[Transcript] – Behind The Scenes Of How A Supplement Is Made: An Insider Interview.

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Podcast from:  https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2015/03/behind-the-scenes-of-how-a-supplement-is-made-an-insider-interview/

[00:00] Introduction

[01:32] Dr. Alan Miller

[0:04:17] What the Doctors In Thorne Do

[0:06:07] How A Capsule Is Made

[0:09:48] The Flight Mass Spectrometer

[0:12:46] What Happens After Ingredients Pass Product Testing

[0:13:52] The Special Suit Staff Wear

[0:15:37] What Else Gets Mixed With the Ingredients

[0:18:04] What Happens After Mixing and Blending

[0:21:21] Tracing Batches and Bottles

[0:22:14] Controlling Air in The Facility

[0:23:30] Where Supplement Companies Get Their Products

[0:24:56] Can You Tell If the Supplement You're Buying Is Quality

[0:29:47] What's In the EXOS Product Line

[0:32:08] The Iron In EXOS Supplements

[0:33:21] The Probiotic In EXOS Supplements

[0:35:40] Arginine vs. L-Carnitine

[54:55] End of Podcast

In this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast:

“The time of flight mass spectrometer.  It's kind of a whiz-bang machine and we happened to get a hold of one of them.  It tests for a variety of substances down to very, very minute amounts, parts per million, or parts per billion, sometimes parts per trillion.  It really depends on the substance.”  “They're digestive enzymes.  They will eat proteins, so you don't want to have to come in contact with skin or your mucus membrane.”  “And magnesium stearate is magic.  It's an 18-carbon saturated fat that's reacted with magnesium.  So it's this powder that you can use a very tiny amount of, and it will change the physical characteristics of the rest of the powder that you mix it in with.”  “Any area where we are handling any of the materials or finished product have to filtered air going into it, and that air needs to come out of that room and be filtered again.”

Ben:  Hey, folks.  It's Ben Greenfield, and a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of driving up to Dover, Idaho, which is about an hour from my front door here in Spokane, Washington, to visit the facilities of Thorne Research.  And I've personally never gone on a full-on tour of a supplements factory.  I've certainly toured things like food factories, and recently a hummus factory, but have never actually had a chance to firsthand see what goes on from the encapsulation process, to the mixing of the ingredients, to the testing of the supplements.  And so it was a huge learning experience for me.  And the guy who I followed around with in a white lab coat, with our cool hair nets, and our glasses, and everything else as we walked through that facility was Dr. Alan Miller.  And I had such an interesting time seeing what is the process behind what goes into my body everyday when I'm opening up a bottle, and popping a pill that I thought that you might be interested in finding out some of these things too, so I got Alan on the call.  And just before Alan, I start to visit here, a quick background on him he is a naturopathic physician and actually practiced, where'd you to practice, Alan? Weren't you right around here in my hometown?

Alan:  Hometown boy.  I practiced across town from you in Spokane.

Ben:  Yeah.  That's awesome.  And now you're, or you were the executive director of medical affairs for Thorne, and now you're the executive director of medical education there.  Correct?

Alan:  That's correct.

Ben:  Okay.  Cool.  So what exactly does that entail, being the director of medical education?  Because as you walked me through, like before we even got into the factory, and the belts, and the encapsulation machines, and all the people walking around with their white coats and their masks, we walked past a bunch of offices where they were just basically offices with doctors and physicians like you.  What goes on?  What's the process behind being the executive director of medical education?

Alan:  Well, I'm in charge of making sure that the other doctors on staff, our sales people, our customer service folks, our production employees, and our customers are fully up to speed and educated about what we do and what the science is behind what we do.

Ben:  So when you have all these doctors sitting in these rooms there at Thorne, what exactly are they looking at?  Are they reviewing like PubMed research, or are they actually researching new ingredients and formulations, or what's a typical day like?

Alan:  It's really all of the above.  We're involved in product development, we're involved in looking at new ingredients, and doing the research, looking at PubMed and seeing if there's any good science behind some new ingredient.  We also do troubleshooting as well to help our production folks or production staff and our quality staff do their jobs.  We're also in charge of keeping track of product complaints, and investigating any adverse event complaints and things like that.  We also write a lot of the material that people are reading on the website and in our printed material.  So the medical group, you have the medical affairs group, we interface with a lot of other different departments, including our marketing department, so that we can communicate the best way that we can to our customers.

