Where Can I Send My Supplement Off For Testing?
December 28, 2013 12:27 PM   Subscribe

I have a 'condition.' There is a supplement touted as a miracle pill for those with it. Recently I went to purchase another bottle of my trusty supplement, which costs $59 for 60 pills, and I came across a few reviews stating that the content in the capsules is just plain white sugar. I thought what a joke, but I cut one of mine open anyway, and lo and behold, it looks, tastes, and smells exactly like white refined sugar!

I've convinced myself that I've been paying $60 for sugar pills for the past couple of years and I'm furious. Where can I send off a few of these pills to have them tested? I want to know exactly what is in these things. I imagine it might be a few hundred dollars to do this, or perhaps substantially more? Does anyone know how to go about doing this and which laboratories are legit?
posted by OneHermit to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The answer to your question likely depends on the type of thing you are testing for. A specific chemical (Vitamin C) is going to be more easy to test for. An herb (St. John's Wort) is going to be harder to test for.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:33 PM on December 28, 2013

This is D-Chiro-inositol
posted by OneHermit at 12:35 PM on December 28, 2013

Based on the Wikipedia entry for that compound, there are certain measurable benefits that you should (on average) be seeing from taking the supplement. What does your doctor say about how your numbers have changed while you have been on it?
posted by sparklemotion at 12:38 PM on December 28, 2013

Here's a sort of similar askme with some information about what the next steps to take could be when the contents of a supplement is questionable. (no information about personally paying for a lab to test, though.) Here's a direct link to where you can report this product to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (if you are in the US). I don't know how directly or soon this would lead to you personally finding out what exactly is in the pill, but this would formally lodge a complaint about the product.
posted by Secretariat at 12:41 PM on December 28, 2013

Lots of drugs are diluted with sugar, this makes it easiery to weight out very small amounts, or as a binder so it can be pressed into pills and hold it's shape:
Pharmaceutical excipients – where do we begin?
Plus, inositol is very close in chemical structure to sugars, Wikipedia says it has a taste that is about half as sweet as sucrose.

posted by 445supermag at 12:54 PM on December 28, 2013

I have not seen any dramatic changes in my PCOS (insulin resistance) as a result of taking the DCI. However, so many women claim it works wonders for them so I keep taking it. I do feel slightly more energetic when I take higher dosages but this could be a placebo effect. I just really want to have the pills tested and I'm willing to pay.
posted by OneHermit at 1:03 PM on December 28, 2013

This article says infrared spectroscopy can be used to quantitate D-Chiro-inositol (unfortunately it has exactly the same mass as glucose, so mass spec won't work). You might find a university chemistry lab that would help, though any professional analytical chemistry company could do it.
posted by 445supermag at 1:26 PM on December 28, 2013

It's hard to say. Supplements, vitamins, herbal remedies, and alternative medicines are all unregulated (in the USA, anyway) and adulteration, dilution, and substitution with other active ingredients are all extremely common practices. It is certainly not unheard of for expensive supplements to turn out to be nothing more than inert filler, with no active ingredient present.

That said, sugar is indeed a common filler and binder in legitimate medicines, and the concentration of active ingredient may be sllow enough that outside of a lab it would be impossible to tell if the ingredient is present or not. A taste test is definitely not definitive.

I generally avoid supplements myself, for that reason. (Also, their efficacy is generally poorly supported by clinical research, though there are exceptions.) I'm not sure what you can do to ensure that your supplements actually are what they purport to be -- such are the pitfalls of unregulated industries. Sorry.
posted by Scientist at 3:46 PM on December 28, 2013

You could send one to ecstasydata.org for testing.
posted by rosa at 6:56 PM on December 28, 2013

If you google "d-chiro-inositol analytical laboratory" or a similar search string you'll find several analytical labs that offer testing for this substance. I haven't used any of them so I won't recommend any one in particular, but you can contact them about running your analysis. I mostly posted this to warn you that analytical testing can be extremely expensive, depending on what you need, and also to say that inositol looks and tastes just like sugar - I tasted it in the lab once, when nobody was looking ;-)

To decide whether a lab is legit, you can ask them which methods they use for analyzing your substance. They should be able to give you a reference, like a USP method or some other widely-accepted source. (Even if you don't have the chemistry background to evaluate any of this yourself, you should be able to google-trace them back to some solid sources like government regulations, international standards, or research journals.) Other things to look for: the lab adheres to GMP or GLP standards (cGMP, cGLP, or GxP are the same thing, near enough); the methods are validated; and they will give you the specifications of the assay - what it can detect, what it can't, and how sensitive it is.

Basically, everything they tell you should feel very dry and workmanlike - if there's any New Age woo or mention of homeopathy, look for a different company.
posted by Quietgal at 8:17 PM on December 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Problem is that many drugs etc. Use fillers like cellulose, sugars and corn starch. Often, the "active ingredient" is only a small portion of the entire pill. In your case, it is very possible that sugar is the filler.
One method that tends to work for detection of small quantities of drugs in a mixture is Raman Spectroscopy. Most universities have systems, especially in biology or analytical chemistry departments. You definitely need someone who understands spectroscopy to help you out, as getting a signal back is just squiggles which have to be interpreted.
If you aren't sure of this particular pill, is there another manufacturer you could try? What kind of food/drug safety is being adhered to by the store you bought this at? They should be able to inquire with the manufacturer for precise composition.
posted by Yavsy at 10:07 PM on December 28, 2013

Just comparing the structure of D-Chiro-inositol and glucose, I would not, necessarily be surprised that it tasted sweet. (In fact, with further searching, I see that Wikipedia says that it's been assayed to be about half as sweet as sugar.)

If you wanted to do this on the cheap, I'd start by getting an accurate weight of the contents of one of the capsules and see how it compared to the advertised amount of active ingredient. If they were right about the same, so that there could only be low amounts of non-active ingredients, then I'd make solutions of the contents of a capsule or three and some sugar and mix them at various ratios from pure drug through drug with just a skosh of sugar added to 75/25, 50/50, 25/75 and pure drug. Then I'd visit these samples with some Benedict's reagent and and alcohol lamp and see what happened. (What should happen is that there be little to no precipitate in the pure product, with increasing amounts of precipitate in the tubes with increasing amounts of sugar. This is something you could do at home for $30-40 if you really wanted to.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:50 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

This sounds like it would be a good activity for a university class. Challenge: Is this supplement legit? It might be worthwhile to contact some chemistry professors if there's a university near you.
posted by ceiba at 10:07 AM on December 29, 2013

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