How To Spot A Supplement Scam

spot a supplement scam

How To Spot A Supplement Scam

The supplement industry is ripe with inferior products and rip offs.  Not all apples in this barrel are bad mind you, but as barrels go, there are a lot of bad apples in the supplement barrel.  I scrutinize the crap out of supplements!  So much so, I’d consider it a hobby and might even go so far as “self-proclaimed expert” status type of stuff here.  In short, when we’re done here, you’ll know how to spot a supplement scam and identify the red flags.  I’m going to tell you what I look for and how I identify “real” from “shady.”

Supplement Scam Red Flag #1:  The Proprietary Blend

spot a supplement scam

There are a couple key things I always look for to spot a supplement scam, but for me the biggest red flag is and always will be “the proprietary blend.”   This is where a company will include a group of similar or synergistic ingredients at a specific dose but not list how much of each ingredient you’re actually getting.

Take this image of a proprietary blend as an example.  2 capsules get you 850mgs of a combination of 6 ingredients.  One of which is caffeine.  The company is legally required to disclose the amount of caffeine so what we now know for sure is we’re getting 750ms of the remaining 5 ingredients.  So, how much am I getting from each one?  More importantly, is the dose actually enough to have a real impact?

Companies will claim they are doing this to protect themselves from getting copied and knocked off.  They’ll claim they’ve spent time and money coming up with the perfect formula for you to get the greatest benefit.  Or they’re selling you a bottle of snake oil.

Why the proprietary blend is horse sh*t!

Well let’s use this example above.  This particular product I’m using as an example is supposed to be a nootropic.  It claims to increase motivation and focus, improve mood and sociability, reduced impulsivity and restlessness and lower stress and anxiety.

The first of 6 ingredients is Phosphatidylcholine from Soy Lecithin.  Phosphatidylcholine has been shown to help with cognitive function.  The website that markets this product even cites a study saying, “Phosphatidylcholine, a potent natural ingredient that has been shown in several studies to support several important cognitive functions required to operate at a high level. Cognitive functions such as focused attention, learning, and memory.”

OH COOL!  They even link to a study and the study shows that pregnant women supplementing with Phosphatidylcholine reduces the risk of schizophrenia developing in the child.  So…?   What’s the exact connection to cognitive function?  Not quite sure.  Additionally, let’s say you were using this product to reduce the risk of onset childhood schizophrenia.  The study had women taking over 6 grams of the stuff.  And in this product you’re not even getting 1 gram.  Which leads me to…

Supplement Scam Red Flag #2:  You have no idea how much of the active ingredients are actually in this product.

First and foremost, without any real transparency, how do I know, as a consumer, that the 750mg left in this product is not 746mg of the cheapest ingredient and then 1mg of each of the remaining 4 ingredients?  A proprietary blend can do that.

Is there enough of the specific ingredient in the product to actually deliver an effect?  Otherwise any effect is just a placebo.  For example, 2 tabs of Advil is 400mg of ibuprofen and that usually handles most headaches.  Imagine taking a product that was supposed to handle your headache with a 500mg proprietary blend of stuff and ibuprofen was one of the ingredients.  Exactly, how much am I getting?  No wonder my headache isn’t going away.  Follow?

Turning back to this nootropic product example, Soy Lecithin, their source for Phosphatidylcholine, has been shown to reduce cortisol, a stress hormone, at a 2 gram dose.  Again, not enough in the product to have a meaningful effect.  And mind you, with just one ingredient, their entire blend falls apart.  We haven’t even looked at the minimum effective dosing for the rest of the ingredients yet.

  • Bacopa monnieri (300mg),
  • Theanine (100mg),
  • GABA (500mg) and
  • Ginko (120mg).

There’s just not enough and some may argue that combined they have some kind of a synergistic effect, but where are those studies?  They’re simply not out there and what’s even worse is the company’s website will go on say that the ingredients in their product have been shown to….  [insert the benefits of the ingredients] and never bother to tell you at what dose and dosing parameters produced the result or effect.

Supplement Scam Red Flag #3:  If you need a BA in chemistry to understand the ingredients, something is way the eff off

This one is a great little slight of hand trick that companies use to make their product look greater than it is.  Look, if they can’t keep it simple and transparent, what are they hiding?  Critical thinking right now is most important because you are, the consumer.  You’re looking to make improvements to your body, you’re working out, you’re eating right and still need a little help.  A boost.  Have you’ve tried really hard and still aren’t seeing the muscle gains or fat loss you really want?  You’re frustrated, emotional, eager and along comes what looks like the answer.  This is how we get really expensive urine.  Catch my drift?

One up in coming company that I vetted pretty hard and feel really good about is LiveGood.  Their products are well sourced, high quality, very transparent and aggressively priced.  If you want to take a look at them for yourself check out   But here’s the final thoughts…

Have the presence of mind to pull the reins on yourself and make sure what you’re getting is real.  Research it, look for the signs, read all the reviews with a grain of salt and make an educated, logical decision.  If there’s a product out there your not 100% with and you’d like me to look at it and deliver an opinion, leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to put my 2 cents in.