This episode of Conversations for Health features Designs for Health Founder and CEO Jonathan Lizotte. With over 30 years of experience in the integrative medicine, medical foods, and nutritional supplement industry, Jonathan is an expert in the business of the therapeutic use of natural products. Under Jonathan’s leadership, DFH has become one of the fastest growing, most respected manufacturers and distributors of nutritional supplements nationwide.
In our conversation, Jonathan highlights the standards that make Designs for Health stand out in the saturated nutritional supplements market. We explore the DFH research standards, unique product features and quality approach to supplement trends that set Designs for Health apart from anything else available to consumers. Jonathan shares his journey with DFH and his inspiring outlook on the core benefits and future of nutritional supplements.
I’m your host Evelyne Lambrecht, thank you for designing a well world with us.
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[1:13] The inspiration and drive behind the founding of Designs for Health.
[3:45] Jonathan’s upbringing shaped his passion for whole health and wellbeing.
[4:25] Significant milestones that shaped Designs for Health into the company it is today.
[6:20] An overview of regulatory and product changes in the supplement industry.
[8:11] Key measures that address safety and regulatory concerns.
[11:24] Details about third party testing details and circumstances.
[13:22] Unique features and approaches that set Designs for Health at the top of the market.
[15:30] The Science-First research and development process for creating DFH products.
[19:06] Changing trends in supplement offerings and the industry as a whole.
[21:49] Jonathan’s top three favorite supplements and his personal health and nutrition practices.
[28:22] An overview of GG research and findings and why Jonathan recommends including it in every diet.
[30:35] The core nutrient concept that Jonathan has not changed his mind about in recent years.
Voiceover: Conversations for Health dedicated to engaging discussions with industry experts, exploring evidence-based, cutting edge research and practical tips. Our mission is to empower you with knowledge, debunk myths, and provide you with clinical insights. This podcast is provided as an educational resource for healthcare practitioners only.
This podcast represents the views and opinions of the host and their guests, and does not represent the views or opinions of Designs for Health Inc. This podcast does not constitute medical advice. The statements contained in this podcast have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Now let’s embark on a journey towards optimal wellbeing, one conversation at a time. Here’s your host, Evelyne Lambrecht.
Evelyne: Welcome to Conversations for Health. I’m Evelyne Lambrecht and I’m joined here today by Jonathan Lizotte. Welcome, Jonathan.
Jonathan: Thank you, Evelyne.
Evelyne: Thank you. Jonathan is the founder and chairman of Designs for Health. So excited to get to know you. Jonathan, what has been the inspiration and the drive behind the founding of Designs for Health almost 35 years ago now?
Jonathan: Yeah, well, gosh, 35 years went by in a flash certainly. Designs for Health was founded by me and my first wife, Linda, who’s since passed. She was a fabulous nutritionist, a private practice nutritionist, and she started first working for another company in Atlanta, Georgia for a couple of years. She was doing some nutritional counseling there. And then in 1989 we moved up north back to New England area where I was raised, and she opened up her own private practice, and that was really the beginning of Designs for Health, a nutritional counseling business. She was very successful and quickly we started hiring other nutritionists. One of those nutritionists we hired was a gentleman by the name of Robert Crayhon. Again, sadly, Robert’s no longer with us either, but they were just an amazing team, a really, really powerful team. And we grew that business quite rapidly to 20 offices by 1996.
And we used a lot of dietary supplements. And interestingly, one of the products we used back then, they did a lot of weight loss, was a carnitine product. And there was a time where Robert was concerned he didn’t feel like he was getting the results he had expected from carnitine. And we sent out the product that we were purchasing from another company and there was no carnitine in it. That shocked us and it made us think, you know what? We got to start doing this ourself.
And we reached out to then the only maker of carnitine tartrate in the world, Lonza Corporation. We started buying our carnitine directly from Lonza, working with a contract manufacturer to encapsulate that product for us. And that carnitine tartrate product was our very first product. And soon after we started doing that with many of our products, and by 1996 we ended up closing all the offices. We didn’t really close them, we had nutritionists running them, and we kind of turned those over to the nutritionists and we focused entirely on the products and the education on the use of those products.
