by Michael Lelah, Ph.D. - NOW Foods Technical Director
At NOW, we firmly believe that natural products are safer and more gentle than synthetic products. We offer an extensive line of more than 1,500 products comprised of natural, natural source and nature-identical products. Our insistence on natural products is one of the many factors that differentiate us from the mass market, where the use of synthetic ingredients is rampant. It also differentiates us from many competitors who claim to sell natural products. Their labeling often reveals that their products are actually manufactured with synthetic ingredients and additives.
NOW Foods was founded for the purpose of providing affordable natural products to everyone, and we hold true to this principle today. As a chemist, our founder Elwood Richard understood the dangers posed by synthetic ingredients decades ago, and he knew that true health and wellness begins with products that are As Natural As PossibleSM. We’ve been manufacturing and distributing natural products since 1968, and our steady growth over the past 40+ years is an affirmation of Elwood Richard’s unwavering dedication to providing natural products that are both affordable and effective.
This page discusses the natural ingredients you’ll find in NOW products, and the synthetic ingredients you won't find in NOW products.
What are natural ingredients? Natural ingredients are those that are derived from natural sources, from the earth and the seas. Minimal processing is used to convert the natural mineral, crop, fish, herb, or other source into a form suitable for delivery in a dietary supplement or natural food. Minimal processing we consider natural includes extraction, concentration, and standardization (for herbs and botanicals), molecular distillation (for fish oils), fermentation (for example for CoQ10 and amino acids), enzyme treatment (for example Stevia), and saponification (the making of soap from fats and soda). This is not an all-inclusive list, but it gives an idea of what is natural sourced. In addition, some ingredients today are not available in commercial quantities from natural sources, and must be synthesized. At NOW Foods, we only use ingredients from these sources when the form of the ingredient is nature identical or when the synthetic source is actually a precursor of the natural active form used in the body (as in B vitamins). Many vitamins, amino acids and other ingredients such as CoQ10 exist in two or more optically different chemical forms - one form being the natural form and the other being a form not found in nature. We make sure to use only the natural form - the nature identical form. In this way we stay true to our values and maintain our true place as a natural products brand.
Chondroitin: Next to glucosamine, Chondroitin Sulfate is one of the most popular and effective joint support nutrients on the market. Clinical studies demonstrating Chondroitin’s efficacy have utilized bovine-source Chondroitin. However, Chondroitin from pig and chicken sources is more affordable and more readily available. At NOW we use only bovine-source Chondroitin, and our technical staff developed an analytical method that accurately identifies the source of our Chondroitin. Many brands don’t even identify their source.
CoQ10: CoQ10 is an antioxidant and a source of cellular energy. There are two forms of CoQ10 – the naturally fermented trans-CoQ10 form and the synthetic cis-form. The trans-form is the form found naturally in the human body, and this is the only form used in NOW products.
L-Amino Acids: There are two forms of most amino acids – the natural form, denoted by an L (L-Tyrosine), or the synthetic form, denoted by a D or DL (D-Tyrosine, DL-Tyrosine). There is evidence that the synthetic forms of amino acids may be toxic and/or less bioavailable, so you won’t find D or DL form amino acids in any NOW product.
Fish Oil Purification: The majority of fish oils used in NOW products are molecularly-distilled. Molecular distillation is a physical separation and purification process that removes potentially harmful substances such as heavy metals and PCBs. NOW utilizes molecularly-distilled fish oils whenever possible.
Natural Colors and Flavors: NOW does not use artificial colors in any of our products, instead choosing to use only mineral and plant derived natural colors such as annatto (red), beet (pink-red), carob (brown), and chlorophyll (green), to name a few. Many artificial colors, especially certain synthetic red dyes, are suspected to be toxic. Most FD&C colors are synthetic and not used in our products. We don't use artificial caramel colors. We also don't use artificial flavors.
Natural Sweeteners: We do not use or sell artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame. Although these sweeteners are freely used and sold in the United States, there are still questions regarding their long-term safety. We also do not use high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). NOW sells only natural sweeteners such as xylitol, erythritol, fructose, organic maple syrup, and our proprietary BetterStevia™ brand Stevia, and these are the only types of sweeteners used in our products.
