The companiesÕ home offices often leave the impression with distributors that their product is special in a way that is not justified by research. The distributors then go off into the market and, sometimes innocently, make these unjustified claims. Again, these claims are almost invariably exaggerated and used to mark up the price of the product beyond the value of the ingredients. Always be wary if a company claims that their supplement of 2 mg is equal to 30 mg from another source. There is no basis for this claim.
Multilevel marketing companies almost always admit that their retail price is high, but you can become a distributor and get the product "wholesale." Unfortunately their wholesale price is usually still higher than comparable products sold through normal retail outlets. If you mark something up enough, a good discount still leaves you with a high price. Because of the multiple levels of distributors who take a cut from all sales, it is almost essential that the end-user price be elevated compared to other sources. To be fair, the companies claim that they save on marketing and advertising. They do less national advertising because of the zeal of distributors. This may be true, but it seems that they are not passing such savings on to the consumer.
What to Look for in Pricing
My advice is to seek a reliable mail-order, health food store or professional line of products, and check that the company uses GMPs in manufacturing. You can ask the sellers, who should be able to find out from the companies if they do not already know. Also, make sure that they are hypoallergenic and that there are no extraneous ingredients such as artificial flavor, colors or preservatives in the products. Although some of these may be safe, some of them are not, and their presence is a sign that the manufacturers are not as concerned with quality.
There have been in the past, and may still be, some
very cheap mail-order supplements that did not meet the potency claims made on the label. This is much less likely now, but it is still possible. If a price looks too good to be true, it probably is. For example, if you price several reliable brands at between $9 and $12 per hundred capsules, and you find the same ingredients for $4-$6 per hundred, you need to be very suspicious. On the other hand, if you find the same product for $19, you should also be aware that you may be paying too much.
Most dietary supplement suppliers are very competitive (except for multilevel marketing prices, which are high), and a below-cost item may not meet label claim or on occasion may be made with inferior raw ingredients. These may have contamination problems or problems with solubility. Synthetic vitamin E, for example, is much cheaper than the natural form, but the molecule is slightly different, and contains only the alpha-tocopherol, not the beta, gamma or delta forms found in "mixed, natural tocopherols." That information should be on the label. The most likely supplements to be a problem are the most expensive ones, such as coenzyme Q10 or proanthocyanidins, or non-standardized herbs being sold for low prices compared to the standardized products.
Most "timed-release" products are not worth the extra money that you may spend on them. In fact, they may even be less effective than the plain variety. For example, in order to achieve the best effects with vitamin C, especially in viral infections, you sometimes need a very high blood level. These levels are more difficult to achieve with timed-release pills, because of their slow dissolution and absorption.