So those are the beginnings. And so I had always had a passion for health myself, so it was an easy fit for me to jump into this culture and learn a lot from those two, and I’m very blessed to have had that experience.
Evelyne: Tell us a little bit more about that, your upbringing and how you got into health before that.
Jonathan: Oh, how I got into it before that. Well, certainly health and eating well was very important. My family, my mother, we’d always have home cooked meals. My father was taking dietary supplements since I was a little kid. He would be taking a vitamin E product now that I would recommend him probably not to take because it wasn’t tocotrienol back then and vitamin C. He was a biology teacher and he recognized the importance of supplemental nutrition and eating right. So yeah, I grew up in that culture.
Evelyne: Amazing. And since the start of Designs for Health, what significant changes have come along that makes Designs for Health what it’s today?
Jonathan: Wow. So certainly a lot from those early days of originally working with that contract manufacturer. And then of course the people. We’ve got a lot of family involved in the business. One of the first hires we had early on, also, I guess just after Robert Crayhon came on board was my sister-in-law Gail Lizotte, and certainly it’s just amazing to have her as part of the team and helped to build the company in the early years. And then later around 2005, we decided to start making our own products and not using contract manufacturers and doing the whole piece. Not just ordering the raw materials, but also ordering the raw materials and actually encapsulating them. And that’s when my brother Phil came on board Designs for Health. So I think people and all the other great people, Dr. Brady, I can go on and on and certainly you, yourself, Evelyne, just some amazing people.
So I’ll start with that. And then Designs for Health itself, I think back to that time and us being a small professional line of dietary supplements and all these other companies out there, to think about where we were then and where we are today, what we were able to achieve in these 30 plus years. It’s amazing. It’s amazing that we were able to build this team and achieve all that we have. And I think now we’re likely the number one selling practitioner brand in North America in terms of sales directly to healthcare practitioners and our patients. So we’re really excited about that fact.
Evelyne: Yeah, that’s amazing. And you’ve been in the industry obviously for a very long time. What changes have you seen in the nutritional supplement industry over the years?
Jonathan: Yeah, massive changes. So even when Designs for Health was founded as a nutritional counseling business, there was no DSHEA legislation. So that was the early legislation that really formalized how our industry is regulated. So I guess sometimes you hear this cliche term, which makes me crazy, that the dietary supplement industry isn’t regulated. It is regulated, it’s highly regulated. And that was really formalized in 1993 with a passage of this dietary supplement legislation passed in 1993.
So in the years before that it was a little bit Wild West. And that’s kind of how we ended up, as I told the story, starting our company. And certainly now it’s much better and there’s great companies doing really good things. And then of course the products, it amazes me in all these years, we’ve grown now to over 350 products and there were years we’d have 25 new products a year. We’re not at that pace anymore, probably 10 plus a year.
But I just kept thinking, when will this end? Is there going to be a time where there’s not this new exciting thing that is even better than what was before? It has not slowed down at all. There’s always new and exciting, either new ingredients or more, let’s say bioavailable more effective ingredients. So it’s ever-changing in a lot of good ways and it keeps it a very interesting industry
Evelyne: And more research all the time. And it is a very exciting industry to be in. I want to go back to the safety and regulation of dietary supplements. I hear that all the time too. It’s in social media that supplements aren’t regulated. Can you talk more about the challenges and misconceptions and also what measures we take at Designs for Health to address those concerns, but also prioritize safety for consumers?
Jonathan: Yeah, when I think about those misconceptions, I’ll bring up another one that I hear, third party testing as if third party testing is the only proof of let’s say the quality check of a product. I’ll just say with Designs for health, in the US we’ve got five different facilities. All five of those have of some level of labs. We have millions of dollars of our own lab equipment in these facilities, and we do a lot of in-house testing, and it’s good in-house testing.
So I think you need to, as a dietary supplement company, invest yourself in having the right equipment. Otherwise, I don’t know how you can possibly produce a product affordably that you’ve done adequate testing on. So I think number one, you’ve got to have your own good in-house testing. But in addition to that, third party testing I think is important and having some other labs that you can rely on. In fact, one of our product lines as Designs for Sport uses the entire product line is double checked with the NSF certified for sport on all those products. So I think one of the misconceptions, I guess, is what’s required to make sure that a product is meeting its label claim. And it’s a good combination. I think both of third party testing and really good in-house testing.
