If you’re a consumer of dietary supplements in the U.S, you might not be aware of how loosely the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the market. Manufacturing facilities are regulated but there is no mandated federal requirement to test consumer products before they hit the market. Retroactive fines may be levied, but that doesn’t help victims of harmful products.
Illuminate Labs is a supplement manufacturer with a vision to change all of this. The company, which is incorporated as a Benefit Corporation and is in the process of obtaining Certified B Corp status, is seeking to disrupt the supplement industry through radical transparency. They test all of their supplements after manufacturing at a non-profit, third-party laboratory called the U.S. Botanical Safety Laboratory. They then share the raw, un-massaged test results on product pages. Illuminate only sells products which are low in contaminants according to the third-party test results.
Why is third-party testing important for health supplements?
It’s an established principle of scientific studies that bias and economic incentive can influence the outcome/conclusion of the study. Manufacturers who test their own products have an economic incentive that’s misaligned with consumers’. Test results are very easily falsified, or published after cherry-picking those tests that indicated their desired result. Unfortunately, many supplement manufacturers today won’t share their internal test results with consumers!
A third-party institution — separate from the manufacturer — to test products and report results is important because the third party has no economic incentive to misinterpret or misreport results, since their whole reputation, value add, and income stream comes from accurate product testing. If a batch of products fails testing it doesn’t negatively impact the finances of the third-party testing lab, since they’re paid the same no matter the results. Therefore third-party testing is trustworthy than anything posted by the manufacturer directly.
What kind of testing does Illuminate Labs do to valid their products?
Illuminate Labs hires the U.S. Botanical Safety Lab to perform two different types of tests: contaminant testing and potency testing.
Contaminant testing is for the levels of heavy metals in the finished product. Illuminate Labs uses the E.U. limits as the benchmark for contaminant levels, since these are some of the strictest in the world and are based on extensive scientific research. These limits are as follows for dietary supplements:
Lead: 3 parts per million (ppm)
Cadmium: 1 ppm
Mercury: 0.1 ppm
Potency testing measures the strength of the product, and ensures that the percentage of active ingredient matches the standardization ratio guaranteed on the bottle. For the panax ginseng product, for example, potency testing ensures that ginsenosides are at or above the 8% mark listed on the bottle. Illuminate Labs contracts their third-party testing lab to perform High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) testing for potency, which is the industry standard and the most accurate form of potency testing. This testing method is also more expensive than alternatives, causing most manufacturers to opt out.
It’s important to note that Illuminate Labs performs potency testing on the finished product, not the raw material or on the extract material alone. As an example: If a 200 mg ginseng extract at 9% ginsenosides is being manufactured, but there’s 200 mg of filler material for a 400 mg capsule by weight, then the finished product potency testing will show 4.5% ginsenosides. There will still be 200 mg of ginseng at 9% ginsenoside per capsule, because the ginseng extract portion is still standardized to 9% ginsenosides. The filler ingredients reduce the percentage of ginsenosides in the entire capsule weight. Illuminate publishes the manufacturing records of each product (with the weight of active ingredient and fillers) so customers can understand how the potency of the herbal extract is calculated.
Which supplements does Illuminate Labs sell?
Ceylon Cinnamon Extract — used for blood sugar and cholesterol normalization
Panax Ginseng Extract — taken for short-term nootropic effect
Ginkgo Biloba Extract — used to improve memory and cognitive function
Ashwagandha Extract — taken primarily for stress relief
Do These Third-Party-Tested Supplements from Illuminate Really Work?
No supplement is guaranteed to work for each individual, because there are so many factors that influence uptake, such as absorption, stress, genetics and more. But Illuminate Labs only sells products which have been thoroughly established in published scientific studies to have a significant positive outcome. On each product page, there is a Medical Literature section with a minimum of ten studies demonstrating the safety & efficacy.
As an example, check out the Ginkgo product page, where the first study result looks like: “Taken together, the findings from standardized neuropsychologic assessment and a subjective, self-report questionnaire suggested that relatively short-term (i.e., 6 weeks) utilization of Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761 may prove efficacious in enhancing certain neurocognitive functions/processes of cognitively intact older adults. See full study here.”
The cool thing about this is that Illuminate Labs has done the research for you as a consumer. You don’t have to sift through all of the medical research and analyze study outcomes yourself to determine if there’s actually researching showing this product works; you can just look at the research presented and form your own conclusions. The studies are not only on the effectiveness of the herbal extract for the desired outcome, but importantly cover toxicology as well. Toxicology studies examine whether a product is safe to consumer over time or if it harms the body. Every herbal extract Illuminate Labs sells has a clean toxicology profile.
How does Illuminate’s cost compare with other brands?
Each Illuminate Labs product sells for $40 with free shipping in the U.S. While you can find herbal products as cheap as $10, the quality is likely to be questionable. Reputable brands like Pure Encapsulations and Thorne Research sell higher-end supplements in the $25-50 range, but even they don’t publish any of their test results so you’ll never really know what you’re taking.
Final Review: Do we recommend Illuminate Labs supplements?
Ultimately, Illuminate Labs is a brand for consumers who are willing to spend the extra $10-15 per bottle to know that the herbs they’re ingesting are low in contaminants and accurately labeled. As health consciousness continues to grow, many consumers may refuse to trust supplement makers blindly and demand third-party testing. We highly recommend Illuminate Labs to anyone willing to pay a little extra for peace of mind. Over the long run, it’s bound to be a solid investment.