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Show HN: I want to change how people buy health supplements (backoflabel.com)
70 points by richarlidad 13 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 46 comments
I made a table where you can find out the source/location of factory for where health supplements are made. Then, I spent a year reading product labels so you can save time and money when buying supplements. This is that update.

This is still a work in progress but it functions fine.

My previous post was a simple database of company data showing ingredient sourcing/location. That took 10 days, this has taken me close to 9 months. BackOfLabel is an extension of that initial interest with dosage information at the product & ingredient level.

This update allows sorting by many more attributes at the product level (for 4000+ products at the moment) of manually scraped data.

Now, for instance you can sort by specific types of ingredient - eg. filter by magnesium glycinate , magnesium orotate or any combination. eg. find ubiquinol or ubiquinone, two forms of coenzyme q10. This is useful for consumers but also companies seeking competitor analysis.

You are able to filter products by

– Ingredient – Filter by liquid, tablet, capsule, powder & more – Browse by UPC Code – Dosage Information – No. Individual Serving – No. Manufacturer Serving – Total Dosage

For example You can also search by type of protein powder - eg. search for whey protein powder and find the dosage information for many products instantly.

It frustrates me and I think the way that people buy supplements is wrong. And they don't know any better because there are incentive structures that keep them in the dark. This is a small effort to combat the misleading labeling and lack of regulation in the industry.

full disclosure - i've provided a generic affiliate link in the table that means i earn a small percentage (5%) of total cart if you purchase through the link

note: browse on desktop to filter & sort

There seem to be more negative comments here -- so a positive one: Congratulations on getting this out! This is a ton of effort and I really appreciate the work going into this. Sourcing is absolutely an issue for supplements, and doing the homework on it is very hard. I agree that some sources could help, but without knowing anything about the quality of the work directly, I appreciate you putting the work in there and getting an update out there.

It's cool to be able to see something like liposomal apegenin just scrolling through there -- which is a bit more common now but I would have been very happy to know there was a provider who made that before doing my due diligence.

It would be very cool to me to see what factories/locations this was produced at and/or a trust rating (though this could go south very quickly), but this may be too tall an ask for the task at hand. I see it referenced I guess but don't have too much reference point from the demo what that looks like. That by far seems to be the most valuable bitset of information, I personally believe.

Regardless, much appreciated at doing this hard work! I am sure there are many unrecognized hours that went into this, don't let a critical comments section get you down early, especially after what seems to be many many hours of work! :D :)


Kudos to OP for getting this out!

One piece of advice. Please show what you’ve built to non-technical online communities that really care about this stuff. I think you’ll find way more positive attention from older groups on Facebook, Reddit, and specialty supplement/patient/disease/exercise forums.


Outside of FOSS, developer tools or “look what I made for my portfolio” projects, I really don’t know why people post affiliate or micro-SaaS things to HN.

Unless you already have some momentum, I would be extremely wary of posting “one man” ideas to HN. There are too many negative stories on here of people having not only their ideas stolen but people wholesale copying their content/data/UI.

The OnlineOrNot guy and a few others have complained about this a few times already.

Best of luck!

Appreciate it (replying to both this and the parent) but I think the comments have been pretty friendly so far :). And mostly useful feedback on things I have considered but needed some direction on where to put my energy.

I take a lot of supplements and here are the things I want to know:

- Which supplements have a specific ingredient

- If they have the ingredient how much is in each capsule or pill

- The price per unit quantity of the ingredient

- Often I am looking for one specific compound, so I want to find only supplements that don't have any other compounds, or at least know exactly what other compounds are in their formula (without looking at each one individually)

- For supplements that are extracts, I want to know if they are standardized, what they are standardized to, and the % of that compound in the product.

- If there is a Certificate of Analysis (and what it says and a link to it would be great)

- If they are organic

- Country of origin

- If they are tested for heavy metals

- If the company has ever been found to have products that don't contain what they state, or are unsafe in another way, and how recently and how often

- If the products are freshness dated, and how long a shelf life is claimed

- Where to get them at the lowest price, including shipping

What I don't want is what Google does: I don't want to see other similar sounding compounds when searching for a specific one.

Also, are you planning to charge for access to this? Not sure if people will pay for it on a subscription basis. I wouldn't, because I only sometimes look for something new.

Reading this exhaustive list, I couldn't help but think... this is what regulators are for. They're supposed to do all this homework so that the individual consumer doesn't have to, because they couldn't possibly hope to.