I would point to that, number one. And then there’s so many different forms of these nutrients, and with the experience that we’ve had, it takes a while really to figure out which of the ones that from both the cost perspective and an efficacy perspective really are the right versions to use in a product. I brought up vitamin E in the story with my father. I wouldn’t supplement any form of vitamin E other than the tocotrienol form of vitamin E. The research does not suggest that the tocopherol form of vitamin E needs to be supplemented outside of what already occurs in food. And it’s things like that. You can talk about folic acid versus natural forms of folate. So yeah, it’s testing, making sure that you’re meeting label claims, but also what label claim you’re meeting is really for the right form of that nutrient.
Evelyne: And I definitely want to talk about the tocotrienols more because I know you’re very passionate about them, and I feel like we’re always on the cutting edge of nutritional supplement research. With the third party testing, I do want to go back to that for a moment, what are the things that are third party tested?
Jonathan: Well, yeah, it depends on the product. So in the instance of what we do with NSF for sport, there’s a lot of banned substances, and that’s one of the things that’s important with that certification. So if you get professional in NCA, amateur athletes that are using these products they can’t test positive for a banned substance.
So normally we wouldn’t test for a banned substance because of course we don’t put banned substances in our products, so we wouldn’t have the need to do that. But NSF requires it. So that would be one example of something that we don’t normally test for. Or there may be a botanical that may potentially have a pesticide residue if you’re maybe buying from a source that is maybe a little bit questionable. And I wouldn’t say that we have in-house the ability to test for every single different pesticide residue, so we would outsource that. So it’s specialty things like that that we would rely on third party testing
Evelyne: And heavy metals, things like that, or do we test that in-house as well?
Jonathan: Yeah, we do most of the heavy metals ourselves in-house. Yeah.
Evelyne: Nice. And so consumers obviously and practitioners who are giving the supplements to consumers can feel assured that they are getting the highest quality, but also that everything meets label claims and that everything is fully tested for microbes, heavy metals, pesticides, so many things, even things you probably can’t think of.
Jonathan: Absolutely. Again, the team that we have and what they’ve built, again, in terms of our own in-house capabilities coupled with the relationships that we have with these outside vendors, it’s unmatched in the industry. I can’t imagine anyone’s doing more than we’re doing.
Evelyne: So in a market that is saturated with nutritional supplements, what are some of the things that make Designs for Health stand out? You already mentioned the tocotrienols of course, but what are some of the unique features and approaches that our products offer that are different from what else is out there?
Jonathan: We’re fortunate having grown up as again, a professional brand of dietary supplements, and that affords us the opportunity to always use the highest quality ingredients. Brands that are sold mass retail, they’re often very, very price sensitive products. And because of that, then sometimes they have to cut corners. And I get it, there’s just no choice. We’re fortunate in that we’ve never had to cut corners, so we never did cut corners. And that has resulted in product lines that again, whether it’s the form of the nutrient or the testing of the nutrient or the delivery system of the nutrient. Let’s say soft gel versus powder, in many instances, a lot of nutrients, they’re better delivered in oil base and more bioavailable in such a form. And if it’s going to be oil based, generally you need to use the soft gel. So we’re able to produce all those forms and use the right versions.
And again, as the leader in the space of professional dietary supplements in North America, which is I think the freest market in the world in terms of what you can do to produce dietary supplements, I consider us the top brand with the best products. But if North America is the market that allows you the greatest freedom that would make us the best dietary supplement in the world, I mean, that’s a bold statement, but I absolutely believe that that’s what we have. We have been able to invest in our products and use all these preferable forms and ultimately end up with the best dietary supplement line in the world.
Evelyne: I love it. Can you walk us through the research and development process that goes into creating our products and creating new products?
