What Labels Don't Tell US | BioStar US

What Labels Don’t Tell Us

When I’m doing nutritional consults, I often need to look up various feed and supplement labels on products the customer is using. I do the same thing when clients text me, “A friend at the barn is using this XYZ supplement and recommends I try it, what do you think?”

I don’t mind digging in — reading labels is sort of a passion for me. There are so many supplements on the market, and I’m always curious about other companies’ formulations and concepts. Nothing reveals the essence of a concept and formulation better than the ingredient listing on a label.


In the pharmaceutical industry, a formula copied from the original is known as “generic.” In the supplement industry, it is known as “replica”. A replica supplement is a copy of an existing supplement formula, generally lower in price than the original.

Unlike pharmaceutical generics which become available after a drug patent has run out, most supplements don’t have patents — unless they use a novel ingredient or process.


The company who originates the supplement has put all the research and development into it. They have done the heavy lifting, so to speak. They’ve done the research, tested the ingredients, examined, experimented with, and purchased various raw materials, done laboratory analysis, adjusted the formula, re-tested, and given product samples to customers for input on efficacy and palatability. And they’ve adjusted the formula again, done stability studies, and re-tested.

Sometimes the newly developed product that has been worked on for months or longer is shelved if the results in the field weren’t good enough, or availability of an ingredient is unreliable, or the laboratory analysis highlighted an issue.

All of this is costly in terms of time and expense.

The company producing a replica supplement has made none of these investments, and has done none of the hard work.

Originator versus replica supplements

Many times, the differences between an originator supplement and a replica supplement are subtle, but very important.

For instance, the originator supplement has turmeric extract on the label at 5 grams per serving. The replica supplement has turmeric powder on the label at 5 grams per serving. As a consumer at first glance, we think both forms of turmeric are the same. But they aren’t.

Turmeric extract has a higher concentration of curcuminoids than turmeric powder. In order to provide as high a percentage of curcuminoids as turmeric extract, the powder would need to be doubled. Turmeric extract is, however, at least twice as expensive as turmeric powder. And fermented turmeric, the ultimate form of turmeric in terms of bioavailability, is five times more expensive than turmeric powder! This kind of ingredient quality can easily explain the price differences.

Sometimes a replica supplement adds an ingredient that’s not in the originator’s supplement. Many times, this “new” ingredient isn’t at dosage levels that provide health benefits — it’s added at a very small dose to add a sense of credibility and “uniqueness” to the formula.

Although supplement replicas can fill a need by being the lower-cost alternatives to the originals, there’s no assurance that they are the same, or will provide the same results as the original formula.

The Replica Supplement vs. the Original | BioStar US

Turmeric powder and root

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Oscar Wilde’s famous quote can be applied to many replica products in various industries. Take for instance grocery store brands. These products are often replicas of name-brand products—soups, cereals, pasta sauces, peanut butters—and sometimes are manufactured by the originators.

These products are different though; they don’t pretend to be innovative, and aren’t marketed as something special or better than the original.

Originators and innovators

Originators are often innovators; they bring new ingredients and formulas to the market. A perfect example of this is Cosequin®. This company single-handedly changed the equine joint supplement market, ushering in dozens of replicas.

Then came other innovators: companies who weren’t the originators, but took what Cosequin had developed and, in many cases, improved on the original joint formula with other ingredients to support joint health. Then Cosequin raised the bar by coming out with Cosequin ASU®.

Sometimes innovators offer new and different nutrient delivery systems, such as joint support formulas in a liquid instead of a powder.

This is how equine supplements progress: originators and innovators invest time, money, and resources into research and development. Their conceptual focus is to create an improved supplement, no matter what segment of equine health they are focused on.

Transparency matters

Particularly when it comes to herbs, vitamins, nutraceuticals, and nootropics, it’s important for customers to know how much of each ingredient a serving or dose contains. Many customers use a variety of supplements with plants, foods, nutrients and nutraceutical ingredients. It’s essential to know that the horse isn’t getting too much of an ingredient or, conversely, too little.

Innovation drives health

Twenty years ago no one fed medicinal mushrooms to their horses, and the word “Ayurveda” sounded like a town somewhere on the other side of the world. Of course, medicinal mushrooms, traditional Chinese medicine, and Ayurvedic medicine are not 21st-century innovations, but their application and accessibility to equine and canine and human health has been, for Westerners, something new, exciting, and beneficial.