Natural Vitamin E: Natural Vitamin E is comprised of eight different isomers – four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. Natural-form tocopherols and tocotrienols are denoted by a D, as in d-alpha-tocopherol. Synthetic Vitamin E and Vitamin E components are denoted with a DL, as in dl-alpha-tocopherol. NOW sells only 100% natural forms of Vitamin E, even when natural Vitamin E is scarce and synthetic Vitamin E is less expensive.
Organic: Organic products are cultivated and/or processed without the use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or other chemical substances. NOW offers a large selection of organic products, and we’re constantly looking to increase this selection. NOW organic products are third-party certified by Quality Assurance International (QAI) to meet USDA National Organic Program (NOP) standards.
Oxidation: Simply put, oxidation is the interaction of oxygen with other substances. With many natural products, prolonged exposure to oxygen causes degradation and spoilage, such as the effect seen with fruit that’s cut and left out too long. To protect our products and maintain freshness through the Best-By date, we often include Ageless® anti-oxygen packets to reduce oxidation, and silica-gel packs to eliminate moisture.
While it’s important to know what’s included in NOW products, we feel it’s equally important that you know what’s not included in our products, and why. At NOW we have quality standards, technical expertise, and we make most of our own products and this allows us to fully control the contents of our products. The following is a list of ingredients you won’t find in NOW products:
Alcohols: We use only natural grain alcohol (ethanol) in our liquid extracts. Some synthetic alcohols are produced from petroleum, and almost all have questionable safety.
Aluminum: Aluminum isn’t used in any of our formulas, and many of our products are tested to ensure the absence of aluminum. Some of our clays and trace mineral formulas naturally contain aluminum, and these products are properly labeled.
Chlorinated and Brominated Compounds: Chlorinated and brominated compounds aren’t natural. In fact, these compounds are toxic and can be very dangerous to humans. PCBs and dioxins are two examples of chlorinated compounds; sucralose is another. We refuse to formulate any of our products with these compounds.
Ephedra and Bitter Orange: Banned by the FDA in 2004, ephedra refers to an extract of the plant Ephedra sinica, also referred to as ma huang. At NOW we’ve always questioned the safety of ephedra; even when it was legal we never used it in any of our products. In the past few years Bitter Orange has been used by some manufacturers as a substitute for ephedra. Although Bitter Orange appears to be safer than ephedra, we will not use it in any of our products. We also don't use DMAA (1,3-dimethylamylamine) and other similarly questionable ingredients.
Excipients: NOW does not use common mass-market multivitamin excipients. These include excipients such as hydrogenated oil, talc, crospovidone, butylated hydroxytoluene, and hypromellose. While these excipients increase manufacturing efficiency and cost less than natural excipients, products containing them can no longer claim to be natural, and may adversely affect health. We choose to use natural excipients, which are also suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Fluoride: Sodium Fluoride is used to prevent tooth decay and is added to the majority of our water supply for this reason. However, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests fluoride is unnecessary, excessively used, and potentially harmful. We will not include fluoride in any of our products, including toothpastes and mouthwashes.
Genetic Modification: NOW supports the use of non-GMO crops and we avoid using ingredients made from genetically engineered sources in our products. We obtain documentation from our ingredient suppliers verifying that their ingredients are non-GMO, which is also referred to as identity-preserved (IP), and we declare this on the label. In some cases ingredients we use are GMO-free, but have incomplete documentation. In these cases we will not declare products with these ingredients to be GMO-free.
Heavy Metals: Almost all botanicals contain trace amounts of heavy metals since these metals are naturally found in both soil and water. Although low levels of heavy metals are acceptable, larger amounts are known to be toxic to humans. NOW tests all appropriate products to ensure that heavy metal levels are within recognized safety limits.
Hormones: We will not sell androstenedione, estrogen, testosterone, or DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone). All are considered steroid and/or anabolic steroid supplements, which may have potentially harmful side effects.
Hydrogenated Fats and Trans-Fats: Hydrogenation is a chemical process where unsaturated fats (such as vegetable oil) are chemically-modified to make them solidify better at room temperature. Artificial trans-fats are a particular form of these chemically-modified fats. These synthetic fats are unhealthy, and have contributed greatly to the obesity epidemic in America and abroad. NOW will not use either hydrogenated or artificial trans-fats in any of our products.