Jonathan: Sure. Well, number one, it’s our tech services team and our R&D team led by Dr. David Brady. So he’s put together an absolutely amazing team. Behind that, we’ve got our scientific advisory board, so we’ve got amazing resources. We also have as part of our team, Dr. Barrie Tan, so the founder of American River Nutrition, a company that we’ve partnered with.
So it’s really just a bunch of great people that as soon as any idea is brought to our attention, we send it to the team and they start digging and they dig deep. And then we have certainly long conversations, and I think we’ve made some great decisions. I think if you look at the history of Designs for Health and you look at the products that we’ve launched over the years, these are leading, right?
You don’t see Designs for Health looking over their shoulder at what somebody else has launched and trying to do our version of it. I wouldn’t say that that’s never happened, but almost always it’s something that we’re bringing first to the industry. So many things. Even the bone broth protein that we have, even pea protein, we were the first company, as far as I know, dietary supplement company that were selling a pea protein product in the US. Back then it was just rice protein. So you can go on, geranylgeranyl and all these other great ingredients that we have. It’s just the relationships that we have with amazing team. So the process involves them.
Evelyne: And I love that we lead with a science first approach. So there’s always research behind all of the product development of course.
Jonathan: Yeah. Science first means a lot for us, and I appreciate you bringing that up. That is a very intentional statement. The example that I think of when I think of science first, and we really started talking about this a lot, was coral calcium. You remember coral calcium? Are you familiar with it at all? The concept of this coral calcium?
Evelyne: Yes, but tell me more.
Jonathan: So I think it was the early two thousands, coral calcium was one of the hottest things, you need to have coral calcium. Well, wow, pretty sure it’s calcium carbonate and I believe most of it is heavy metal ridden, yet it was the hottest thing. And why don’t you have a coral calcium product? Well, because that’s a marketing first approach. It just wasn’t a form of calcium that we would want to offer. And regardless of how much other people are selling or how popular coral calcium is, we don’t want to carry coral calcium.
So we never did because that was a science first approach and to carry it back then would’ve been a marketing first approach. And of course, time proved us that it was not a good form of calcium, and no one even thinks of coral calcium anymore. But when we use the term science first, I can’t help but thinking of whenever that was, 1999, 2000 whenever it was, of the popularity of coral calcium and how quickly we dismissed it as any way that we would use in our product line.
Evelyne: Any other trends that you’ve seen along those lines?
Jonathan: Gosh, trends that I’ve seen along those lines. It’s funny, without meaning to be disparaging to the industry it seems most of them are like MLM ones, like Noni and all these other things.
Evelyne: I forgot about that one. I don’t see it anymore.
Jonathan: Yeah, you don’t see it anymore. And it is part of when the story of the dietary supplement industry is told, certainly that’s part of the story. But as a science first focused company, there’s few major things that we’ve changed. But it’s not like we haven’t made mistakes. I mentioned folic acid. We had folic acid in our products for many years, and folic acid is a B vitamin and it is a B vitamin that works as a B vitamin, but unfortunately it’s a synthetic form of B vitamins that is fortified in foods. And because of the synthetic nature of it kind of has a double-edged sword if you over consume folic acid.
And that information became clear to us around, I believe that was 2005 or 2006. And when it did, we switched from using the synthetic form of folate, folic acid, which was around $15 a kilo to the natural form 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate, which is $15,000 a kilo. But we just stopped overnight using any folic acid in our products and switched to the natural form because that was the science first decision. So that was a trend that changed. And it’s interesting, certainly in the professional space, the rest followed after we made that move.
Evelyne: Yeah, absolutely. And what are other trends that you see coming right now or emerging in our industry?
Jonathan: Yeah, I guess I almost hesitate to say this, but I think most of us knew that while an ingredient like CBD has its uses, it’s amazing the predictions for CBD were that it was going to be outselling fish oil. And I remember hearing that and thinking, well, no, it’s just a botanical that has some legitimate uses, but how could it ever outsell fish oil? And I literally remember seeing those projections and it just seemed like a foolish thing.
So that is a recent trend, certainly not the most recent one. Honestly, I’m thinking of what right now is trending. Some good things are trending right now. I know berberine, for instance, is trending. It’s really hot for a lot of reasons. And I love that ingredient. And magnesium’s always trending because it should. So I’m eager for tocotrienol to trend more than it is, and even things like geranylgeraniol to start trending.
