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Episode 6: The Future of Supplementation – How technology and manufacturing advances are changing the future of natural health

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In this exciting episode we are joined by industry insider, Todd Frankovic, to share some of the most exciting changes in the natural product world. Technology and scientific advances have produced rapid improvements in delivery systems for many common vitamins and nutrients. Find out how absorption, taste and effectiveness are being improved in many of the supplements you are taking daily. Music by Bensound.


The content of this podcast has not been evaluated by Health Canada or the FDA. It is educational in nature and should not be taken as medical advice. Always consult a qualified medical professional to see if a diet, lifestyle change, or supplement is right for you. Any supplements mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please note that the opinions of the guests or hosts are their own and may not reflect those of Advanced Orthomolecular Research, Inc.

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Hello, and welcome to Supplementing Health, a podcast presented by Advanced Orthomolecular Research. I’m your host, Dr. Paul Hrkal. This show is all about applying evidenced-based and effective dietary lifestyle and natural health product strategies for your optimal health. We are going to feature some very engaging clinicians and experts from the world of functional and naturopathic medicine to help achieve our mission to empower people to lead their best lives naturally.

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[1:12] Dr. Paul Hrkal: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to Supplementing Health. I’m your host, Dr. Paul Hrkal. I’m back with a previous guest of ours, Todd Frankovic. We’re going to talk about all the things we didn’t get a chance to talk about in our previous show. We’re talking about what’s inside of your supplements.

[1:30] So, we’re not talking about particular ingredients and nutrients about some of their health benefits. We’re going to actually talk about purity, stability, and a lot of the questions that people have around the natural health products they’re taking. Are they effective? What else is in my supplements? Is there something in terms of heavy metals, lead, pesticides, fungus, mould? All these are questions that sometimes people ask at different times.

[1:58] I know that when I do a lot of trainings and education with my colleagues and with health food stores around North America, people are always asking about some of these extra things that go into supplements. All these things play a key role in determining the health impact and actually if the natural health product that you’re taking is effective. Todd, welcome back.

[2:22] Todd Frankovic: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.

[2:25] Dr. Paul Hrkal: For those of you that missed the previous show, Todd, can you give us a quick, little spiel about who you are and how you are one of the experts in this area?

[2:36] Todd Frankovic: Sure. My name is Todd. I’ve been in the industry for almost a decade. That’s the Dietary Supplement Natural Health Product Industry. I got my start in raw material manufacturing, specifically botanical extracts. I eventually moved my way into developing products for the North American market. My specialties have been botanical extracts, whole foods, greens, and now I’m starting to move more into vitamins and minerals.

[3:12] Dr. Paul Hrkal: Awesome. So, you’re the perfect guy to be talking about this particular topic. Let’s start where we ended and quickly pull together. We’ll start with this: how do you know that the supplement that you’re taking is high quality? What should you be looking for right off the bat?

[3:32] Todd Frankovic: That’s a very good question. A lot of things that go into the quality of a supplement or a natural health product isn’t actually labelled. That comes down to the sourcing of the material, where it’s coming from, what kind of certifications those raw materials have, how do you know that it’s not contaminated, whether it be with toxins or synthetics that aren’t studied or even spiked with ingredients that aren’t on the label? It’s a matter of trusting the brands that you buy from and aligning yourself with the views of the companies that you’re buying natural health products from.

[4:19] Dr. Paul Hrkal: Right. Ultimately, it comes down to some trust. For example, if I’m going to go to the local supermarket, and it says it’s organic celery, most people take that at face value. But the consumer that’s like, “I don’t know if I want to trust supplements.” For example, there was a recent supplement that was used for sleep that was recalled because there was an ingredient inside of that product that was not disclosed on the label, and that was very similar to a class of sleeping medications.

[4:50] So, I think there’s this kind of skepticism, obviously, on the medical side. Conventionally, there’s always this skepticism to one degree or another. But even regular consumers, do you trust based what’s on the label? Is there anything else that you can tell what goes into it that ensures that those things with a good quality company aren’t happening.