Ben:  Now we walked past all these offices, Alan, and when we had gotten through that, we got to the section where it was time to begin the factory tour.  And we got dressed, we walked in there, and there were all sorts of machines and processes happening.  Is there a way that you could kind of walk us through an example of how a capsule is made there?  Like for example, I take curcumin.  I take the Thorne Curcumin.  I use the multi-vitamin as well and a few of your other products, but just because I had curcumin this morning 'cause I've been flying a lot and I wanted a little bit of a way to fight off some of the oxidation happening in my body after getting in the airport last night.  I swallowed that curcumin this morning with a glass of water, but how does it go from being curcumin, or turmeric, wherever it's starting, to actually being in that capsule in my cupboard.  I know it's a big question, but can you kind of walk us through what's going on there in the factory?

Alan:  Sure.  Yeah.  And in that case, that particular product, that curcumin is coming to us from our supplier in Italy.  They do a very unique thing with that curcumin, I'm glad you brought that one up because curcumin is very poorly absorbed.  And most supplement companies that are providing curcumin are trying to do something to get it across the gut barrier and into the bloodstream better because it just doesn't want to do that.  And our supplier in Italy, Indina, found out a few years ago through their research that if you bound that curcumin to a phosphatidylcholine, that phosphatidylcholine will sort of drag the curcumin across the gut wall and into the bloodstream so you get a much greater concentration in the blood, and then it can actually do what all of this research says it will do.  So that's the first step is procurement, in making sure that we get that ingredient that we want, that we need.

Ben:  So that ingredient, when it comes to you, are they getting that from like turmeric? What's the process that they're getting curcumin and then sending it over to you?

Alan:  Correct.  Yeah.  They're getting their curcumin, curcumin is one of the main ingredients in turmeric root.  And if you cut open a turmeric root, it is very bright orange, and it's the curcumin in there that's imparting that orange color to that root. And there are other very similar molecules that are extracted along with the curcumin, they're called curcuminoids.  So that's extracted, turned into a powder, and it's this beautiful bright orange powder, and then that comes to us.  And the very first thing that we do with it when it comes in the door is it goes into quarantine.  We take a sample of that material while it's in quarantine, we take a sample of it, that sample then goes to our lab or to one of our associate labs, just because we have a very sophisticated in-house lab, but we can't test for everything.  So there are a few things that we have to send to an outside lab.  But that ingredient comes to the lab and it's tested to make sure that it is what it says it is.  So it's tested for identification, or identity.  And then we do tests to make sure that it's not contaminated and that it doesn't have any bad microbes growing in it.

Ben:  How often do you find stuff, like do you get stuff from suppliers, you put it into quarantine, and then you test it, and you find out that it is contaminated?  Like, is that common?

Alan:  No.  It's really pretty low percentage, but it does happen.  And when it does happen, we have specific procedures about what to do from there.  The first thing of course, it's still sitting in quarantine, so we haven't used it, and we turn it around and send it back to the supplier that we got it from and make sure that they do whatever corrective action that they need to do to make sure that that doesn't happen again.

Ben:  So you actually, when walked past one of the rooms there that I think is the room, and correct me if I'm mistaken, that you guys use to test a lot of these ingredients that are in quarantine before they go on for further manufacturing.  There were some really expensive machines there.  There's one in particular that you were really excited about. Can you explain to the audience what that was?  Because it was actually, for me, having worked in a microbiology lab in college and done tons of mass spec, and liquid chromatography, and analysis of the ingredients of a bunch of different things, this was a really interesting machine.  Can you explain what it was?

Alan:  The one you're probably referring to is the time of flight mass spectrometer.  It's kind of a whiz-bang machine.  It's new.  There are not very many of them in the world right now, and we happened to get ahold of one of them.  And what it does is it tests for a variety of substances down to very, very minute amounts, parts per million, or parts per billion, sometimes parts per trillion.  It really depends on the substance.  And there's very little preparation involved in doing the testing.  So it's incredibly sensitive and it's very quick, which makes it very economical.

Ben:  How much does a machine like that costs?  Just out of curiosity.

Alan:  A few hundred thousand dollars.

Ben:  Wow.  Holy cow.  So yeah, it seemed like just before we even got into the manufacturing part of the supplements that that raw ingredient testing process just seemed incredibly expensive and complex.

Alan:  It is.  And that's not the only machine that we have.  In fact that one, we're just gearing up to start using it.  It takes a lot of method development and validation before you can actually start using it.  But then we have machines that will test for identity, then we've got others that will test for heavy metals and other contaminants, then we've got the HPLC machines that will test for both identity and contaminants of other kinds. So we've got a lot of them currently online and then we'll have the new one coming online.

Ben:  If somebody wanted to find out, like if they opened up their cupboard and they have like a favorite supplement and they want to find out if whoever made it has machines like that that they're testing with, can you go and find out which companies are using these type of procedures or is that just kind of one of those things were where you got to go on a factory tour like me or something like that?