Irradiation: Irradiation is the exposure of an object or substance to radiation. In the food industry, irradiation is used to kill bacteria. However, there are side effects, since radiation can transform the natural components of herbs and botanicals into unnatural molecules. We conduct thorough microbiological tests, as well as sophisticated chemical tests that can detect radiation signatures, and we reject any ingredients where exposure to radiation is detected. During the Japanese tsunami and subsequent leak of radiation from Japanese nuclear reactors, we proactively monitored our products from Japan to ensure that they were not exposed to radiation and still do.
Microbial Contamination: Many natural ingredients contain naturally-occurring low levels of microbes. However, high microbial contamination, and the presence of pathogens and aflatoxins, aren’t natural and are potentially unsafe. Our in-house microbiology laboratory is staffed by trained professionals who test for the presence of microbial contamination. We have strict specifications for foods, and plant- and animal-derived ingredients. We reject ingredients with unsafe levels of microbes.
Parabens: Parabens are synthetic chemicals widely used as preservatives in the personal care industry. Many brands that prominently declare their products to be natural use parabens – making their natural claims unacceptable. NOW Solutions personal care products are completely paraben-free.
Peak E Free Tryptophan: NOW Foods has very demanding specifications for our L-Tryptophan products. All of our L-Tryptophan products are free of detectable levels of Peak E. Peak E contamination was linked to a disabling autoimmune illness in 1989. NOW audits all its sources of L-Tryptophan and every lot is tested for contamination. For this reason, NOW Foods L-tryptophan is among the safest you can find anywhere.
Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) and Propylene Glycol (PPG): Ethylene and propylene glycols are used as antifreeze. PEG and PPG are derived from antifreeze. NOW Foods does not use any PEG or PPG in our supplements. All of our Personal Care products are PEG- and PPG-free. Many products found in the mass market will contain PEG and/or PPG.
Polysorbate: Polysorbate 80 is a PEG derivative used in many formulas to increase bioavailability. This petroleum-derived synthetic ingredient is not used in any of our products. Did you know that many enhanced-delivery CoQ10 formulas contain Polysorbate 80? Our CoQ10 formulas do not contain Polysorbate 80 or other similar synthetics.
Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids: Some natural herbs contain PA alkaloids which are hepatotoxic (liver toxins). These herbs include comfrey and butterbur. Our butterbur is free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, and we do not sell comfrey for internal use. Borage Oil is naturally free of PAs, which may naturally occur in other parts of that plant.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS): This nasty, irritating, synthetic surfactant is widely used in personal care products such as shampoos and oral products such as toothpaste. NOW Foods does not use SLS.
Titanium Dioxide and Phosphates: These synthetic ingredients are widely used as excipients in supplements. Excipients are ingredients that have no nutritional value, but have been added to improve processing or add color. NOW minimizes the use of these additives. In fact, most of our softgel capsules and CoQ10 softgels for internal use are now formulated to be free of titanium dioxide - a rarity in the market.
Nanoparticles: Nanoparticles are all the rage. These are particles generally considered to be smaller than 100 microns in size. Modern science tells us about the benefits or expected benefits of nanofoods and nanosupplements. However, nanoparticles can enter parts of the body that normal-sized particles can't. And we don't yet know the effects of this and their long term safety. We are cautious. And so we'll wait until more long term studies have been done.
Other ingredients we don't use: The list is long. We don't use monosodium glutamate (MSG), ethylene diamine tetraacetate (EDTA), nitrates and nitrites as preservatives, sodium diacetate, sodium hydroxide, or Triclosan. Our chemists check our ingredients to make sure that they don't contain unacceptable preservatives or additives. Many ingredients are encapsulated or microencapsulated in order to increase their bioavailability, or to improve their processability. Many of these modifications introduce synthetic agents into the product, and these are not always declared on the Certificate Of Analysis. Our chemists understand these 'tricks" and go further to make sure that any processing aids used are acceptable to us. Companies that don't have skilled professionals on staff to do this can easily be blindsided, and thus you are blindsided.
So you can see that natural means a lot to us - what it is and what it is not. We're not just another brand. We believe in the products we sell and constantly work to make sure that they meet acceptable standards. In order to do this we combine a set of values promulgated by Elwood Richard more than 40 years ago, with modern professional chemists, biologists, food technologists, and other staff to ensure that we can deliver high quality, affordable, natural products that you can trust.
Michael Lelah - Technical Director