[5:16] Todd Frankovic: Yeah, absolutely. It’s very disheartening when you see a brand be outed for adding in an ingredient that wasn’t on the label that isn’t allowed to make their product work better without considering what kind of safety concerns that can cause. That’s a whole hit for the industry, and it’s a matter of us, as an industry, have to get rid of those players because we want to be taken seriously. We want to be providing efficacious and safe products.

[5:53] There are so many different contaminants that you can find in products that you have to trust the product that you’re buying. An example that I can give is a behind the scenes look at an ingredient that a lot of people don’t know, and a popular one called, Rhodiola.

[6:25] The demand for Rhodiola has forever been increasing over the past few decades, even. But two years ago, it hit a critical mass where a lot of the Rhodiola is native to China. All of it that was being harvested was wildcrafted, which means it wasn’t being cultivated or farmed. It was native to China, and it was being harvested.

[6:56] A lot of companies were in China, and they were harvesting this Rhodiola. Because the demand kept increasing and increasing, eventually, the Rhodiola was starting to go extinct within China, and it was disappearing. Finally, the government decided to put in new rules that you could no longer harvest Rhodiola from the wild. Because of that, finally, Rhodiola is not extinct in China, and it’s starting to recover.

[7:39] What ended up happening? Rhodiola started coming into the market that was adulterated with different species of Rhodiola. So instead of using Rhodiola rosea, which is the most clinically-studied Rhodiola, there was Rhodiola cumulada coming into the market with different actives inside of it that were no longer being equivalent to the clinical studies that were showing up. There was illegal harvesting happening within China. There were so many practices that were happening within Rhodiola that you didn’t know what was in the products that you were taking.

[8:21] The country that you’re buying the raw materials from are important. An example being that, now, Rhodiola, there’s a big supply coming out of Serbia. That supply, in particular, has a bunch of sustainability practices that they implement. And, sure, yes. It is more expensive to harvest, but at the end of the day, Rhodiola is not going extinct there. Rhodiola is thriving, and we’re benefiting from a natural source of Rhodiola that continues to come back every year.

[9:02] Dr. Paul Hrkal: This is farmed Rhodiola. Right? This is not wildcrafted?

[9:08] Todd Frankovic: Yeah. The material coming out of Serbia is wildcrafted, so you’re still getting the actives. There’s a benefit to wildcrafted materials as you’re not depleting the land of its resources. The actives inside of the product are high because, over years of farming, if it’s not done right, the actives can start being depleted because the soil is not as rich anymore.

[9:38] So, the material from Serbia is actually still wildcrafted, but it’s done in a sustainable way that ten years from now, Serbia isn’t going to be with zero Rhodiola, like how China almost got to. While in China, now, they implemented a lot of new cultivation, so material coming from China, for the most part, is now cultivated, while there are still a few places throughout the world that can produce wildcrafted Rhodiola with minimal environmental impact.

[10:15] Dr. Paul Hrkal: There are a lot of semantics. The first time I was introduced to the semantics was all-natural, which ultimately means nothing in the food space. Then things were coming out to say they were organic, non-GMO, and ultimately, this wildcrafted. Let’s speak to some of the differences in semantics that often, people take for granted. I say wild, and they say right away, “Oh, yeah, 100% has to be better,” but they don’t realize the impact if it truly is wild. If it’s picked, it can become depleted like this great example you gave with Rhodiola.

[10:58] Todd Frankovic: And even food for thought: our industry calls these products natural health products, even though we can use synthetics. That’s how little of the word natural really means. You see products all throughout North America claiming natural, even though you see ingredients in there that are obviously synthetic.

I really do wish that Health Canada and the FDA, for that matter, would regulate the term natural a little bit more because it degrades that products that are natural, that are getting it from natural sources and are making the strides to use the non-synthetic forms. Things like thianine, where the synthetic is so much cheaper and wildly available than natural.

People have sleeping products on the market that say natural, even though it contains synthetic thianine. There are a lot of these different claims that companies are making that I wish would be more widely regulated.

[12:07] Dr. Paul Hrkal: As you said, the word disheartening does come to mind, and confusing, because you and I are industry-insiders. We understand this. I know that there’s a synthetic form of thianine, and then there’s a natural form from green tea. Customers, unfortunately, don’t know that. They are taking the labels at face value.

