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ConsumerLab.com has long cautioned against purchasing supplements with proprietary formulas and typically does not test them. We may, however, check listed amounts of other key, individually listed ingredients in the same supplement. In some cases, we have found high levels of contaminants which, we suspect, originated from ingredients in a proprietary formula. 

The major problem with "proprietary formulas," as well as with proprietary "blends" and "complexes," is that they permit manufacturers to withhold important information about what's really in a product. The company only has to list the total amount of formula, not the amount of each ingredient in the formula. The formula's ingredients only have to be listed in weight order, i.e., based on their relative contribution to the weight of the formula. Furthermore, the formula may change over time without you necessarily knowing.

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. We have seen this with ingredients such as chondroitin in joint supplements, and SAMe. We also see proprietary formulas marketed for uses such as cognitive enhancement, nerve pain, or weight loss where a company may try to impress the consumer with a laundry list of ingredients having only shreds of evidence relating to the intended use. In most cases, the formulas themselves have not been clinically tested.

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January 17, 2016

I would like to see ou review items sold by Vitamin Shoppe. It is one of the largest sellers of supplements.

January 21, 2016

Hi Bernard - You can find a list of Vitamin Shoppe products we have tested here: https://www.consumerlab.com/vitamin-shoppe/

January 17, 2016

I'm so pleased to read your dislike for "proprietary blends". I nearly always caution against them to my clients and students. You want to know how much of the functional ingredient is present to know if it is the right dose, too high, or, in most cases with proprietary blends, just a fraction of what has been shown effective. Having worked in the supplement industry, I understand that it helps prevent someone from "stealing your recipe" but I think most use proprietary blends as a means of marketing. Anyway, thanks consumerlab for backing me up on this one!

January 18, 2016

"I understand that it helps prevent someone from "stealing your recipe" . . ." Often said, but the fact is that the easiest formula to copy is one that contains a "proprietary blend!" Think about it.

January 13, 2017

Greetings, The discussion of "Proprietary Blends" should not overlook the use of trademarked ingredients from major manufacturers. Use of their ingredient(s)' brand on your SFP mandates a specific mg threshold be met and the producer of the finished goods is accountable to prove the formula provides said quantity prior to release. Obviously, some supplement producers may utilize a small quantity of a single branded extract as the "story" for their product and proceed to comprise the balance of poor-quality, open-market materials.

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