2013-03-11

Co.Exist

The Truth About 5 Hour Energy, And All The Other Questionable Supplements You Take

A new site called LabDoor can help give you some transparency.

Prescription medication sometimes comes with nasty side effects, but at least consumers can rest assured that the ingredients are well-regulated by the FDA; chances are, that Xanax isn’t laced with pesticides. And then there’s the $36 billion industry of unregulated supplements--the multivitamins, Red Bulls, and Five Hour Energy drinks of the world.

LabDoor, a startup in the latest class of health tech accelerator Rock Health, is attempting to shed some light on the market with a website and app that grades these unregulated products based on ingredients, efficacy, and safety. Think of it as the GoodGuide for supplements, though LabDoor is less focused on environmental issues.

Check out the LabDoor site and you can see that 5 Hour Energy gets a C grade--it has a high clinical efficacy but low ingredient safety profile. Bayer’s One-A-Day Womens 50 Plus Advantage, on the other hand, gets an A minus for high clinical efficacy and mostly safe ingredients. All products tested by LabDoor come directly from store shelves. The company doesn’t yet have equipment in-house for testing, instead using outside labs in California and Michigan (Thanedar co-founded the latter FDA-registered product safety lab in a previous life).

Founder Neil Thanedar and his team have tested over 100 products so far. That’s about 20% to 30% of the supplement market. The goal is to get to over 1,000 products, or over 80% of the market.

The results of Thanedar’s testing are unsettling, to say the least. Over 70% of products tested displayed inaccurate data, and over 90% had heavy metal or pesticide contamination.

The site is in very early beta right now, and features are limited. In the future, data like FDA reporting (recalls, false advertising claims, etc.) and manufacturing purity (presence of contaminants like pesticides, arsenic, and heavy metals) will be available. In the sidebar above (click to enlarge), you can see what a full report for Red Bull will look like, complete with an ingredients list and user reviews.

Other premium features will include a tracking tool that lets users follow updates on specific products, a comparison tool, and a recommendation feature. Science-minded users will also be able to get the nitty-gritty details on ingredients and their potential effects.

Supplements are just a piece of Thanedar’s larger vision. Next, he wants to tackle the cosmetics market. Eventually, he envisions the LabDoor seal of approval as something sought by manufacturers who want to prove the purity of their products. For that to happen, though, consumers have to care about what’s in the products they use every day. LabDoor might be the company to help facilitate that.

Add New Comment

4 Comments

  • Jamesdean

    20-30% at 100 products and 1,000 products = 80% // this math does not make sense (much like that of the Obama budget or lack thereof).

  • Neil Thanedar

    Those percentages likely indicate the proportion of total industry sales. Usually the few best-selling products in a market dominate total sales, so it makes sense that 'sales' vs. '# of products' is non-linear (it's called a power-law distribution).

  • Guest

    It appears I can see the "grade" of a product that LabDoor has rated, but I can not see what went into determining that grade without subscribing.  Until they have some credibiltiy with consumers, these grades are no better that a random blogger's opinion. I hope their business model includes some way to increase the perceived value of their opinions. Not allowing casual visitors to see what goes into a specific grade is not going to speed that process.

  • glims

    just like you need to click on the link and read the science paper behind a science article, a tiny amount of effort is required to get all the information. even if you could see the information, you would have the same complaint unless they listed outside sources, peer reviewed papers, and and outline of their methods.
    so, they're in a limited beta and you can subscribe with facebook or by just entering an email and making a password

    that's fairly casual. it's like, one step above completely lazy...