[12:30] Just because there is a massive demand, or because an ingredient is popular, there is a cause and effect to that. One of the biggest ones, as you said, is Rhodiola. The one now that I’m seeing a lot is ashwagandha, which is a cousin to Rhodiola. It’s an Indian Ginseng used a lot in Ayurvedic medicine, which uses it for similar things for Rhodiola, but it’s a general tonic. There are reports of adulteration coming out on that. Another one that comes to mind is saffron. I don’t know if you can speak a bit on those two examples because this is the nature of cause and effect and supply and demand.

[13:16] Todd Frankovic: Exactly. Even with saffron, the country of origin is a big piece of the quality of saffron. There are a lot of sources of saffron right now, specifically coming out of countries like Turkey or Morocco, where it’s adulterated. It’s hard to tell unless you have specific identification testing; it can pass right through.

[13:47] But saffron has been adulterated in those countries with marigold. In order to keep the cost down of the saffron, because saffron is incredibly expensive. They mix in marigold flowers. When we have to source a saffron, you can turn to countries like Iran, where there’s no indication of adulteration of saffron with marigold flowers.

[14:17] This comes back down to testing. There are different forms of testing, and when there is adulteration in the form of marigold flowers being in saffron. If you’re using specific test methods, or testing equipment, you can have a certain amount of marigold in there, and it’s not detected.

[14:43] You have to use the higher-end equipment to find that type of adulteration, and that’s what we’re doing. Between our products and our suppliers, we’re making sure that there’s no adulteration happening.

[15:01] Right now, another example with synthetics is astaxanthin and curcumin. Both of them, recently there have been synthetics coming to the market of astaxanthin and curcumin. They’re way less expensive to produce than the natural materials. But the safety data just isn’t out on the synthetics.

[15:27] We’ve talked about it before. Those synthetics don’t have the entourage effect of the natural ingredients. With that, you have to do specific testing that’s not required by Health Canada or the FDA in order to figure out if those materials are being spiked with the synthetics. It’s very costly testing, and it’s a matter of carbon dating the material to see if it is a synthetic or a natural.

[15:57] But at the end of the day, it’s something that we have to do. It comes from being in this industry for such a long time and getting the experience of knowing the ingredients that could be adulterated. Companies will try to adulterate products without you noticing.

[16:16] Dr. Paul Hrkal: Exactly.

[16:17] Todd Frankovic: A lot of the brands that are trying to sell products may have adulterated materials in their products without even knowing, so you couldn’t even blame the brands that are trying to be upstanding.

[16:31] Dr. Paul Hrkal: It’s the suppliers. It’s the ones that are giving them the ingredient. Right?

[16:35] Todd Frankovic: Exactly, and I’m not going to say there are particular — a country itself is not a problem. It’s the companies within those countries, and yes, there may be countries that have more of a concern, like China. But, at the same time, there are suppliers out of China that do great jobs.

[17:00] Just like with botanical extraction, China is the most advanced in the world in botanical extraction. It’s a matter of finding the right companies that have the same values as the brands, and creating those relationships to know that they’re not sending you adulterated, synthetic, or ingredients with compositions of unlisted materials. It’s a matter of getting that experience in the partnerships, over time, to know that you can trust where your materials are coming from.

[17:35] Dr. Paul Hrkal: If you were to summarize everything that you just said, it comes down to the integrity of the company, and you’ve already talked about it, that’s trust, which has to be earned, and unfortunately, sometimes gets eroded by the example of the particular sleep remedy, which we talked about at the beginning of the episode. But testing and the science and the quantification that goes into it is the real big differentiator. The simple way of identifying that is ask. Right?

[18:11] Todd Frankovic: Exactly. Some things are very obvious, where it doesn’t even fall into adulteration, it just comes into the quality. An example being milk thistle, where there’s not much milk thistle coming to the market that’s questionable, but at the same time, the most commodity-based version of milk thistle is extracted using hexane. Hexane has been linked to different health concerns, but about over 90% of what’s on the market of milk thistle is extracted using hexane and has some residual amount of hexane in the product.

