Supplement use is very common and almost always necessary. The problem is not all supplements are created equally and there are numerous brands out there. It may be easy to walk into a local GNC or even Whole Foods and grab the first supplement that looks close to what you want, but I would warn you from doing that. Since supplements are not tightly regulated, it is important to seek out a trusted manufacturer.
The 2 questions I ask myself when deciding which supplements to choose for myself and my clients are: 1) is it safe? 2) is it effective? Taking supplements isn’t always the easiest or most enjoyable thing to do, so the last thing you want to do is take something that may not may not only be harmful, but also may not be doing anything to help you toward your goals.
Here are a couple things to consider before choosing a supplement:
1) Purity. This statement of purity is seen all the time from supplement companies: “we used the purest ingredients.” The question then becomes, what are you doing to ensure that? A good manufacturer will actually quarantine materials right when they enter the warehouse and then do full ingredient testing to ensure the ingredients are what they say they are. Testing doesn’t stop there. Ingredients should then be tested for contamination (ex: bacteria and heavy metals). This all can take up to 2 weeks before they are accepted as pure and ok to use.
2) Additives. One way to cut costs is to combine it with cheap materials. Here is a common example of this:
Vitamin D: Since vitamin D is so concentrated, in order to make a vitamin D supplement, you have to dilute it with something else. This something else is often unacceptable excipients and preservatives and is not stated on the label. A trusted supplement company will make their own dilutions for something safe like cellulose or magnesium citrate.
There are several other common additives, such as carrageenan, artificial colors, hormones, artificial colors, and magnesium stearate. Read more about these here.
Magnesium stearate. I want to touch on this additive since it is so commonly used. What magnesium stearate does is helps powders flow through machines quickly, thus speeding up the production process. The problem is it effects the ability of the powders to dissolve in solution, so you really don’t know how much of that supplement you are actually absorbing and using. In other words, it may not be effective. You can do a little experiment on your own at home. Take a capsule, and pour the powder into a cup of vinegar (similar composition to stomach) and then shake it up. The powder should dissolve in the vinegar and turn clear. If the supplement contains magnesium stearate it will turn cloudy and you will see chunks of powder floating at the top, indicating it did not dissolve.
Did you know?…Most prescribed prenatal vitamins have 23 unnecessary ingredients!
3) Raw materials. Another way to cut costs is to use cheaper versions of nutrients. All nutrients have several different forms, but they only have 1 active form that the body uses. The problem is we are all not good at converting inactive forms to active forms in the body. The most common and concerning example of this is that of folate.
Folate: You may have heard of the importance of folate during pregnancy or childbearing years to prevent neural tube defects. This is the main thing that differentiates pre-natal vitamins from others. However, the most common form of folate used in supplements is a synthetic form called folic acid. The problem is there is a large percentage of people (close to 50%) that have a mutation in the gene that converts folic acid to the active form, folate. Problems with folate production have been associated with several chronic conditions, including cancer, autism, miscarriages, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, Alzheimer’s, to name a few. For a complete list of conditions, click here.
Quality, active forms of folate to look for in supplements include: L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate (L-5-MTHF), quatrefolic, metafolin, L-methylfolate, and 6(S)-L-Methyltetrahydrofolate.
4) Capsules vs Tablets. The last area I want to cover for supplementation is the benefit of capsules over tablets. Tablets are made using binders, lubricants, coatings, disintergrants, and other excipients. They are then often sprayed with coatings, such as shellac (labeled “pharmaceutical glaze”) or coated with vegetable protein (often derived form corn). The other problem with tablets is they aren’t easily absorbed in that form, which effects the delivery of nutrients to the body.
As you can see there are several things to consider when purchasing supplements. I encourage you not to fall victim to trusting every supplement brand you come across and make sure to do research on the actual manufacturer or reach out to someone who has. This is an area of nutrition I am very passionate about and think is very important, so I am happy to help. Feel free to contact me for individual recommendations.