How To Choose Quality Supplements
We all care about our health and wellness. Increasingly, supplements have become part of our daily lives to help maintain vitality, prevent disease and to support recovery from illness and chronic disease.
The vast world of supplements includes nutrients, minerals, plant compounds, antioxidants and herbal medicine. Supplements truly have so much to offer and provide such wonderful tools in Functional Medicine.
But how does a consumer navigate the supplement world to find high quality products? It is confusing and unclear which supplements are high quality and which are not.
Some supplements have a lot of marketing power and seem like a good choice, but are they?
And, what explains the huge variation in price between over-the-counter supplements and practitioner brands?
Is it better to just grab what is cheap and readily available or is there benefit to spending a bit more?
Today’s article will answer these questions and more. We’ll dive into:
- Who needs supplements
- How supplements are regulated in the United States
- What is Prop 65 and how it applies to supplements
- Dr. Shippy’s tips for navigating the supplement world and making the best choices
Who Benefits from Supplements
Who should take supplements? The short answer is just about everyone.
Because of the lower nutrient-density in the food supply from modern agricultural practices and soil depletion, it has become increasingly hard to get all of the nutrients that we need on a daily basis from food alone.
We also have increased needs for certain nutrients, especially those that support detoxification, because of the higher levels of toxins in today’s environment. We might need more B vitamins when under stress, for example, and who isn’t experiencing some level of stress these days?
In addition, other groups that benefit from extra nutrients via supplements include:
- Pregnant and nursing women
- Growing children and adolescents
- Those recovering from illness or injury
- Vegetarians, vegans or those following a restrictive food plan
- Those with malabsorption, malnutrition or with nutrient deficiencies
- Anyone prevention minded
The combination of increased nutrient needs and decreased nutrients in food makes filling in the gaps with nutritional supplements a smart choice for many.
The basic supplements that most people benefit from include:
- Fish oil or omega-3 supplement
- Vitamin D
- Phosphatidyl choline
This small handful of supplements will provide a solid nutritional foundation and fill in dietary gaps to promote wellness.
Supplement production in the United States is regulated similar to food manufacturing. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires supplement companies to comply with a set of Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP).
These standards refer to the cleanliness of facilities, hygiene practices of employees and equipment maintenance.
The CGMP standards do not include any regulation as far as the quality, purity or safety of the supplements themselves. There is nothing in place to insure that what the supplement label claims the product contains, actually does contain it.
This is why you may hear reports of supplements being contaminated with various toxins or others containing little or no active ingredients.
Further, after supplements enter the marketplace, the FDA will receive reports of any adverse reactions to products, but all of this is after the fact.
The FDA also regulates supplement labels in terms of what claims can be made. This is why you’ll see the following on many supplement labels regarding possible health benefits:
“This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
The California Proposition 65 (Prop 65) warning is another statement you might see on a supplement label, regardless if you live in California or not. This is because many supplement companies choose to make one label for their product instead of a separate label for California.
Prop 65 is California legislation known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 designed to alert consumers if a product they are using or purchasing is known to contain any chemicals that may cause cancer or infertility.
The State of California maintains an ongoing list of such chemicals and is well ahead of most other states when it comes to environmental toxins. The list now contains over 900 chemicals.
This is an example of the warning you might see on a supplement label:
“Warning: This product can expose you to [name of chemical], which is known to the State of California to cause cancer.”
This sounds pretty scary. Your first reaction is probably to not buy the particular product, but in actuality the issue is more nuanced than that.
The law and label certainly aim to do good for citizens, but some argue that the law is too strict and may cause people to shy away from products that could be more beneficial than harmful.
One large issue when it comes to supplements is that many of the Prop 65 chemicals occur naturally in the soil, such as lead, arsenic and cadmium.
It’s absolutely true that these heavy metals are harmful in large amounts, but trace amounts that might be found in plants, herbs, probiotics and minerals might be well below the limits. As the saying goes, it’s the dose that makes the poison and the Prop 65 warning isn’t required to tell you the dose.
The problem again is with regulation, how is a consumer to know what Prop 65 product contains very low and even natural amounts of heavy metals vs. a product that might contain higher doses that would pose a more serious threat? You might need to take matters into your own hands.
How To Be A Savvy Supplement Consumer
With so many options on the market, how do you know if the supplement you are seeking is truly high quality?
How do you know that what the label claims is in the supplement is actually there and that the supplement doesn’t contain harmful levels of toxins?
When it comes to choosing supplements, I recommend:
1. Choose supplement brands that do third-party testing. This is not required by law and shows that the company cares about quality and is going above and beyond to ensure it. Independent testing may verify the contents of the supplements and their consistency from batch to batch. Third party testing will also ensure that the product doesn’t contain anything not declared on the label and is free of toxins or contaminants as well.
A quality company will have testing information readily available on their website or supply it to you when asked. They may also supply you with a Certificate of Analysis as proof of the additional testing their products have undergone. You can see the results for yourself.