Alan:  You kind of have to do your own detective work and call 'em, start asking questions.  And those companies that don't want to answer the questions, or sort of put you off, I tend to not do business with those kind of folks.

Ben:  Yeah.  We actually had an interview last year with this company called LabDoor, and they order supplements from different manufacturers and then they do independent testing to see if what the manufacturer says is in them is actually in them, and then they grade them like A, B, C, and D.  So I think that, I don't know how much testing they do on your guys' products, on the Thorne products…

Alan:  consumerlab.com is another one of those.  It's an independent organization that does that similar kind of thing.  They'll just take stuff off the shelf and test it.

Ben:  Gotcha.  Okay.  So let's say that you've tested this raw curcumin that's come from, where'd you say?  Italy?

Alan:  Comes from Italy.  Correct.

Ben:  And then what happens if it passes muster and it turns out to be the good stuff?

Alan:  If it passes the testing, and it is what it says it is, and it's the purity and quality that comes up to our specifications, then it's released for use in manufacturing.  So then our warehouse people will pick that and what other ingredients are involved in that product, and they will take them into the mixing area, or the dispensing area actually, and that's where employees will be following a very strict specific recipe basically and adding the ingredients that need to be added into a very large tote mixer is what it's called.  And then…

Ben:  Was that the room that we passed that was just like bright orange and yellow 'cause there was powder everywhere?

Alan:  It was.  Yup.

Ben:  And the guy in there was wearing, what was he wearing?  I don't want to make it sound like supplements have a bunch of toxic materials in them, but at the same time I know we passed one room where this guy was mixing digestive enzyme materials and like he couldn't have any parts of his skin exposed or anything like that because wouldn't the enzymes just like eat away at him or something?

Alan:  Correct.  Yeah.  They're digestive enzymes.  They will eat protein.  So you don't want to have them come in contact with your skin or your mucous membranes.  So that person was wearing something that, usually when people walk by and they see people in those suits, they call 'em moon suit 'cause that's kind of what it looks like.  They are completely covered, they've got ventilated air, pure air coming into that suit, and ventilation going back out of that suit so that they don't come in contact in any way with that material.

Ben:  That's scary.

Alan:  Yeah.  But we have to make sure that our people are covered, they're protected.

Ben:  So with the curcumin, what was the flow room that you said it was in?  A flow meter?

Alan:  No.  The room that we're talking about was the dispensing room.

Ben:  Okay, dispensing room.

Alan:  Yeah.  So they're dispensing into a container, which then goes on to a blender or a mixer, and it's blended and mixed for 15 or 20 minutes, comes back, occasionally we'll have to mill those ingredients just to get them to the proper size, molecular size.

Ben:  So when they're blended and mixed like that, are they actually being mixed with something?

Alan:  Sometimes they're mixed with something with a little bit of cellulose or some other ingredients, sometimes silica just to adsorb some of the moisture out of that botanical extract, otherwise it makes it very difficult to get that stuff into a capsule.

Ben:  Gotcha.  Now do you guys use like, in addition to silica, other fillers to actually make encapsulation process easier?  How do you choose what you actually mix with it?

Alan:  It depends.  Our process engineering group, before we ever get to the point of running a new ingredient on a machine or a new product, our process engineering group works with that to see how well that material flows, how well that powder flows.  Is it going to flow through the machinery?  Is it going to get stuck?  Is it going to be very sticky?  Is it just going to sort of glaze up and not move the way it's supposed to? Because it needs to move through the machinery and into the capsule as smoothly as possible.  One of the things that we don't do is we don't use magnesium stearate, which is the most commonly used excipient in the supplement industry.  And magnesium stearate is magic.  It's an 18-carbon saturated fat that's reacted with magnesium.  So it's this powder that you can use a very tiny amount of and it will change the physical characteristics of the rest of the powder that you mix it in with.  Most manufacturers use it just because it makes everything else very slippery, it makes that powder flow on itself very easily, and not get airborne, and it makes the manufacturing process far easier for the manufacturer.  We don't use it because we feel that it's an unnecessary ingredient. We don't have to use it.  And there is some evidence that it decreases the dissolution of whatever you're mixing it in with.  So it makes it very difficult for that substance to go into solution, much more difficult than if you're not using.

Ben:  Now would that affect the actual absorbability of the product or is it more an issue of it not playing nice with your very expensive machines?

