Those who consistently use supplements or have just started researching supplements may come across a “proprietary blend” label. These labels create a considerable amount of controversy and contention in the health and fitness realm.
Importantly, those who are taking supplements or are looking into supplements should be aware of proprietary blends and what they are. These blended supplements can be of sordid origins and should be avoided for several reasons—the most important reason being your health.
What is a Proprietary Blend?
Individuals that consume supplements or pre-workouts understand that knowing the ingredients in what you consume is important. It is essential to know the active ingredients in your supplements as well as the proportions of each ingredient.
Many companies and products provide clear labeling as to what is in the product and the amount of the ingredient per serving. However, some products are not labeled as clearly. These unclear and sometimes deliberately vague labels are proprietary blends.
A proprietary blend is a name for a supplement or pre-workout blend where the specific ingredients and their dosages or amounts may not be exact or even listed. Due to the labeling, there is no clear way to find out the weight or proportions of each ingredient within a single serving of the proprietary blend.
Proprietary blends are created by manufacturers. The company creates a supplement and gives it a brand name. This newly created supplement can have a variety of ingredients that are listed under the name of the proprietary blend. While the company has to list the ingredients, the amount of each ingredient per serving is not as clearly defined.
Proprietary blends exist under FDA regulations because, legally, proprietary blends do not have to disclose the exact amount of each ingredient for the safekeeping of the blend. The argument is that a proprietary blend does not need disclosure because other rivals and companies may attempt to steal the blend.
While safeguarding the recipe may be the idea, it is more likely that the manufacturers can limit active ingredients or use inactive ingredients in the product. There is no possible way to know, as a consumer, the exact amount of each ingredient within the proprietary blend.
Unclear and indirect labeling makes it difficult to use product consciously and effectively.
Is it Safe and Effective to Use?
The USADA suggests being very skeptical and wary of any label with “proprietary blends.” This is because often, these blends are used as a marketing technique. In actuality, the product is stocked with cheap, ineffective ingredients. Moreover, the active ingredients are so small per serving that they are not effective at all.
It is difficult to say that proprietary blends are unsafe and ineffective definitively. The safety and effectiveness of the blend are truly dependent upon what is inside it and where the blend came from. However, it is difficult to know and find out the ingredients in a proprietary blend.
The USDA suggests that all proprietary blends should be avoided for a very simple reason—lack of scientific data. Manufacturers and companies that create a proprietary blend sometimes do research and experiments regarding the safety and effectiveness of their products, but this data is never given to scientific experts for analysis.
This means that while research may have been done regarding these proprietary blends, the research was never actually synthesized to conclude the blend’s effectiveness or safety.
Is it Illegal?
Proprietary blends are not illegal. It is assuredly illegal for manufacturers and companies to hide or lie about the ingredients in the product. However, they can choose to not give specifics about the amounts of the ingredients.
The manufacturers must list the ingredients in order or their amount within the product. Therefore, the ingredient listed first contains the highest amount of volume per serving. While this is good to know, it still does not tell you the exact amount of that ingredient per serving.
There is a rather minimal process for companies to obtain a “trade secret” ingredient status. This status is accompanied by an “ingredient declaration” that notes the products’ ingredients, which is required under packaging and labeling laws. However, as stated by law, the FDA cannot force a company to divulge “trade secrets.”
As long as the total amount of the mix total is listed, as well as the ingredients in the descending order by volume, then the proprietary blend is completely legal.
Why Should You Avoid It?
There are several reasons to avoid proprietary blends, and all reasons are directly related to your health. Proprietary blends may be ineffective. Not on this, but they can be directly damaging to your health.
First and foremost, proprietary may not be effective. Since companies have the discretion of the amount of each ingredient, the manufacturer may put such small traces of effective ingredients that the blend has not effective or result when consumed.
For instance, caffeine is a significant ingredient in most pre-workouts. Proprietary blends may include caffeine, but the amount may be so insignificant that it does not affect the consumer.
Moreover, the manufacturers of these blends have discretion over the kinds of ingredients they put in the blend. Some of these ingredients may be cheap while other ingredients are fillers. Fillers and cheap ingredients may not be effective and show no benefits to the consumer.
Manufacturers of proprietary blends try to reduce costs. To do so, they decide to use the cheapest ingredients in the highest volume and then reduce the amount of more expensive, but effective ingredients.
The undisclosed amount of each ingredient can also be dangerous, especially for those sensitive or allergic to specific ingredients. Some ingredients should not be consumed over their daily recommended dosage. Without information about the amount, there is no way to know whether or not an ingredient surpasses the daily recommended dosage. This can lead to dangerous side effects.
Those with allergies may have a severe allergic reaction to a filler ingredient or a cheap ingredient without knowing it.
Moreover, some proprietary blends have been found to contain illegal and dangerous ingredients. The FDA mentions that weight loss, muscle-building, and several other supplements are the most common substance to be laced with illegal ingredients.
Some of these illegal ingredients, like specific hormones or anabolic catalysts, can be placed in proprietary blends.
Proprietary blends are illegal in several countries, including Australia, because of the lack of transparency with the ingredients and their dosages.
One of the most telling reasons to avoid proprietary blends is that scientists or researchers have not analyzed research on these blends. As mentioned before, the companies conduct studies, yet these data sets are not given to statistician or analyst for conclusion results. This seems suspicious. It also results in no clear evidence for the effectiveness or safety of proprietary blends.
Due to a lack of evidence on safety and effectiveness, as well as an inability to know what the ingredients are and how a consumer will react, all supplement users should avoid proprietary blends. They can be a high risk for the health and safety of the body.
Ditching the Proprietary Blend
Proprietary blends may seem beneficial. They often come in enticing packages and have compelling names. They can promise great results and lasting effects. However, these are often marketing ploys and tricks to convince a consumer to buy a product that will not be beneficial to them.
Proprietary blends do not have to disclose the same amount of information as other supplements, and this can be dangerous. The product may not be effective, or it may even cause severe side effects due to allergies or consumption of ingredients over their daily recommended dosages.
Proprietary blends do not have to follow the same rules as other products. Often, the manufacturers of these blends are only looking to turn high profits, and this profit does not derive from the product’s effectiveness of the consumer’s health.
For the safety of your health and your peace of mind, it is a good idea to avoid proprietary blends and buy supplements with clear labels that list ingredients and their amounts per serving.
Adam Steel is the chief editor at legwork.guide. An aspired personal trainer, sporadic runner, avid gym-goer, he is currently training to do his first marathon and a 100-mile sportive.
“Dietary Supplements: Balancing Consumer Choice & Safety.” New York State Task Force, https://www.health.ny.gov/regulations/task_force/docs/dietary_supplement_safety.pdf
FDA. “‘Trade Secret’” Ingredients.” FDA, 2018, https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetics-labeling/trade-secret-ingredients#Legal_Background
USADA. “Supplement 411.” USADA, 2019, https://www.usada.org/substances/supplement-411/recognize-risk-when-see-it/