Regulators never tell you the cost per ingredient, or most of those other things.

If regulators take over the supplement market it will be gone, everything will get 10x or 100x more expensive, and all that will be left is prescriptions. No thanks.

Also, this information is not disclosed for drugs either.

Will likely make entire database for dosing information. Lab testing, UPC Code/ Enterprise side data paywalled.

If you are going to paywall the data that would actually be useful for people who want to buy supplements, that's pretty useless, and doesn't seem congruent with your goal of "changing how people buy health supplements".

Can you elaborate more on what frustrates you about how supplements are bought, the misleading labeling, the lack of regulation, and the incentive structures designed to keep people in the dark?

I ask because I consume and browse a lot of supplements and have never come across (or have never noticed) most of the above on any supplements I’ve ever considered.

Also, adding my two cents on things I care about when buying supplements:

- does this contain as much as it says it does?

- how does this ingredient benefit me?

- how bioavailable is this form?

Comparing the above is a huge time sink because the information is either hard to find or unknown or speculative.

Yes! Actually, bioavailability was one of the first things that I wanted to track as there are studies w/ bioavailability data but they are often conflicting - having said that is solved by giving a generic range x%-y%. Again, if we go by the label then we suffer from the issue of trusting companies - so the medium term game is to produce CoA's since these companies are so reluctant to do so.

Since this is the top comment at posting - best way to request features is to follow on twitter https://twitter.com/backoflabel

signing up and logging in currently gives access to 4000+ rows (double the preview)

Another thing which makes bioavailability difficult is competition inhibition by other supplements, e.g. zinc and copper. There are also genetic changes between individuals that make it hard to track; e.g. impaired folate metabolism due to MTHFR C677T gene. And then there’s the “does any of that really matter with respect to any metrics I care about” question, because presumably people are supplementing with some goal in mind beyond changing levels of minerals in their blood.

Maybe I’m misunderstanding your post, but are you saying you’ve never come across mislabeling in the supplements you personally take? How would you know if you’re not getting them independently tested? (Maybe you are? If so, I’d be curious about which supplements/brands you’ve tested that seem consistently legitimate).

Independent labs exist that perform testing. I typically use LabDoor. The supplements aren’t perfect by any means, so I suppose there is some “mislabeling”, and maybe the supplements that are tested aren’t representative of what’s shipped to consumers. So, it’s about as accurate as anything else that’s sold to consumers with a nutrition facts label, in my opinion.

An incentive issue I am referring to is LabDoor is funded by companies - their business model is affiliates + requiring a fee from companies to list their products. Also their selection is very limited and testing methods opaque. I want to populate the table with one click access to CoA's and product testing.


This is a super interesting question. If you don't know, and it's difficult to find out, isn't your market going to be limited by the rate of consumer education? that is a difficult goto market strategy, because you have multiple funnel fallouts happening - people who don't want to get educated, can't get educated, don't believe the education. Then they enter your "do they want to buy your product" funnel. Tough space, but it sounds like it's a problem - good luck!

Are you able to track down long complex supply chains? Years ago I did QA lab work for awhile for a domestic USA supplement manufacturer, and almost everything going into their products came from overseas - China, India, Japan, etc. My job was testing for heavy metals and bacterial and mold contamination, basically, plus levels of active ingredients in some cases. None of that information about country-of-origin ever went on the labels.

My recommendations are that if you're going to buy herbal supplements, buy them direct from domestic organic producers, ideally straight from the farmer online, and if you're going to buy other supplements, it's generally better to stay away from complex formulations, e.g. get pure vitamin C powder or pure glucosamine, in a gel capsule form, that ensures minimal handling and processing in perhaps-poorly-managed facilities.

It's good that peope are paying attention to sourcing, at least, but it's a complicated web to untangle.

Let's talk. [my email is in my profile]

Interest concept, but to be honest it left me with a lot of questions. Namely: Where is the information about labels and factories coming from? The preview is sorted alphabetically which puts a single vendor at the top, and as a potential customer I don’t really know what I’d get access to if I signed up. Is it just a handful of brands that shared info?

No, all publicly available data or I checked the product label physically for the product. No brands shared info with me.

The problem is trusting the labels represent what's in the supplement. These supplement companies either lie or aren't competent enough to ensure (1) what's in the product is what they claim (e.g. wildly different doses to what's claimed, either above or below), (2) there isn't contamination with heavy metals (e.g. arsenic).