2. Check for unnecessary ingredients. It’s not uncommon to see artificial flavors, artificial colors, fillers, artificial sweeteners, sugar and other substances besides the active supplement ingredients on a label. These are a red flag signaling a lower quality product. Read the ingredient label as you would a food to decide if it makes sense to consume regularly.
In addition, if you have food allergies, sensitivities or follow a Paleo approach, you’ll want to avoid supplements that contain allergens, ingredients derived from allergens (such as GMO corn) and other non-compliant ingredients.
3. Choose practitioner brands. Most supplement brands sell directly to consumers; however, many high quality options distribute exclusively through health care practitioners. If your trusted Functional Medicine doctor recommends a product, it has likely been vetted for quality, purity and effectiveness. All of the Every Life Well® and other products on my shop have my stamp of approval.
4. Order supplements directly from the company or a reputable supplement distributor to ensure that the supplements have been properly stored. Many supplements are sensitive to heat and light and may degrade in a hot warehouse or other unfavorable conditions. Although you might find the same products on Amazon or eBay, the storage conditions can’t be guaranteed.
5. Choose the active and bioavailable forms of nutrients. Since many nutrients exist in multiple forms and are derived from various sources, there are often many options to choose from. It is worth getting the form that is right for you and will provide the best results.
As an example, folic acid, the synthetic form of folate, is what you’ll find in a typical multivitamin or B-complex (and fortified foods), but isn’t the best form of this nutrient from a physiologic perspective. A supplement that contains folate, as methylfolate (or 5-methyltetrahydrofolate or 5-MTHF), instead likely also contains the active forms of other nutrients.
6. Cost matters. While quality supplements are often a little (or sometimes a lot) more expensive than what is found on the shelves of a typical grocery store or pharmacy, often you are paying for the quality itself. It’s better to take a more expensive supplement that will be safe and effective instead of a cheap supplement that may not provide the same benefits, or worse, may actually be harmful.
7. Work with a Functional Medicine practitioner. If you have more questions about what supplements are right for you or need more guidance around specific products or brands, work with your practitioner for personalized recommendations. We all have different genetics, epigenetics, nutritional needs, and other factors. Just because a supplement protocol works for a friend, doesn’t mean it is right for you. Save time and money by collaborating with your provider.
Supplement choices are often overwhelming and confusing, but they don’t have to be.
Hopefully, this information will help you easily spot the difference between low quality products and the supplements that are actually worth considering.
A few well placed, high quality supplements are often incredibly effective for helping to achieve your health and wellness goals. It’s worth taking the extra time and attention required to make the best choice.
Read About Dr. Shippy’s Every Life Well® Supplements
As a Board-Certified Internal Medicine physician, I offer pharmaceutical grade nutritional supplements. This means they are typically stronger in potency and higher in quality than supplements you’ll find in most retail or online stores. It also means you can expect to achieve greater results.
Quality ingredients and formulations. Pure and simple.
The ingredients have been tested for purity, quality, potency, and composition, so you can trust the identity of each formula. It’s so important to know that what you are putting in your body is the purest form and highest quality. I would want nothing less for myself, my patients, or for you.
The ingredients and formulations in my products are from wholesome, pure, clean sources, and in their most bioavailable forms for maximum effectiveness. This means that they are in the form that is best absorbed and utilized by your body.
It’s not just what’s in the supplement that matters – what’s not in the supplement is just as important. Many of my patients, including myself, have food allergies or sensitivities. None of my supplements contain gluten, dairy, GMOs, preservatives, dyes or toxins.
There are a couple of rare exceptions where products contain trace amounts of egg and a few contain tree nuts. All ingredients are clearly indicated on the product pages. Be sure to read carefully if you have any known food allergies or sensitivities.
Highest manufacturing standards.
The supplements in my store are manufactured in facilities that are strictly controlled by rigorous standards that meet cGMPs, and routinely pass FDA and third-party audits. Materials go through laboratory testing from raw source to the finished product…to bottling and labeling.
I offer the best of the best, from all over the country.
In order to provide a comprehensive array of supplements I don’t rely on just one manufacturer. I recognize that some have better sources and formulations in specific areas than others, and I only select the best of the best. This means, you don’t have to go researching and searching – I’ve done all the leg work for you.
It’s taken many years of research, trial, implementation, and relationship building to bring what I am offering to you and to my patients. I also stay on top of the latest advancements in formulas, science and industry news to continue to offer the highest quality of innovative supplements. This means you will see changes in offerings to reflect cutting edge solutions.
Evidence-based. Supplements that offer real health solutions.
I personally select every product on my store. Ultimately, it is the science, research and clinical testing that drives my choices and recommendations.
Also, I choose what works. In my years of experience, I have observed the positive outcomes of many of these formulas with patients. In my practice I look for the most natural methods to address health concerns – and often key nutrients and supplements are a huge part of the solution.