Evelyne: Yeah. My next question for you is what are your top three favorite supplements? And please tell us why you love them so much.
Jonathan: I’ve mentioned this before, and it remains to be the case. If I’m on a desert island and I can only have one supplemental nutrient, it’s going to be tocotrienol. So tocotrienol does many, many things. So blood sugar regulation, anti-cancer, all kinds of other cardiac benefits, the list goes on and on. Even when my father was taking vitamin E, it was really described as the super nutrient. I think people even back then knew the potential of vitamin E to do so much, right? We have, I don’t want to get quote Barrie wrong, but is it like six or seven trillion cells? If you remember the number that Barrie Tan likes to quote, but every single cell that we have in our body has a cell membrane. And that cell membrane has to have vitamin E to protect the integrity of that cell membrane. And if you’re not getting adequate vitamin E or the wrong form of vitamin E, then you have an inadequate cell membrane.
And tocotrienol is by far the best form and you’re not going to get in the diet, you’re just not going to get tocotrienol. It’s near impossible. You can get some in palm fruit, but even palm when you consume it, you’re going to also get some tocopherol all of which can attenuate some of the benefits of it. So because of its all these therapeutic benefits I mentioned, and the fact that it’s very difficult to get in a diet, number one would be tocotrienol. Number two, and especially for me personally, is magnesium ,we all hear this.
Evelyne: Which magnesium?
Jonathan: I switch it up, right? So magnesium glycinate is a great product. Our magnesium malate is a great product, or magnesium threonate is a great product. So I like to switch it up. I mean, next thing I’ll mention probably is fish oil, even the fish oils. I’ll take our DHA fish oil, I’ll take our SPMs, which are derived from fish oil. So with those personally, I mix it up at times.
But yeah, magnesium in general, every day I need to have it in the diet or I’ll start cramping, I’ll feel it. I don’t sleep as well. It’s such an experiential nutrient, and I think that’s why it’s near the top or at the top now, in terms of those nutrients. If you say top three, and if I don’t mention vitamin D, which is probably the number one nutrient and for good reason, I would be remiss. I do spend a lot of time outside, so I get some of that. And on that desert island, I would probably produce plenty of vitamin D, but that’s way at the top of the list as well.
Evelyne: I love how you put that too, with the magnesium, “experiential nutrient.”
Jonathan: It sure is.
Evelyne: Also not supplement related, but what are your top health practices for your personal health and wellbeing?
Jonathan: Wow. Okay. So my personal health practices. So number one is protein consumption. And my good friend JJ Virgin keeps banging this into my head, and she is so right. And I think we all really need to be concerned with making sure that we get adequate protein every day, and especially as we start to get a little older, as I am, as it is just extremely important protein consumption. So I’m careful with that. Number two, if not number 2.1A is fats. You just can’t eat bad fats, and I do not eat bad fats. And my wife, Stephanie will attest to this when she’s up, I’m sure, but I just don’t eat the bad fat. So if I’m out, I won’t order french fries. The fats that are in our house primarily are avocado oil, olive oil and tallow, and it’s tallow. I render myself.
So I buy suet and I render it. And again, Steph is here in the room and she sees me doing that, and I’m crazy about that. And then if I’m doing some high heat cooking, I use that tallow. So it’s really, really important to make sure that you’re not exposed to a lot of the omega six, the damaged seed oil, omega six fats, and to avoid those. So protein and good fats are at the top of the list.
And then after that, I think carbohydrates, people really need to just listen to their body when it comes to carbohydrates. And if you’re more active, you probably can consume more carbohydrates, it’s pretty straightforward there. So it all starts with diet, absolutely all starts with diet. So number one, health practice, and then certainly you got to stay active and work out. So I focus on weight-bearing exercises. And I thankfully started playing hockey again so that’s what I’ll do in addition to the weight-bearing exercises. Hockey is more of a high intensity type of training, it’s not real cardio. I don’t do anything that one would call traditional cardio. I guess for many, it is part of a normal exercise plan, but it doesn’t make it to the top of my list for me personally. So yeah, being active and eating the right foods, those are my main focuses.