Alan:  Well, both.  Both.  It doesn't play nice and it really depends on the person, whether you're gastrointestinal tract is going to blast through that fat to get to the underlying nutrients or botanicals.  And since that's a question mark, we don't know the answer to it, and so we feel, “Why add something that we have found is unnecessary? We found other ways to do our manufacturing without it.”  And so why put that question mark into the equation?  Why make it questionable whether the person is actually going to absorb all that they need to absorb out of that supplement?

Ben:  Gotcha.  Okay.  So we've got this raw ingredient, it's been mixed, it's been blended.  Then what happens?

Alan:  After blending, then that powder can go into the encapsulation room, and that's where you saw that guy in the moon suit.  And depending on the substance again, it will either go into an encapsulating room with sort of a slow speed encapsulator that takes a lot of labor and a lot of babysitting and cranks out maybe 80,000 capsules in an entire shift on a really good day.

Ben:  With a shift being what?  Like 12 hours?

Alan:  8 to 10 hours.

Ben: Okay.

Alan:  Or if it runs really well and flows really well, then we can use it in the high speed encapsulating machines of which we have four, and those machines can then create those capsules in a much quicker fashion and have a much greater production output.

Ben:  Greater than 80,000 capsules in 8 to 10 hours?  Which seems like a lot.

Alan:  Yeah.

Ben:  Okay.  So this powder that's been mixed and blended, this curcumin powder is then encapsulated at a rate of 80,000 plus capsules per 8 to 10 hours, where do the capsules go after that?  What happens next?

Alan:  The capsules are inspected to make sure that there's no damaged capsules.  And if there are any damages or defects, then they are inspected to an even greater extent.

Ben:  Like every capsule is, like by a human?

Alan:  Yes.

Ben:  Like 80,000?

Alan:  Well if there are, what our quality people do is they'll take a representative sample, and if there are defects in more than whatever their specification is for that product, then yeah, it goes into a visual inspection of every capsule.  I feel sorry for the people that have to sit there and watch those go by.

Ben:  I've got to say, that sounds like a very tedious job.

Alan:  It's not a lot of fun.  But it's just part of the whole quality control.

Ben:  You'd think that's a process that could eventually be automated by some kind of like visual recognition software, something like that.

Alan:  That would be nice.  Interesting.  So those quality people that are staff, that actually makes up 15% of our employees is our quality department.  So there are a lot of people involved in making sure that the products that we create are the highest quality and purest products we possibly can make.  So after blending, mixing, they go into the encapsulation room, they create capsules, those capsules are checked for defects, they're checked to make sure that they have the right amount of powder in them, then they'll go to bottling.  And at that point, an automated machine will put the right number of capsules in the bottle, and put the lid on, and it will go from there on a conveyor belt over to the labeling area, and the label will get put on.

Ben:  Now during that labeling process, as we were standing there watching all these bottles kind of go by on the conveyor belt with the labels getting slapped on them, you explained something kind of interesting.  Like if something happens that there's an adverse reaction, or something goes horribly wrong and some bottle basically doesn't have in it what it says in it, or something happens, you have a way of tracing it back to the exact batch.  Can you explain how that happens?

Alan:  Every bottle, as it's going through that labeling process, gets a lot number and expiration number put on, actually embedded into the plastic in the bottle, so you can't even rub it off if you wanted to, so that we have full traceability of that lot and where that lot went, what customers that lot went to, and so that if by chance we would ever need to do some kind of recall or something, then we've got full traceability all the way back to when that product was made way and what personnel were working the floor when that product was created.

Ben:  Yeah.  So you can go back the exact time of day, the exact person down to the tee.

Alan:  Yep.  We can.

Ben:  Wow.  That's amazing.  Okay.  So one of the things that we looked at as we were there was this air intake room that controls the actual air in the facility.  Can you explain why you would need something like that and how that works?

Alan:  We have a number of encapsulating rooms, plus we've got the dispensing rooms, and in any area where we are handling any of the materials or finished product has to have filtered air going into it, and that air needs to come out of that room and be filtered again, and/or exhausted so that we don't get any cross contamination from one room to the next because you might be working with something that's just totally hypoallergenic, like our vitamin C in one room, and two rooms down, you're working with something that's a digestive enzyme, or a glandular product, or something like that and you just would not want any cross contamination between those two.  So this just ensures that that doesn't happen.

Ben:  Interesting.  So I'm curious, like there are obviously, if I walk into Super Supplements or whatever, there are hundreds of different labels out there.  Are there just like hundreds of factories all over the place just like the one there at Thorne, or like are some supplement manufacturers, like smaller mom and pop shops, that are kind of outsourcing their analysis of ingredients, and their production, and things of that nature?