[18:53] So, it’s a matter of trusting the company and trusting that the company that you’re buying your product from is going above and beyond and knows things like milk thistle is being extracted elsewhere with hexane, and instead, opts for — even though it may be more expensive, but opting for a cleaner alternative to hexane as an extracting solvent like ethanol, which is completely safe and has been used in extractions for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

[19:30] Dr. Paul Hrkal: Yeah. That’s the basic way of getting things out of a plant is either with alcohol, ethanol or by water or steam. That’s how you get essential oils or teas. I think that was a really good insight into some of the adulteration. Let’s walk somebody through the process of — you and I are going to sit down. We’re going to formulate this product. We’ve got the product approved.

[19:57] You get an NPN for the product, which is a natural product number from Health Canada in Canada. In FDA, I think the process is a little bit different. It’s not as stringent. But, nevertheless, we order the product. Take us through from getting the raw material to the bottle that’s sitting in the customer’s house and in store shelves in terms of the testing that goes through at every point.

[20:24] Todd Frankovic: Absolutely. Through the years, the testing keeps piling up of what we have to watch out for, but a quick snapshot of what we’re testing for and how many times we’re testing. Once again, the relationship with the manufacturer themselves. Every piece of testing that I’m going to mention, we make sure that the vendor is testing it. We’re testing it, and then we’re testing it again before the finished product even hits the market.

[20:54] An example, before, I talked about identity. Identity testing is important with a lot of botanicals because a lot of these botanicals aren’t coming from scientists. They’re coming from farmers. Over time, a species can look very close to another species. Back to the whole Rhodiola rosea versus Rhodiola cumulada, over time, a supplier may not realize that a species is being replaced with a different species.

[21:36] In order to make sure the finished product will always stay the same, we’re testing for identity at the vendor level, at the raw material level before it goes into the product, and then if possible, at the finished product level.

[21:56] In addition to identification, there is standardization, which we call an assay, which measures the potency of an active ingredient within the product. An example being that milk thistle, again, with silymarin, which is the active within milk thistle, so the difference between a standardized material versus an extract ratio.

[22:33] What I like to say is the biggest difference is that standardizations can be tested. Extract ratios can be not be tested. If you see an ashwagandha that’s standardized to 10:1, that product can’t be tested for because you can’t test for an extract ratio because the closest test to that is an identity, which is going to pass because it’s still ashwagandha.

[23:04] Dr. Paul Hrkal: The concentration is different. Right? A 10:1 is more a more potent concentration.

[23:09] Todd Frankovic: Exactly. Because of that, you really care about the standardization, and a higher extract ratio can yield a higher standardization of actives within the product. But, what you can test for are those actives.

[23:25] Getting back on course, after identity, we test for the active ingredients, which is the standardization, and then after that, it’s about safety. After that, we start testing for heavy metals to make sure there’s no lead or arsenic contamination. We test for microbes, which is basically the microbiology to make sure there are no yeast and mould, E.coli or salmonella. No type of contamination that could possibly get someone sick after they consume the product, which, as a side note, there’s way more testing for contaminants in the natural health product section than even for food that you find on store shelves. That’s why you see so many more recalls for vegetables on a store shelf as opposed to natural health products and dietary supplements.

[24:24] Then, besides that, we’re testing for solvents, so we make sure that the solvent residuals are not over safe levels. Like I was saying, the ethanols and the hexanes, making sure there’s not too much left over. Then, we also test for pesticides to make sure that if something is not organic, that it’s not reaching over any pesticide limits that would be acceptable within Canada and the United States.

[25:05] Dr. Paul Hrkal: Does that include herbicides, as well, because I know Roundup is a big thing. I’m glad to say that it’s a huge concern for a lot of people.

[25:11] Todd Frankovic: Yeah. It includes that, as well, and I’ve even seen a lot of brands showing like it’s free of glyphosate. That’s one of the new claims that is coming, without just saying herbicides or pesticides, they’re using that one in particular because it’s such a sticking point.

[25:35] Dr. Paul Hrkal: It is a big sticking point. It seems like in the beginning, to summarize, you’re making sure the product is what it is, and there’s nothing extra in it, and there is some very high-tech specific testing that you do right away as soon as it arrives in the facility.

