Written by Ben Bunting: BA(Hons), PGCert. Sport & Exercise Nutrition. L2 Strength & Conditioning Coach.
According to statistics gathered from the American Osteopathic Association survey of 2019, 86% of Americans take and use supplements. 
Data published in 2017 regarding the use of supplements in an Australian population during a period of 2014-2015 reports that 43.2% of adults had used at least one dietary supplement in the 2 weeks before the survey.
Interestingly, this was approximately double the figure for when a previous survey was taken in 1995 which shows a growing trend. 
According to data regarding the United Kingdom, 65% of adults have taken a dietary supplement between 2015 and 2016. 
This was an increase of 2% compared to the previous year.
What does this tell us?
Supplement use is widespread among different countries, and it is on the rise.
In this article we shall look at the following points:
- Supplement use
- Proprietary blend
Dietary Supplement Use Statistics
We have already thrown some figures around regarding supplement use in 3 different continents Not only that, but supplement use is increasing across the board. 
Why is this? What are the reasons behind this sustained trend?
Survey data suggests the main reasons for supplement use was to improve and maintain health.
The survey also noted that those who used supplements tended to be in 'very good' or 'excellent' health and exercise frequently. 
Supplement use in Athletes
Then there is the prevalent use of dietary supplements throughout the 'elite athlete' community. 
While supplement use is reportedly higher amongst the 'elite' levels athletes compared to their 'non-elite' counterparts, their use trickles down to the public.
Furthermore, it trickles down to military personnel who are arguably engaged in a physical and psychological lifestyle that mirrors that of an athlete. 
Supplements in the Military
When we think of elite athletes and soldiers, we tend to think of Special Forces. Those who undergo even more grueling conditions and training programs compared to other branches.
So it is interesting to see that a survey published in the Military Medicine journal from 1999 reported that 85% of US Army Special Operations candidates surveyed had used or were using dietary supplements. 
And, comparable to those civilian users of supplements, they tend to be healthier, do more exercise and don't smoke.
Dietary supplement use amongst other US military branches, including Army, Air Force, Navy and the Marines saw the highest users being females with up to 76% of Air Force personnel taking supplements.
The data for men showed a much more similar, yet smaller set of values, with the highest being 61% of male Marines taking supplements.
Yet this was still less than the lowest set of female users who are in the army, and 65% of those take supplements. 
However, there are risks...
What are Dietary Supplements used for?
A review of the motivations for dietary supplement use published by the Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health, found that in most cases it is to improve overall health and wellness, plus improved energy and performance. 
With such a large military and such widespread use of dietary supplements, it may not come as a huge surprise to read about adverse events.
There have been at least 2 deaths of soldiers that have been a result of 1,3-dimethylamylamine (DMAA), they were both using the same pre-workout product and both died of a cardiac arrest while engaged in military physical exercise. 
Then there is also the risk of your product being contaminated with an undeclared ingredient, one that is not on the supplement facts panel.
This sort of practice is not uncommon, and it has left some professional athletes' careers' in the balance. 
Hence why the military and the World Anti-doping Association list all of the banned supplements.
As a result, the Department of Defense outlines the ingredients, compounds, and metabolites found in supplements that are banned for use by service personnel.
That listed range from proven to be unsafe, prohibited in sports and competition or unclassified, we covered this in an article which you can read, here.
One of the points made by the Department of Defense is that any supplements that list their nutritional profile as being a 'proprietary blend', should be avoided. 
With this in mind, how can a 'proprietary blend' have an impact or affect the user? And, what is it?
What is Proprietary Blend?
A proprietary blend can also be called numerous other names, such as “matrix”, “complex” or “formulation”.
Essentially, it is a name given to a number of ingredients that are included in the nutrient profile of a product.
Now you may think this is nothing out of the ordinary. Products have their ingredients listed on all products, or at least should have.
The difference is that a proprietary blend doesn't provide the information about how much of each ingredient is included.
In most cases, they inform the user of the total amount of ingredients but do not break this down into the specific individual doses.
This is a shortcut by the manufacturer, they tell you what's in the product, but not how much.
Any product such as this is not being completely transparent with the end-user.
An example of this practice is for imaginary company X selling a product called 'HUGE HEROES T-BOOSTER'.
On the label, company X promises the customer that there are 10 ingredients in a daily dose of 1000mg.
So, the label will disclose which ingredients are in each daily dose, and the combined dose which is 1000mg.
Yet we have no idea how much of each separate ingredient is in there.
This is commonplace throughout the supplement industry, and supplements like this are sold throughout many online marketplaces and even well-known supplement stores.
The Purpose of a Proprietary Blend
Proprietary blends take advantage of a loophole, which we shall cover later.
Yet, some of the reasons that companies like to use proprietary blends are because they say they are protecting their 'secret' formula from others to copy.