As a user I'd be more interested in knowing which products have independent verification of contents, so I know the product is what it claims to be, and that the product isn't going to poison me with arsenic etc.

This is coming.

What a refreshing and great idea. The closer we get to pure data, the better.

I don't currently take supplements, but spent a few days researching which supplements I should take, and got completely different answers from everyone I asked.

Tim Ferris's blog posts had one idea, some body hackers had others, reddit had other ideas. I wanted to improve my health but really felt like the information I was getting was conflicting. (if each source had given similar responses, I'd probably have taken the advice, but because it was was very inconsistent, I couldn't tell who was right and who was just trying to sell some sugar powder/syrup/tablet, so I stuck to wholesome foods instead).

I still would love to know what supplements are "no brainers" and should be taken to have a meaningful improvement on one's vitality, health, energy, and life.

You could link to the controlled studies on supplement effectiveness for various self-diagnosed ailments. That shouldn’t add too much overhead to your database.

You could also include independent analyses of what the supplement products actually contain, as opposed to manufacturer claims.

The owner of nootropics depot has convinced me that, apart from theirs, maybe only 1% of the products in the supplements industry are what they say they are and/or remotely close the stated dose. Aside from that, the website looks great!

As someone who has purchased a lot of supplements over the past few years to (try to) deal with a health issue, the biggest problem I face is fake/untrustworthy reviews. Either outright fake reviews, or reviews that were "bought" by offering free products or something like that.

I just want to know from real people whether a given supplement worked well for them or not.

Bonus points if you can link scientific studies related to a supplement, so I don't have to search for them myself.

These are the main two issues I faced. I don't mind researching things myself, but the fake reviews really get on my nerves.

> I think the way that people buy supplements is wrong

Well yeah, buying supplements in the first place is wrong, unless you are deficient in something specific for a specific reason.

The supplements industry is just one big scam.

I had an ex who was deeply into roughly this idea, but for beauty products. There’re many micro-domains where people spend a lot of time trying to figure out where things come from, what their environmental impact is, the production process, etc.

Maybe not a billion dollar business, but hey it is an honest thing to try to sell.

I would love to be able to buy supplement "samples". If I want to try out Xyz for the first time, I have to buy a huge bottle usually. If I don't end up liking it, it ends up being a waste of product and money

How do you determine whether you like a supplement or not? Do you have frequent blood tests? Small samples wouldn't make a noticeable difference.

These companies rely on the fact that consumers can't easily verify the effectiveness of their products, so marketing is crucial for them. This is why we need independent verification just to determine what they're selling.

good points. I do know when I don't like a supplement - some adverse effect that is a deal killer

Establishing trust is difficult as third-party. Having applied to YC with this idea last batch I believe there's potential

Is it safe though to go just buy the active ingredients directly?

isn't there supposed to be some controls on dosage? the other ingredients we think are filler, but they are actually necessary to stabilize the active ingredients?

many questions

> the other ingredients we think are filler, but they are actually necessary to stabilize the active ingredients?

Tablets are cheaper to make than capsules, so you’ll at least have filler, if not binders as some molecules don’t stick together well. Other times they’ll stick together too well and not dissolve without something to help.

If you put a milligram of an active ingredient in a capsule, everyone will think you sold them empty capsules.

I wouldn’t trust myself to buy active ingredients for something like this in general. Dosing and mixing is highly controlled, because you can easily hurt or kill yourself by confusing which white powder should be 0.1g and which white powder should be 10g in a recipe.

I remember when DIY soylent was popular there were a lot of stories of people messing up doses.

> Is it safe though to go just buy the active ingredients directly?

I would only do that if the lab/factory you're buying from is highly reputable. Heavy metals contamination is a problem in this industry.

Keep it up! Also, consider adding some data about sustainability (e.g. packaging materials, CO2 footprint, animal ethics, land use, etc.). I'd like to see this scale up.

Really want to know about the supply chain of Qualia (from Neurohacker Collective). How would I go about finding this out?

I really like the design. At the bottom of the page is a button or label with the text ‘test mode’. What does that come from?

Thanks for the feedback so far - and kind words. I read everything so thanks to those who have asked for specific features they'd enjoy.


This is great. I was thinking about this very same issue while driving today. What are the chances.

I think I'd trust independent testing more than supply chain.

How expensive is testing?

Please please please do Amen Clinics

Labdoor also valuable

UX/UI needs some improvement

Your comments need some improvement.

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