Alan:  Well actually it's not just the small mom and pops'.  A lot of companies that sell supplements do not make their supplements.  They have a contract manufacturer that actually makes those supplements for them.  And this goes clear to the top retail chains. In their house-labeled product, many of those are being made at some other place to their recipe and to their specifications, but by a contract manufacturer.

Ben:  Can people use your facility to make products?  Or do you guys only do your own?

Alan:  We do a small amount of contract manufacturing.

Ben:  Okay.  Gotcha.  Now as far as these supplements, like let's say I buy a supplement, and maybe it's not a Thorne supplement or I know that you guys also produce the EXOS supplement now, which is basically the same thing as Thorne FX used to be if any of you out there are listening to 'cause I know I've talked about Thorne FX before on the show, let's say any supplement out there, are there specific things that you could look for, either a certification or things that a label on the supplement say that could either be a warning sign that the supplement might be tainted or have the wrong stuff in it, or a guarantee or a good sign that it has in it what it says it has in it?

Alan:  Unfortunately the FDA does not allow us to put sort of their stamp of approval on a product even if we have gone through FDA audits and had absolutely no findings of any problems that we needed to correct, which is what we've done the last three FDA audits.  We can't, like a restaurant that gets inspected by the health department, can put an A rating up in their front window.  We can't do that.  So it's kind of difficult for the consumer to know who to trust.  I would say if there are any outrageous claims that are made on the label, in the marketing material for a product, if there are esoteric, little known herbs, things like that, if you're looking at somebody's website and there are wild stories about the origin of the ingredients, I tend to shy away from and I recommend people shy away from those…

Ben:  Ground by a one-armed monk and sprinkled with unicorn tears.

Alan:  There are some really wild stories about that, about how supplement lines have come about.  The founder of the supplement line was off in Tibet on some herb walk and some herb spoke to them kind of thing.  Yeah, no.  I tend to shy away and tell people to shy away from those types of stories because it's a good story and it might draw you in, but my question is always, “Where's the science?”  And one of the other things, I mean you can look up if you've got some product line, some brand that you are wondering about, you can go to the FDA website and see if they've ever had any warning letters about their manufacturing processes or things like that.

Ben:  Is there a URL for that website?

Alan:  It's just fda.gov.

Ben:  Okay.  Gotcha.  And then from there, you can do a search for the brand name of whatever pill you happen to be popping?

Alan:  Correct.

Ben:  Okay.  Gotcha.

Alan:  The other thing, as far as certification goes, is there other certifying bodies that will allow you to put something on the label.  We are also certified by the Australian FDA basically, it's called their TGA, or Therapeutic Goods Administration, and they come here every three years and audit us and make sure that we're doing good work.  But they also don't allow us to put on the label.  What we just recently did with the EXOS line is we had the NSF come in, and NSF is one of those independent organizations that will come in, and do an audit, and look at all of your paperwork, and look at your manufacturing plant, all of your practices and processes just like the TGA or FDA would do.  They spend three or four days doing that.  And at the end of that process, they may or may not certify you.  And we just got certified as NSF manufacturer and our products, our EXOS products, are being certified one by one here as NSF certified for sport.

Ben:  Yeah.  I actually have been familiar with this EXOS facility, they train world class performance athletes from around the world.  I've been familiar with them and what they were doing since I was like a fledgling personal trainer following their websites, like Cola Performance, and Athletes' Performance, and this guy named Mark Verstegen who's like a world renowned strength and conditioning coach.  I've used a lot of their advice in my programs and things like that and I am actually going down to their facility in Arizona next week to go kind of train at one of the Athletes' Performance facilities and see some of the things that EXOS is doing up close and personal, kind of like I came over to your facility to see what was going on at the Thorne factory because honestly I want to get up close and personal with the type of products that I'm recommending on this podcast to folks and so that I know that now that you guys are partnered with EXOS and this Athlete's Performance brand, I want to go and visit some of their facilities as well.

But I also want to ask you about some of the specific products that are in this EXOS product line, and I don't want to give people the impression of this stuff is just for professional athletes, but I do know that EXOS does quite a bit of work with the NFL, The Major League Baseball, professional soccer, things along those lines, so I know this is the stuff that the folks at the top of the top are using.  I'm just curious if I can ask you a few questions about kind of best use of a few of these things and how they actually work in little bit of a rapid fire way 'cause I know we don't have tons of time, but maybe just a brief overview for folks.

Alan:  Yeah.  Sure.

Ben:  Okay.  Cool.  So I know we talked about curcumin briefly and slightly kicked that horse to death as far as like it's absorbability and how it can be used to fight pain and inflammation, and increase recovery, and things along those lines, but there's some other interesting things.  For example, one of the products in the line is called Relora.  Can you explain what Relora is and how that works?