[25:50] Then, you make sure that the active ingredients and the active components that are part of the herb or other substance are actually present. It could be a problem if it’s too high or too low because then you get into toxicity. So, the frontend is making sure it is what it is, and is it going to be a therapeutic quality?

[26:12] Then, the backend is more of, “Let’s make sure that it actually doesn’t have anything that’s harmful.” Because a lot of plants do suck up a lot of these minerals and toxins, for example, rice. We’ve heard of the whole rice and arsenic thing. A lot of plants are chelators. They’ll pull minerals, substances out of the ground. That’s one of the beauties of the plant world is that they help recycle some of these toxic substances. Those are the two testings? Then, the last thing that I want to briefly touch on is the final product and the amount that is on the label, is it actually in the capsule? Can you speak to that a little bit?

[26:56] Todd Frankovic: That’s where one of the big differences comes into play between Health Canada and the FDA. It comes into the fact that in Canada, we’re required to have what’s on the label actually be what’s in the product. It’s a matter of having to test every batch of product that comes out of our building is tested for actives.

[27:26] A side note: a lot of companies throughout North America, when they bring things to market, what they are actually putting on their certificate of analysis is the input of the ingredient.

[27:53] Dr. Paul Hrkal: That’s right. That’s what the manufacturer sends to the company. Right?

[27:57] Todd Frankovic: Exactly. When there’s an input, that means that “We needed a milligram of B12. We put into this product through blending; physically, we put one milligram of B12 into this product. But they aren’t testing it after the fact. They aren’t testing if there was something in the materials that it was mixed with, or it was stored in a way that was going to degrade the B12.

[28:30] Because of that, we test that content after it comes out of production, and then we put it into stability, which is us putting it into a stability chamber to test it for over a year, two years, three years, and see how long that product is stable so that what you’re getting in that bottle when you buy it, we guarantee what’s inside of it because we have tested it after production, and we have put it into stability so that we have the stability data to show that all those actives inside of there are still good until the expiration date on that bottle.

[29:20] Dr. Paul Hrkal: Exactly. I think that’s a really important point to look at because you want to make sure as a customer, as a clinician that whatever is inside of your supplement is going to be there and good and therapeutic to the end of that expiry date, not just when it was manufactured, and then half of it’s gone.

[29:40] That’s a recurrent story I hear all the time, where it’s like a substance was there at the beginning, but then, over time, vitamin D degrades. I’ve noticed that a patient supplements with one Vitamin D, and then their levels don’t go up. Then they only go up if they switch to a different form, and you’re like, “It’s supposed to all be vitamin D.” Not all supplements are created equal. I can’t stress that enough, and I see that a lot with my patients.

[30:08] Todd Frankovic: Yeah, and specific examples are vitamins. A lot of vitamins have stability concerns, but also, one of the biggest growing parts of our industry, which are probiotics. In the past, I’ve done a test of going to stores and buying different probiotics that are on the shelf and sending them out to see how many probiotics are left in those products.

[30:39] It is so incredibly concerning when I get those results back, and barely anything is passing or even alive with a lot of them showing nonexistent. So, it’s a matter of over time, stability data on probiotic products are so important because those are living organisms, and they are going to die over time.

[31:04] It is a matter of making sure the correct overage is put into the product so that by the time the expiration comes, you have a viable amount of probiotics left that meet your label claim. I think, as far as stability is concerned, probiotics are where the industry can improve the most. Even though probiotics are one of the more recent parts of our industry as opposed to vitamins and minerals that have been around a very long time.

[31:38] Dr. Paul Hrkal: But they happen to be also the most popular part of our industry. Every company, almost, has a probiotic, and there’s a huge discrepancy in price, usually with a lot of these probiotics and some of the nonmedicinal ingredients. Sometimes, I always talk about this with patients is that people want the cleanest product. “I want it to be gluten-free. I want it to be starch-free. I want it to be everything-free other than just the vitamin D or the probiotic that’s in it.”

[32:05] The reality is, it simply doesn’t make sense; it doesn’t work because there are ingredients that are needed to maintain the stability of a substance. For example, something like sucrose. While it’s a simple sugar, it’s a disaccharide, but that is necessary to maintain the stability for vitamin D. A lot of people look at it and say, “Why is there sucrose in my vitamin D?” Then, they realize that if they look for one that’s sucrose-free — you can get one that’s sucrose-free, but the vitamin D is probably going to be degraded by the time that you are consuming it.

