Food is medicine. There’s no doubt about it. Our bodies respond best when we consume our nutrients from quality food sources. However, for various reasons, many of us (myself included) use certain supplements. While there is much research on how supplementation can be beneficial, there is also a laundry list of reasons that they can be misleading and dangerous. From lead fillers to false ingredient labels, it can be confusing when trying to find a quality product, not to mention the fact that the FDA has not been able to adequately regulate or evaluate all supplements on the market (evidenced by this study, among many).
So, what are some ways we can help ensure that we get the most from supplements we are prescribed? Here are three tips to help:
1) Research Your What & How & When
What: There can be many variations of one supplement (ex: Calcium Carbonate, Calcium Citrate, etc). Become a detective and ask what form may be a superior choice than the other, based on how it works in the body. It is also important to understand synthetic forms of supplements versus ingredients from real foods. If your label shows sources from foods, it may be more easily broken down and more efficiently used by your body.
How: Another important piece of investigative work is to know how the body will use a supplement for your benefit. Going back to Calcium…Certain Vitamin D forms are usually prescribed with Calcium to help the body efficiently process the supplemented Calcium. There are many other examples of how, what I call a supplement cocktail, is required for the body to best utilize a supplement. Sometimes you will find a list of ingredients that contain enzymes (on a supplement bottle). Oftentimes this indicates that there are blends of probiotics or other supportive additives that, in theory, help the body utilize the supplement.
When: Once you understand what form is best for you and what accessory supplements may be used, ask about optimal dosing. Should it be taken in the morning or at night? Empty stomach or with food? There are also certain supplements that are prescribed at high doses, but the body will only process so many milligrams at a time. Don’t waste your money by taking the whole dose at once, especially if it’s going to end up literally being flushed away by the end of day! Sometimes a high dose (prescribed by your doctor) is spread into 2-3 doses throughout the day.
2) Use Resources to Become a Supplement Company Detective
Again, not all supplement companies are equal. In fact, many imposters rip-off consumers by creating fake labels, lying about ingredients, and more. Luckily there are resources that can help:
Labdoor: You can use their site to find free reports on supplement products. If you don’t have a certain company in mind, click on Rankings and find what you need (ie: Magnesium), and it will rank the companies, reviewed by Labdoor by quality. You can also use the Search bar if you are interested in a particular company you have researched. The site will pull all of the supplements that have been reviewed from that company. When you click on a certain supplement to view the report, scroll down (past the option to purchase the supplement) to find the full report.
There are also many certification programs. It is important to know that not every supplement company will pay to have each type of certification. A few of the available certifications are listed below:
NSF International: This company certifies both everyday supplements and sports-related supplements for athletes. For the athletic supplementation mark, the label is intended to represent that the product does not contain sports- banned substances.
International Fish Oil Standard: Fish oils can easily contain high levels of toxic heavy metals. The IFOS label seeks to help consumers identify higher quality fish oils. *As a side note, if you haven’t heard yet, many experts are suggesting that Fish Oil may be best packaged in dark, glass bottles, as light can change the properties of Fish Oil. (Alas, research for another day!)
3) Buy Directly From the Company
If you are like me, you enjoy the convenience of online shopping. However, many fake supplement suppliers have caught on to the virtual trend and are scamming consumers. It is easy for many of these fake companies to slap an authentic-looking label on a bottle, and behold, you have just purchased a costly supply of ground-up cork (or who knows what?!). You worked hard to find a quality company, so don’t risk your money, health, or time buying risky products from people who want to mimic the company you think you’re purchasing from. Sad, I know…but true.
I hope these resources can help you take a step in the right direction of finding supplements that will help you, not hurt you.
|Study: Newmaster, Steven G et al. “DNA Barcoding Detects Contamination and Substitution in North American Herbal Products.” BMC Medicine 11 (2013): 222. PMC. Pubmed Web. 29 May 2017.
Websites, links above.