Anyone reading this marketing blurb may think that they are buying an exclusive product, one that is so good it needs to be protected from prying eyes.
This creates a bit of marketing hype; who doesn't want to try a product that is so strong and effective the company won't expose its secret ratio of nutrients?!
When actually it is most likely to a way to fill the blend with the cheapest of those ingredients listed and just top up with the more expensive ingredients that are popular at that time.
This way profits can be maximized, and on top of that marketing strategy, revenues can also increase.
The key ingredients can just be included in exceptionally low amounts, the other much more widespread ingredients can make up the bulk of the dose.
This way, the customer can still see the effective ingredients are included, whether or not they know there's such a small amount it won't make an impact.
What is this loophole?
The FDA states on their website that, “you must list the names and quantities of dietary ingredients present”.
The names and amounts must be provided in the supplement facts panel along with the percentage of Daily Value for each individual ingredient. 
This sounds sensible and strict, after all, why would the customer not want to know these details? They are really important.
However, again, on the FDA website, and just a little bit further down the page, there is a section regarding proprietary blends.
In a somewhat contradictory fashion, you can identify a proprietary blend with that term or you are allowed to use a “fanciful name”.
So, in order to not divulge any of that important information that any responsible company would do, and as initially instructed by the FDA, you can use a fanciful name to just list the different ingredients and then the total weight, instead of the individual weights.
That means the FDA is allowing manufacturers to not declare the amount of each ingredient within that blend. 
Therefore a government body is permitting companies to sell a product without being totally open and honest about what amount of each ingredient is included.
This opens the door to companies using much cheaper ingredients, utilizing inexpensive fillers and then only including traces (bare minimum amounts) of the more 'active' ingredients.
It almost doesn't seem believable.
Much of the regulation, guideline, and law relating to dietary supplement labeling (and there is a lot) can be simply avoided if you use the term proprietary blend or another similar term, this can be dressed up to sound exclusive and drive the marketing machine harder.
Is this legal?
It is absolutely legal, and you will find many products doing the bare minimum and labeling their products with a proprietary blend.
The most the manufacturer has to do is list the ingredients in order of the weight included. 
Furthermore, it doesn't just stop at supplements.
All of those haircare product adverts on the TV, with the special 'active' ingredients, included giving your hair that glossy shine...yes, they too often include nondescript blends.
Here's a quote we found from a product available to buy on Amazon, “The DHT blocking hair loss shampoo and conditioner set also contains proprietary blends of extracts, amino acids, oils, antioxidants, and nutrients.”
Read it over again, and you will see that it really is that vague.
We really have no idea about the exact amount of the 'extract' or 'oils' which are included, let alone the types of extract and oils.
It's a similar story amongst many supplements...
While it's legal, it could be considered deceitful.
If we don't know how much of an ingredient is included, you could be forgiven for thinking that this may not be entirely safe.
Supplement companies want people to buy their products time and time again. So they want to make the customer feel that they are getting a product that is working.
Very few supplements can offer an immediate impact or create feelings of being effective, except for pre-workout products.
However, one way around this is to add stimulants, once a person feels a stimulant and becomes very alert, they will now think that the supplement is working.
This is sometimes seen in some testosterone boosters, because it may help mimic the feelings of energy that are associated with an increase of testosterone. Read about the other benefits of testosterone, here. 
Therefore, it is very easy to load a supplement with caffeine, beta-alanine (the ingredient that makes your face tingle) or, as we have seen DMAA, without declaring the amounts used, and whether it fits in the safety parameters.
It can be very easy for a product to contain a lot more than advised, so the customer feels like the product is having a greater effect when really it's just a couple of ingredients making a short and sharp impact.
Clearly the Operation Supplement Safety website which is a safety resource for service personnel doesn't see a proprietary blend as being safe or trustworthy either.
They say, “The lack of amount for each ingredient is especially important when a proprietary blend contains stimulant (or stimulant-like) ingredients".
Stimulants found in supplements can include caffeine, yohimbine, and phenethylamines, as well as illegal ingredients such as DMAA, DMBA, BMPEA, and methylsynephrine.” 
For example, the resources available from the Operational Supplement Safety website state that consuming up to 400mg of caffeine per day is safe. 
And, to emphasize this point, and this quoted amount, a study published by the Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine journal state that sleep-deprived Navy SEALS performed significantly better at marksmanship tests after dosing 200 or 300mg of caffeine. 
You can read more about sleep studies in the military, here.
Furthermore, to emphasize another point, too much caffeine can lead to death in severe cases, and it is not unknown for people to overdose accidentally by consuming too much caffeine in supplements. 
As a result, there is a potential safety issue amongst supplements with the ingredient amounts hidden under the proprietary blend label.