Researchers continue to study and verify the health benefits of many of the foundation plants and mushrooms in Eastern medicine. There are 7000 scientific papers on turmeric alone, and 20,000 papers published on its active ingredient curcumin.

More than 600 studies have been conducted on medicinal mushrooms and, beginning in the 1960s, Soviet researchers conducted 1,500 studies on adaptogens (Schisandra, Shilajit, Rhodiola, Tulsi, and Siberian Ginseng).

Helping our horses live longer, healthier lives depends on innovations and research in medicines, therapies, modalities, feeds, and supplements.

The Replica Supplement vs. the Original | BioStar US

Ayurvedic plants

The proprietary blend trend

There has been a recent trend where some supplement companies list their ingredients as a “proprietary blend.” This allows the company to avoid stating the amount (in grams, milligrams, or micrograms) of each ingredient.

For example, a company might list all the ingredients for its GI tract supplement like this: “Proprietary Blend: flaxseed, pectin, L-glutamine, aloe vera, slippery elm bark, deglycyrrhizinated licorice.” The blend totals 20 grams, and the serving size is 20 grams.

As consumers, we read this label and see all the good gut ingredients and think it’s a very nice formula. But we don’t know how much of each of these ingredients is in the supplement. If we have a horse with chronic GI tract issues, it’s critical that therapeutic ingredients like pectin, slippery elm, L-glutamine, aloe vera, and licorice each be at high enough doses to benefit the horse.

Doing the math

In our example of the GI tract supplement, there could be as much as 18 grams of flaxseed in that 20-gram serving. There is no way to know the proportions based on “proprietary blend” labeling.

This would leave five ingredients to make up the other two grams of the 20-gram serving. In the case of L-glutamine, it is essential that this amino acid be administered at a minimum of one gram (1000 milligrams) per serving. Pectin needs to be given in at least 3 grams (3,000 mgs) per serving for it to provide health benefits to the horse. Slippery elm therapeutically ranges from 1600 mgs to 3000 mgs per serving. Therapeutic deglycyrrhizinated (DGL) licorice ranges from 1000 mgs to 2000 mgs per serving.

Maybe this proprietary GI tract supplement does have all the ingredients at therapeutic levels. So why wouldn’t the company state each ingredient and amount on the label?
Because the company doesn’t want their formula copied.

Why use proprietary blends?

Proprietary blends are a way for supplement companies to avoid disclosing exact ingredient amounts in order to protect their formula from being copied and turned into replicas. I totally understand this. BioStar knows what it’s like to be copied.

The irony is, this labeling trend has become so popular with supplement makers that some replica supplement packages are now using “proprietary blend” on the label. If the product is a replica supplement, I’m not sure saying “proprietary” is justified — and it could be misleading.

BioStar and proprietary blends

Almost all of BioStar’s product labels list each ingredient in grams or milligrams or international units (IUs). We want customers to know how much of each ingredient their horse is receiving.

There are two exceptions: BioFlora EQ and Hedgerow GI. BioFlora is labeled as a “Proprietary Probiotic Blend”, and Hedgerow includes BioFlora’s proprietary blend and “Hedgerow® Proprietary Blend” of plants and herbs. The remaining ingredients in Hedgerow GI—the mushrooms, the humic and fulvic acids, the fermented turmeric, and spore bacteria Bacillus subtilis—are individually labeled in milligrams.

While BioStar does use proprietary blends from time to time, we are always available to customers for questions regarding specific ingredients.

Countries of origin

While not required by regulatory agencies, listing the countries of origin for ingredients gives consumers the transparency supplement companies owe them. BioStar has listed countries of origin since our inception in 2007. We have a specific tab on each product page for “Countries of Origin”. Consumers can look up every ingredient in that supplement and know where it comes from.

Why is BioStar the only equine supplement company to do this?

I wish I had an answer.

Ask questions

I know it’s time-consuming to get on the phone and call a supplement company. But you have the right to know how much of an ingredient is in the formula per serving.

You have a right to know where the ingredients originated. You have the right to know how a specific plant extract is produced.

Companies spend a lot of time hiring and training customer service representatives. Don’t be shy about calling or emailing your questions.

Peace of mind is essential for the wellbeing of human and horse.

The Replica Supplement vs. the Original | BioStar US

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