Alan:  Relora is a combination, it's a proprietary blend of two herbs that have some activity in helping you relax, decreasing occasional anxiety, and decreasing anxiety related food cravings as well.

Ben:  Gotcha.  And so that's something that someone would take like in the evening when they would normally experience food cravings?  How would that fit in with like an athlete?  Why is it in an athlete product line?

Alan:  It's normally taken in the evening.  And in the AM, PM multi, it's part of the PM part of that.  So that it helps you relax and helps you have better sleep, so that then you can rebuild and restore.

Ben:  Okay.  Gotcha.  And I'm doing three of the AM and three of the PM in this Multivitamin Elite.  I have no clue if this is normal, but is it common to get like lucid dreaming?  ‘Cause I have great deep sleep, but I also have extremely realistic dreams when I use this Relora stuff that's in the multi.  Have you heard any other comments to that nature or do you know what it might be?

Alan:  I have.  It's not a universal experience, but I have heard that, and there are certain herbs that will do that, they will help you dream a little more vividly and help you remember them as well, which is kind of interesting.

Ben:  Gotcha.  Okay, cool.  Another one of your newer EXOS products that I've been experimenting with is iron, and I kind of test borderline low for iron when I've done my WellnessFX blood test, but I've also shied away from iron because it's very constipating and kind of chosen instead to just do like spinach, and steak, and things along those lines.  But from what I understand, this is kind of like a unique form of iron that's in this EXOS product line.  Can you explain how that works?

Alan:  The iron that's in that product is called iron bisglycinate, and the “bis” stands for two, like “bi” like in Latin, and the glycinate is the amino acid glycine.  So what we're talking about here are two glycine molecules, glycine's the smallest of the amino acids, and they are surrounding this one atom of iron.  So basically what they're doing is they're protecting that iron and protecting your stomach from the iron so that it gets through the stomach, and then it can sort of separate, and release, and allow the iron to be absorbed.  And people get far fewer gastrointestinal sort of related problems from that.

Ben:  Okay.  Interesting.  I was curious about how that bisglycinate actually works.  So that's why that form of iron doesn't actually constipate.

Alan:  Correct.

Ben:  Interesting.  Okay.  Now another one that you have is the probiotic for athletes, or the probiotic in the EXOS line, again I don't want, I know not everybody who's listening in is like a professional athlete, but I know a lot of my clients are using these things so I'm curious about this probiotic.  Is there anything unique about it?

Alan:  There are a couple things that are unique about.  It's a combination of three beneficial microorganisms, beneficial bacteria that reside, or should reside in your gut and in your colon.  And there has been quite a bit of study on these three bugs, on this actual preparation.  It comes from a company in Japan that's been doing this kind of work for decades.  And what we found is it's this combination of three microorganisms that are very stable, and that's a real issue with probiotics.  You want to make sure that that probiotic survives the stomach because stomach acid normally will kill about 90% of an oral dose of a probiotic, and then you're dealing with just 10% hopefully repopulating in the gut.  So we've got two things going on here.  We've got very stable microorganisms and they're in an acid resistant capsule, so they tend to then just tumble through the stomach and into the small intestine, that's where the capsule starts to release the microorganisms and you get a much greater survival rate so that we don't have to provide 50 billion organisms like some products do.  So this has a total of 5 billion organisms, but there are 5 billion organisms that are going to get where they need to go.

Ben:  Do they have an effect on the large intestine as well?

Alan:  Yes.  Yeah, that's where most of the business of probiotics happens is in the large intestine.

Ben:  Okay.  Gotcha.  But the main thing about this is that they're passing intact into the important part of the digestive tract where they're able to actually have their mechanism of action.

Alan:  That's where they start multiplying and having their effects on the immune system in the gut especially and help us do things like be regular and all those things, help us detoxify.

Ben:  A lot of people get confused about the supplements that end with the letters “-ine”, like arginine and carnitine are, for example, two things that you have in this product line, and basically get confused about what they do and when they would take them.  Can you differentiate between arginine and l-carnitine, and what the difference is and when those would be actually used or appropriate?

Alan:  If it ends in “-ine”, it's probably an amino acid.  So we were talking about glycine earlier, and arginine and carnitine are both amino acids, they are both what are considered to be conditionally essential amino acids.  Meaning, an essential amino acid is something that we absolutely must get in our diet because we can't make that amino acid from something else in the body, from some other food substance, from some other amino acid.  That's an essential.  These are conditionally essential because there can be situations when our bodies are put under a certain amount of stress where we can't make enough of these things, we can't make enough arginine, we can't make enough carnitine, so we need to bring that in from an outside source.  Arginine is partly responsible for creating nitric oxide in our blood vessels.  And if you create enough nitric oxide in the blood vessels, then those blood vessels are responsive to stimuli, and they dilate when they need to, and provide more blood flow when they need to, and that's extremely important for athletes especially.  When you put your system under a certain amount of stress, you want to make sure that your blood vessels can respond, and do their thing, and be elastic enough to get that increased blood flow where it needs to go.