This is particularly true as caffeine can be found in lots of different ingredients or foods without people realizing (such as chocolate and tea).
As a result, accidental overdosing is possible. 
Needless to say, caffeine is just one ingredient that can cause harm if too much is taken.
What about effectiveness?
On the other hand, some ingredients need to be dosed accurately to be effective.
For example, D-Aspartic Acid doesn't have any effect when it is dosed at a level that is too high such as 6000mg , and the positive outcomes for Fenugreek are at the 500mg mark .
This is apparent across the board.
Buying a product that may include ingredients such as these, yet do not disclose the doses could mean it is not going to be effective or have any benefit at all.
At Military Muscle, we pride ourselves and our reputation of providing clinically proven doses per daily serving. Doses that work.
What we know is that a proprietary blend hides this important information.
Let's look at a real label from a product that is available to buy.
Proprietary Blend Label
We are looking at one of the top-selling testosterone boosters in Amazon.
If you look at the label above, you can see all of the included ingredients.
However, instead of being displayed in a table that lists the ingredients and also stating their included amounts, as well as the Daily Value percentage, they are combined in a 'proprietary blend'.
There's no information regarding the amounts included, and as a result, we do not know the Daily Value amounts.
On balance, we could suggest or theorize there would be equal amounts of each ingredient included, however, it could consist of mainly Horny Goat Weed and trace elements for the several remaining ingredients.
Just remember, this is one of the best selling products in the testosterone booster category, that's a hell of a lot of people buying something that they have no real idea of the precise quantities included.
Would you go out and buy a vehicle without knowing the output of the engine? Would you buy a laptop or cell phone without knowing the specification?
However, in this case, it is much more important to know that information as you are putting it in your body!
So, now we know a little more about this, what are your thoughts, because it now starts to raise a few more questions than what you may have had initially?
When first looking for a product like this, you may just wonder if it works or not. That's a fair question.
The way the label looks is generally enough for most people. If it looks like business, it has to work, right?
However, now, you see the ingredients.
Let's face it, a lot of people see the ingredients, browse over them and think they recognize a few of the names, and that's enough. If it sounds familiar enough, again, in their mind it probably works.
However, now, armed with your recent knowledge, you can see it is a hidden blend of ingredients.
No specifics are offered. Just a list of ingredients and the total weight.
The company isn't telling you the specific doses, so let's look at some of the thought processes that may go through your head in this situation when browsing for a product.
- Can I overdose on something?
- If they are hiding the doses of seemingly legal ingredients are they including hidden prohibited substances?
- Accurate dosing is necessary to be effective, so will this be effective?
- What else are they hiding? Is this a trustworthy company?
- Will this have any adverse reactions to other supplements or medications?
- Where's my money being spent?
In contrast, if we look at the label for Military Muscle, the amount for every ingredient is accounted for.
You know exactly what is included and the dose.
Fully transparent, and, the doses reflect positive findings from clinical studies.
What have we learned?
We know that supplement use is commonplace; elite athletes use supplements, a majority of military personnel use supplements, and the majority of the general civilian population across three different continents use supplements.
It could be suggested that due to the high use among elite athletes, this effect trickles down to the wider public who also want to experience the benefits.
After all, why do you think you see so many athletes, teams, or stadiums displaying dietary nutrition sponsorship?
It is also to our knowledge that the FDA has a set of strict guidelines for the labeling of supplements, which seems positive until we learn that these can be waived by using the term 'proprietary blend' or another like term.
In which case, a supplement manufacturer can then utilize that loophole and divulge the least amount of information regarding the constituents of that product.
This obviously then can have an impact on you, not least on the effectiveness of the product but also on safety.
And, product safety is paramount for the end-user.
There have been high profile cases of soldiers falling foul to overdosing on substances that have ultimately led to their deaths.
There's also the potential to overdose on what may seem like harmless, everyday stimulants such as caffeine, or the potential for unscrupulous companies adding high amounts of stimulants to their products so the user feels like it is working.
We are not here to discredit other products on the market, we believe the highest quality products will always shine through.
However, we do follow and agree with the language set by The Department of Defense Dietary Supplement Resource which recommends that proprietary blends can hide potential hazards and that they should be avoided.
Without the relevant information about ingredient doses, you are potentially opening yourself up to a number of issues.
If you really care about your health and well-being, you need to know exactly what you are taking.
Therefore, when looking for a supplement, to ensure your safety and also to ensure you are not taking anything prohibited, check these four simple points:
- Full company transparency - can they be trusted?
- Clinically proven ingredients and doses – look at the science and research.
- Avoid products with proprietary blends – what's being hidden?
- Source – is it made in a country where it has to be manufactured to strict guidelines and regulations?
These simple checks can be the difference between money well spent and a potential trip to the hospital.