Evelyne: So you really walk the talk.
Jonathan: Yeah, I have been for many years now. So it is thankfully, I think instilled in my being and those of my family, and it’s what we talk about all the time. We’ve got this chat that we share as a family. It’s called the Flat Earthers. It’s just because it’s kind of a joke about that. Some of the things that we talk about that oftentimes others think maybe are crazy thoughts. But certainly our dedication and our passion to the natural health field that sadly, some people in the more allopathic space would refer to us as Flat Earthers because we believe nutrition is as important as it is, but of course it is. And what’s more important than being healthy.
Evelyne: Absolutely. Before we wrap up, I want to go back to the GG that you mentioned because we didn’t really talk about it. What is GG? Why is it one of your favorites? Tell us a little bit about the research on it.
Jonathan: So geranylgeraniol, is an endogenous nutrient. So it’s a nutrient that your body produces, and it’s in the HMG-CoA reductase pathway, so mevalonic pathway, it’s near the top in that pathway. And downstream from GG in that pathway is the endogenous production of nutrients like CoQ10, MK4, even hormones like testosterone and progesterone, and ultimately protein synthesis. So it is a endogenous nutrient that it should be… I’ll say in that pathway is CoQ10. CoQ10 is a very important nutrient and top four, I think seller right now in the world. And CoQ10 is called ubiquinone, and the name comes from being ubiquitous. It’s interesting, CoQ10 is probably misnamed because the real ubiquitous nutrient is right upstream from CoQ10, which is the geranylgeraniol, which is really responsible for that endogenous production of CoQ10 and these other nutrients.
So it should be the ubiquinol, this GG endogenous nutrient. But nonetheless, it is responsible for things that I mentioned. It’s a great anti-aging nutrient and something that I think everybody should have in their diet for many of the reasons that people want to maintain healthy levels of their hormones, healthy levels of CoQ10 healthy levels of MK4, everything that I mentioned that is downstream and again, protein. And so it’s more than just consuming protein, but you got to be able to take the protein that you consume and turn it into your own tissue, and GG is really critical in that role.
Evelyne: Aside from the 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate, which we talked about and the tocotrienols, is there something else that you’ve changed your mind about over the years? Something you used to believe and now you don’t?
Jonathan: Yeah. Oh, good question. Well, let me tell you one thing that has not changed. Maybe I’ll say that first and then it will occur to me. But it’s just on the Weston Price website yesterday and periodically I’ll go there, and Sally Fallon Morell is still the director of that website. And when I think back to 35 years ago, one of her first books, Nourishing Traditions, and of course everything that Weston Price did and his epic work, how much of that hasn’t changed? Right? None of that has changed in all these years, the work of Weston Price and the importance of those whole foods and fermented foods. So that has not changed for me.
What has changed? I mentioned the seed oils. 30 years ago I was eating expeller pressed seed oils, and I thought that as long as they were expeller pressed safflower oil, then that was a healthy food. So I think my attitude to that really, really critical macronutrient has changed in the last five or so years.
Evelyne: And now you don’t eat French fries anymore?
Jonathan: Well, I do make French fries at home with tallow. I do actually.
Evelyne: Very nice.
Jonathan: Not every day, but I do make my own French fries, and they’re delicious.
Evelyne: I bet. Well, Jonathan, thank you so much for everything you do for the industry, everything you’ve done for Designs for Health, it’s truly an honor for me to work with you. I feel very grateful to be at Designs for Health.
Jonathan: Well the feeling is mutual, Evelyne, and I’m very thankful to the years that we’ve had to work together, and I’m looking forward to many more years working together with you.
Evelyne: Thank you. Thank you so much for tuning into Conversations for Health. Check out the show notes for any resources we shared, and please share this podcast with your colleagues. Rate, follow, leave a review wherever you listen to the show. And thank you so much for designing a well world with us.
Voiceover: This is Conversations for Health with Evelyne Lambrecht, dedicated to engaging discussions with industry experts, exploring evidence-based, cutting edge research and practical tips.
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