LabDoor Wants To Shed Light On The Murky World Of Dietary Supplements
Unlike prescription and over the counter drugs, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t vet vitamins and energy drinks for safety and efficacy before they hit the market. It relies on makers of such dietary supplements to be truthful about their labeling.
Often, the truth is stretched, and many of us are easily persuaded that we can lose weight or live longer by swallowing pills or nibbling on herbs. Sales of dietary supplements amounted to an estimated $32 billion last year, according to Nutrition Business Journal, but most consumers have no clue about their efficacy.
Neil Thanedar wants to change that. A 24-year-old with an undergraduate degree in chemistry, he co-founded LabDoor in May 2012, and launched an online and iPhone application that rates from A to F (F being worst) the safety and efficacy of vitamins, energy drinks, and herbal supplements. LabDoor has chemically taken apart 200 products culled from the National Institutes of Health’s Dietary Supplements Labels Database which lists more than 7,000 brands.
“Over 70% of products make small claims,” says Thanedar—meaning manufacturers fib, say, on the amount of milligrams in a pill. Having a lab test one supplement can cost an individual more than $5,000; LabDoor spends less than 20% of that, still a hefty sum. The start-up has raised $250,000 from angel investors, and $100,000 from San Francisco-based accelerator Rock Health.
The son of a chemist, Thanedar learned the hidden truths of the trade early on. His father ran a chemistry lab which analyzed for pharmaceutical companies the efficacy of their drugs, by making sure, for example, they didn’t quickly degrade. After graduating from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Thanedar founded his own lab, working with clients to remove carcinogenic chemicals from their products and to formulate new ones, such as the black paste football players smear under their eyes. “I loved the science, but I wasn’t allowed to tell consumers about information I knew–which products were safe and not safe. I wanted to share it,” says Thanedar.
He left his lab, now in the hands of his father, to become a chemical sleuth. Thanedar has narrowed down the number of products in the NIH database to less than half and matched them with the number, outcome and quality of clinical trials and peer-reviewed studies to rate a product’s safety and efficacy, as well as risks and benefits. He has ambitious plans to chemically parse the supplements, starting with the most popular.
Consumers will get the app for free, but LabDoor hopes to make money by selling its chemical data to pharmacies and supermarkets that carry the stuff. As for taking on the big dietary supplements companies, such as GNC Holdings, “we’re very confident that science is on our side,” says Thanedar.
Do you know what’s in your vitamins or energy drink?*
1- Adult gummy vitamins have less than 40% vitamin content than regular pill-form multivitamins, and cost 150% more.
2- 90% of supplements have a contaminant, such as mercury, lead, or pesticide.
3- A 1.9 ounce shot of 5-hour Energy has more than 200 mg of caffeine. An 8-ounce Red Bull has 80 mg. (5-hour Energy was recently in the news because of deaths possibly related to the drink).