[32:42] Todd Frankovic: Exactly. A product that’s efficacious, and a product that’s clean, even though both are important, they don’t mean the exact same thing.

[32:52] Dr. Paul Hrkal: That’s right.

[32:53] Todd Frankovic: Sometimes, you have to make a choice between do you want a product that would be considered cleaner, or do you want a product that’s more efficacious? Our level of development as an industry is getting better, but sometimes, we have to make that choice between if it’s clean or if it’s efficacious. In the perfect scenarios, we do get products that are both clean and efficacious at the same time.

[33:24] Dr. Paul Hrkal: That’s right. But that doesn’t happen every single time. I think that’s why everyone will say, “Let’s make that.” I think that’s what everyone is working toward, but the reality is that in many cases, we’re still not quite there.

[33:35] You mentioned something like overage. For people who have never heard of that, that’s a very standard practice in manufacturing probiotics is that, let’s say if there are 10 billion in a capsule, you’ll actually put in 20 billion or 50 billion at the beginning because you know the rate of degradation. There are going to be 20 billion at the beginning. But by the end or the mid-point of that lifecycle of the expiration of that product, you’re still going to get that label claim.

[34:05] There are ways of trying to adjust for those things, and probiotics have done overages, but in general, we have to understand that there are many factors that go into making a really high-quality, therapeutic, and safe product. I think we talked a lot about that today.

[34:28] Is there anything that we missed today because I know that we covered a lot of extremely valuable information, but is there anything else that you want to share with our listeners about product quality, in general, that we maybe didn’t touch on before we close?

[34:43] Todd Frankovic: I think it comes down to not being afraid to talk to the brand. If you have a question about the product, where something comes from or what form it’s in — the brands that are upstanding, they’re willing to talk to you. They have the ability to chat on their websites or a phone number you can call to ask questions, and they’re willing to talk to you.

[35:08] You know what? If you are looking at a product, and you can’t get through that brand, or you can’t see a clear route of communication to them, don’t trust them. The brands that are good, the brands that care, they will talk to you, and they’ll give you the information you’re looking for.

[35:26] Dr. Paul Hrkal: Right. I would also add that the types of experts, healthcare professionals, doctors that are part of the teams and brands, at least I know that goes a lot way for me when I’m picking my products for my patients being able to trust not only the research but also the education and the team that goes behind the products because a really good quality professional would not want to associate themselves with a brand that is not good quality.

[36:00] Then, finally, and this is the most common sense is, you get what you pay for. We’ve heard it said, “There are no free meals,” and the natural health product industry is exactly the same. If you’re getting a really cheap price on an ingredient, I would be very suspicious about that because there’s a reason why it’s so suspicious, and there’s probably a corner that’s being cut, and it may not be in your best interest from a health perspective.

[36:30] Todd Frankovic: Exactly. There’s always a reason why the price is different.

[36:34] Dr. Paul Hrkal: Right. Todd, thank you so much. This has been so insightful. I’m sure we’ll have you back on the show again. There’s a lot that we didn’t get a chance to talk about today, but I know our listeners got a lot today about what goes into a product, what kind of testing is important, what are things they should be looking for. We touched on some common adulterations and what companies, like AOR, are doing to make sure their products surpass even Health Canada and FDA standards. Thank you so much for joining us.

[37:03] Todd Frankovic: Thank you for having me.

[37:06] Dr. Paul Hrkal: I want to thank you so much for tuning in. This is a bit of a longer episode than usual, but I appreciate your patience. I know that you found it as engaging as I did. We just couldn’t stop it. We are, obviously, hopefully going to have Todd back to talk more about these types of topics. Thank you so much for tuning in, and hopefully, we’ll see you all next week.

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[37:48] Thank you for listening today. For more information about our guests, past shows, and future topics, please visit aor.ca/podcasts. Do you have a topic that you want us to cover? We invite you to engage with us on social media to request a future topic or email us at [email protected] We hope you tune in again next week to learn more about supplementing your health.

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