Ben:  How long does it take before you start to feel the effects of arginine?  Like how long before workout would you want to use something like that?

Alan:  Arginine is interesting because it starts having an effect very quickly.  We did a clinical study, 27 healthy individuals, and had them take two grams of arginine, of sustained release arginine per day, and that's what this is, it's a sustained release arginine.  What it does is it allows higher blood levels over time.  Normally arginine, you take it and it gets used very quick, it's gone.  So we did this study with 27 people, did their blood pressure and their vascular elasticity testing at baseline and at one week. And at one week we had significant changes, significant improvements in both of those parameters.

Ben:  Interesting.  Okay.  Cool.

Alan:  Yeah.  But as far as how quickly will you see a result from taking it, using just the vascular elasticity testing unit, it's 24 hours or less, you will see changes.

Ben:  Okay.  So as far as before a workout, like 30 minutes before a workout, 60, or doesn't matter that much as long as you've got in your system in the past 24 hours?

Alan:  Since it's sustained release, you just need to make sure you were taking it twice a day.

Ben:  Wow. Cool.  How about carnitine?

Alan:  Carnitine is the amino acid that's necessary to shuttle fats into the cell, into the mitochondria of the cell so that it can be burned, those fats can be burned as fuel in the mitochondria.  So vitally important for making sure that that happens.  You have to have enough carnitine.  And if you don't get enough carnitine in your diet, or like I said, you're really stressing your system, then you could benefit from taking more of it.

Ben:  So what would be an appropriate time of day to use something like carnitine?

Alan:  Carnitine, I like people to take it twice a day and just take it with meals.  So take it with breakfast, take it with lunch, or take it with breakfast and take it with dinner.  If you are working out at some point within the next hour or two, then it's going to get absorbed and it's going to get into your system.

Ben:  Okay.  Gotcha.  Now there's obviously, we kind of scratched the surface of a lot of the different things that are in this new EXOS line that was formerly the Thorne FX, like the multivitamin that you talked about, which I think if you're going to take anything, 'cause it can be kind of dizzying to navigate your way through the wide world of supplements, I think a multivitamin is just kind of a good shotgun approach.

Alan:  It's good insurance.  It really is.

Ben:  Yeah, exactly.

Alan:  And the nice thing about the multis here is you're not getting what I would call “pill fatigue”.  You're not having to take eight capsules to get that daily amount with the multis.

Ben:  For me when I travel, like I just got back from two weeks of travel, for me it's easy to toss one bottle of the AM, one bottle of the PM into my travel bag and just go.  It used to be relatively dizzying to, I felt like an old man with the week pill container.  And then you've got the vitamin D oil that's mixed with the vitamin K, you've got the electrolytes, the amino acids, the digestive enzymes, and those are about all of them in addition to the ones that we just discussed.  I actually, know this might sound a little bit advanced or almost like frustratingly confusing to some folks, but I have a bottle of every single one of the new EXOS product line in my pantry, and I've been experimenting with it, and you can actually, once you figure out how to time them correctly and spread different products out throughout the day, most of them can all be used if you really just want to engage in better living through science and you're one of those more advanced biohackers, but I'd say if anything, try something like the curcumin or the multivitamin. It would probably a really good place to start.  I'll put a link to everything that we talked about in the show notes too if you want to visit the FDA's Adverse Event Reporting System, or you want to check out that LabDoor website I talked about, or you want to look at anything in this exosphere supplement line, you can go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/capsules.  That's bengreenfieldfitness.com/capsules.  Alan, is there anything else that you want to share with us as far as like how supplements are made, warnings for folks, interesting things that you think a lot of people don't know that you know from your role there as the medical director?

Alan:  Let me touch really quickly on a product that you didn't mention just because it's one of my favorites.  We have a liquid fish oil.

Ben:  Oh, yeah.  I forgot about that.

Alan:  And most people go, “Oh, god.  Liquid fish oil.  Ugh.”  Because most liquid fish oil tastes like fish, and you can sort of dress it up, and you can put a little lipstick on it, but it still tastes like fish.  And you can put some lemon, or orange, or whatever, but it still tastes like fish.  We figured out a way to take a super pure fish oil that's IFOS certified and make it taste great and not have the…

Ben:  What's IFOS?

