By Deanna Minich, PhD, CNS, IFMCP
Reviewed by Kim Ross, DCN, CNS, IFMCP
June 27, 2023
There are many aspects to consider when buying food, a dietary supplement, or even a personal care product. First, there is the actual ingredient, nutrient, or substance itself which should be efficacious and of high quality, free of contaminants such as heavy metals or plastic. Second, the product's packaging is also relevant to consider as part of one’s purchase. Most people don’t think about the packaging much, yet it plays a crucial role in how long the product stays active.
Plants, whether in powder, oil, or liquid, are typically susceptible to breaking down in the presence of heat, light, moisture, and oxygen. The plant actives lose their activity when exposed to any of these elements over time; specifically, the longer and the more intense the exposure, the greater the loss of activity. It isn’t always evident that your nutritional product is losing potency; however, sometimes, there can be changes in color, clumping, or odors that would suggest it has experienced breakdown.
- Heat can damage proteins, cause the formation of unhealthy byproducts, and reduce antioxidants.
- Light, especially ultraviolet light, can lead to the degradation of plant compounds.
- Moisture can result in swelling of tablets, and accelerated breakdown of nutrient actives, like water-soluble vitamins, as well as lead to the buildup of microorganisms and mycotoxins.
- Oxygen can cause a product to go rancid, especially one that contains oils.
Choosing for best packaging practices is essential for getting the outcome you want from a product. Ideally, it’s best to start by knowing what to look for before making a purchase. Most herbal supplements sold in Europe and countries with stricter regulations around stability and quality tend to produce their products in blister packs that use PVC and foil (aluminum). In the natural products industry that supplements sold in bottles and similar packaging have significantly less stability and quality than those individually packaged using blister packs, particularly once opened. For example, in one study (1) examining the potency of levothyroxine (thyroid hormone) in a blister package or a bottle, the researchers found that the blister packaged product maintained integrity over time, but the bottled product potency fell from 103% at baseline to 98.4% after 15 days and to 94.5% at 30 days after opening. Resealable plastic bags, often used for superfoods and herbal powders were even worse. We found in our own research at Symphony Natural Health that packaging Femmenessence® in bottles or plastic bags reduced stability so much that the efficacy would be destroyed by 50% within six months without even opening the plastic bag! The moment a bottle or bag was open, it declined even more rapidly within days and weeks.
At Symphony, we believe that ensuring that every capsule you consume, from the first to the last, is of the highest quality and matches what was used in our clinical trials is essential. Our products are packaged in blister packs. We have explored other packaging options; presently, there isn’t a better alternative that gives us the security that you would get the highest quality and stable product each time. That said, we continue to look at all alternatives to provide the best solution to our customers, but based on our cost-benefit analysis, we still feel our current packaging is the best option.
In summary, here are some tips for choosing supplement packaging:
- Choose individual blister-pack packaging whenever possible to seal in the product and prevent degradation.
- If bottles are the only option, use glass over plastic. Resealable plastic bags are the least desirable option.
- If using bottles or plastic bags, select darkened glass and plastic.
- Tighten the lid and immediately reseal the packaging after use to reduce the air that can get into the product.
- Make sure that a desiccant (a hygroscopic substance that absorbs unwanted moisture) has been added by the manufacturer to a product in a bottle or resealable plastic bag.
- Use the product in bottles and resealable plastic bags as quickly as possible to minimize loss of efficacy.
- Store the product at room temperature and in the dark, if possible.
- Adhere to the expiration dates of the product.
These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.