are based on, so it’s an important reference point.

    Unfortunately, some companies try to bamboozle customers by showing a serving size and its benefits, but once you get to the suggested dose you find you need to take double the serving size to receive those benefits.

    Not such a great deal after all, then!

    How do I tell if the supplement is plant-based?

    Unbeknownst to many people, many “natural” supplement ingredients are not made from plants but are derived synthetically to be bioidentical to their natural form. But studies have shown that these synthetically derived vitamins have a lower absorption rate.

    If an ingredient is derived from a plant, the common and the scientific name of the plant MUST be named in the Supplement Facts Table. The part of the plant is also required, such as root, flower, leaf, etc.

    In order for the plant to be named, it must pass a plant ID lab test. This is carried out using High-Performance Thin-Layer Chromatography (HPTLC), a cutting-edge technique used to assess the quality and identity of botanicals and various other ingredients.

    If you see an ingredient that doesn’t have a plant name, then the ingredient is likely synthetic and not from nature, ie. like most Vitamin C. This is important to note if you are looking for a product that is purely plant-based.

    Why do some extracted ingredients have a ratio and some a percentage?

    Good question, and one we get asked a lot!

    If an extracted ingredient has a percentage, then this is a standardized extraction (for more on why we prefer standardized extracts, please click here!), meaning there is a verified amount of the desired active ingredient present.

    The FDA requires that if a standardized extract is used, then the name of the active ingredient and the exact percentage are third-party lab-verified and that they’re clearly shown on the label. 

    If you see a percentage next to an ingredient, it means a lot more testing has taken place to ensure its accuracy and potency.

    When you see a ratio next to an ingredient, for example, White Willow Bark 30:1., it means this ingredient is a full-spectrum extract. 

    For this, no percentage of the active ingredients is required by the FDA. Instead, the ratio shows how much the plant matter was reduced during extraction. The higher the ratio, the more concentrated the final result. (Again, more on this on our Standardized Extracts page.)

    If you don't see a percentage or ratio, it means that no extraction has taken place at all. This is simply a whole herb that’s been crushed up with no concentration of extracted active ingredients. 

    Basically, no extraction = lower potency.

    Why don't herbal supplements list daily values while other supplements do?

    Daily Values were established for use on food and dietary supplement labels to show the number of nutrients needed daily to stay healthy.

    Herbal supplements generally don’t provide nutrition, but instead provide medicinal benefits. Therefore, there are no established standards for Daily Values for Herbal Supplements.

    What does “other ingredients” mean? 

    This is the area for inactive ingredients that aren’t part of the herbal supplement’s key benefits, such as the ingredients used to make the capsule and any  fillers or binders (for more on unnecessary ingredients added to supplements, look here!)

    Here is also where you’ll find a list of any major allergens contained in the supplement. These allergens are milk, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, soybeans, eggs, fish, and shellfish.

    What about the rest of the important-looking information?

    Below the supplement facts, there are often other pieces of information to help you make purchasing decisions when comparing products. 

    Some of this is required information, and some we choose to share to help you use our products safely and effectively. This info includes:

    • Suggested Use or Directions section that lists the recommended dose, whether the supplement should be taken with or without food, the best time of day to take it, and the daily maximum 
    • Does not contain: what the supplement doesn’t contain--usually a list of allergens
    • Caution Statements, such as any contraindications or letting you know if you should avoid the supplement if you have certain conditions

    By now, you should be a pro at reading herbal supplement tables, though always check with your practitioner if you have more questions!