Alan:  IFOS is the International Fish Oil, oh gosh, I can't remember.  But yes, that's what.  But it's an international independent organization that will look at and will test your product, your fish product, and make sure that it doesn't have contaminants, and heavy metals, and things like that in it.  That's the type of testing that we do anyway, and our specifications are very similar to what theirs are, but it's nice to have that IFOS certification on the label as well.  But great tasting, great tasting stuff.  And I will not, I'm just a person that will not take liquid fish oil because it doesn't taste good and I end up burping it up, and this one tastes great and you don't burp it.

Ben:  Interesting.  Okay.  Cool.  And it's in like a liquid as well as a capsule?

Alan:  That's right.  We do have the capsule as well.  Right.  We've got the liquid and then we've got the capsule.  That has some mint in it also.

Ben:  Gotcha.

Alan:  Really great tasting stuff.  If you want to take a larger doses of fish oil, this is the way to go.

Ben:  Yeah.  I haven't actually used it yet just because I've got some other fish oil that I'm finishing off before I move on to the EXOS stuff, and I'm curious kind of compare them.

Alan:  I understand.

Ben:  Yeah, you know how supplements go.  If you have something bad and you find out it's bad, throw it out.  Don't finish it out.  But I've got a lot of good stuff, and since I got all this EXO stuff now, I'm kind of working my way through it.

Alan:  Oh!  One other thing.  Real quick.  We were talking about testing, and we talked about getting through the whole process of encapsulation and such.  The one thing we didn't mention is after a product is encapsuled and bottled, it gets tested again.  So every ingredient gets tested.  Some products get tested in process, like after mixing, blending, then that finished product gets tested, then the finished product gets tested again in our stability program.  So we want to make sure if we put an expiration date of two years in a product, we want to make sure that at the end of that two years, it still has the amount that we say is on the label.  So there's really four rounds of testing that go on.  The ingredient, in process, finished product, and then stability.

Ben:  Yeah.  It's a pretty huge commitment to quality.  Total transparency for you folks listening in, like two years ago I set down the path to create the ultimate multivitamin and I had planned on private labeling, and doing some contract manufacturing, and finding a good factory to make this supplement, and I wound up discovering Thorne this close to my house and realized, “Hey, what I want to create is already being created.”  So I'm pretty stoked that you guys are now expanding even more into kind of like the professional athlete sector 'cause it's going to be pretty cool to see a lot of the professional sports teams across the US and around the world kind of start to tap into this stuff.

Alan:  We're pretty excited about it.

Ben:  Yeah.  Me too, me too.  So I'll put a link to everything we talked about over in the show notes.  And again I know that if you're listening in, some of this stuff can be so, it's like, “When do I take carnitine?  When do I take arginine?  Do I need to take a fish oil if I'm taking the multivitamin?  Should I use a probiotic when I'm traveling or should I just take the multivitamin?  How do I know if I need iron?”  I know there's lots of questions, so feel free to leave your questions as comments at the show notes over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/capsules.  I'm happy to help you guys.  That's what I'm here for is to make your life easier and help you navigate through this stuff.  So Alan, thanks for coming on the call, man.

Alan:  My pleasure, Ben.

Ben:  Alright, cool.  Well folks, this is Ben Greenfield and Alan Miller from Thorne Research and also EXOS signing it out from bengreenfieldfitness.com/capsules.  Have a healthy week.



A few weeks ago, I hopped in my car and drove for an hour over to Dover, Idaho, where the Thorne Research facilities are located. While there, I embarked on a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour of a supplements factory, getting to witness first hand how a capsule is made – from the raw ingredients analysis to the mixing and the blending to the encapsulation process and much more.

My guide on that tour was Dr. Alan Miller, who is the executive director of medical education at Thorne, assist with the creation of Thorne supplements, and is a wealth of knowledge on exactly how supplements are made. In this podcast, I interview Alan about the entire supplement manufacturing process from start to finish, and you'll discover:

-What a special machine that costs over a hundred thousand dollars actually does to a supplement…

-Why employees at a supplements factory have to wear special moon-suits so their skin doesn't get eaten away…

-Clear warning signs that your supplement may be tainted or have the wrong stuff in it…

-Why some fish oil tastes horrible, and what you can do about it..

-The difference between arginine, L-carnitine and the other “ines”…

-Why some probiotics don't even make it into your digestive tract at all…

-What you can do about iron making you constipated…

-How to absorb curcumin better…

-And much more!

Resources and links from this episode:

My original quest to discover the ultimate multi-vitamin

-The new Thorne fuel supplement line

The LabDoor website for researching supplements

FDA.gov adverse event reporting system (FAERS)






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