Sunday, April 30, 2006

Health and Information

Dear Reader,

I was going to write today to recommend a health supplement I use when sick, but upon studying the label I see it was recently reformulated to include dairy products, which means neither I nor anyone else allergic to dairy can use this product any longer.

The product in question is Wellness Formula from Source Naturals (, a website down for maintenance at a time when it ought to be alerting existing customers about a change in formula). Source Naturals is conscious of allergies; the original formulation contained a notice that read:

Contains no yeast, dairy, egg, gluten, soy or wheat. Contains no artificial color, flavor or fragrance.

This earlier formulation qualifies as hypoallergenic, and the inclusion of gluten as well as wheat shows its creators understand allergies well enough to know why they should be listed separately--because there are other sources of gluten than wheat, and because there are other proteins in wheat to which a customer might be allergic.

The obvious question for me is why a company so clearly aware of the problem of allergies would reformulated a successful product to introduce an unnecessary and common allergen whose absence they had previously marketed as a selling point. I have left a voice message with the company asking them to call me and explain what happened. The only shift in the supplement facts in the new formula is an additional 5 mg of Vitamin C, which will not have come from any dairy product. I would guess that some other ingredient, perhaps the calcium, has proven easier to get from dairy than from its original source, or that some problem with the other source was discovered, but the new label neither explains the shift nor in any way draws the customer's attention to the shift. The front label has in no way changed and still reads "#1 Immune Formula!" which strongly suggests it is the same formula as it was, which is unintentionally false.

On the bottom of the second label, the allergy statement has been changed to read:

Contains no egg, gluten or wheat. Contains no preservatives, or artificial color, flavor or fragrance.

In the middle of the second column on the back label, this statement has been added:

Contains milk/dairy and soy.

I see no duplicity in this. The use of boldface was clearly an attempt to draw the reader's attention to the potential hazard of the product for those with these allergies. This change in wording is sufficient for new customers, but not for existing customers. New customers with allergies are used to carefully reading ingredient lists looking for their problem ingredients, so the combination of a boldface statement identifying the presence of dairy and soy along with a later statement identifying those allergens excluded from the product (a list which does not mention dairy or soy as excluded) will be enough to warn them off.

Existing customers though have already gone through this exercise and added Wellness Formula to their safe list. The back label is crawling with text--necessarily, to accommodate all the great ingredients along with a description of the product and explanation of its use--so even bold face will not be enough to make the new warning stand out from a wall of text that already included five other bold-faced phrases or statements. Existing customers with allergies need a far more obvious signal that they need to reevaluate this product or suffer potential health consequences. Letting my medical concerns override marketing considerations, they could have added the wording "Less Hypoallergenic Than Before" or "New Allergenic Version." Obviously no marketer would be that forthright, so for example at a minimum the word "Revised" could have been added in some prominent color under the banner "#1 Immune Formula."

The lack of any such clear highlighting aimed to capture the attention of and warn existing customers has resulted in my consuming a number of these new tablets in a misguided effort to help fight off bronchitis, misguided because my bronchitis is triggered by stress or allergies, of which my allergy to dairy is by far the worst. It is a safe bet I have made my condition worse rather than better by taking the new Wellness Formula tablets.

I do not mean to single out Source Naturals as being worse than most companies. On the contrary, they are better than most. For first-time customers their label is clear and attentive to the right details, and their formula is great. To anyone not allergic to dairy or soy I recommend these strong, pungent tablets. As their label suggests, taking three of these stinky tablets every three hours does indeed put the whammy on your illness. After discovering the disappointing change in formulation, I scrounged around my house and found a bottle (not that old--it doesn't expire for a while yet) containing the previous formula, which I am using instead. I will have to find someone not allergic to dairy or soy I can give the new tablets to, since I wouldn't want this valuable stuff to go to waste.

Apart from this disappointing change in ingredients, a lot of thought has gone into this formula, which its creators have loaded with immunity-boosting nutrients in a careful balance. It isn't perfect, but it's better than any other product I've found at such nuances as including copper any time you supplement with zinc, including zinc and bioflavonoids if you supplement with Vitamin C, and so on. It could stand to up the copper content to 2.3 mg to bring it to 10% of the zinc, and ideally the amount of bioflavonoids needs to match the amount of C to be fully effective, although that would be hard to do without creating truly huge monster pills. Overall, the shotgun approach of including a wide range of relevant herbal products such as garlic, echinacea, astragalus, goldenseal, pau d'arco, and so on, makes a reasonable addition to any strategy for battling ordinary illnesses, and one sniff of these tablets leaves no doubt about the potency of the herbs included.

So, the three lessons I would most draw out of this morning's discovery are these.

First, companies should pay far more attention to allergies than they do, should reformulate their products where possible to reduce the number of allergens present, and should never if at all possible introduce new allergens into an existing product.

Second, as we know from Heraclitus, change is inevitable and natural and important, so any labeling strategy should be oriented as much toward alerting existing customers of change as toward attracting new customers.

Third if I had not been planning to write a blog entry today recommending this product, I might never have noticed the dairy in the new formula; hence, blogging can be good for our health in unexpected ways.

Yours truly,

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