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Choose Your Supplements Wisely


by Mila McManus MD

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times:  “Supplements are not all created equal”.  There are countless brands from which to choose.  How do you know which ones are good, safe, and optimal for your health?  There are a number of factors to consider, and one of them is price.  You DO get what you pay for with regard to supplements, and it’s important to know that there are also some expensive well-known brands that should be avoided.  In general, though, if you are at a store looking at a long wall of supplements and nobody is around to guide you, I advise you to look at price first.  I highly recommend avoiding the cheapest, generic supplements.  It’s also extremely important that you scrutinize the ‘other’ and ‘inactive’ ingredients on labels.

Here are several other factors to consider when vetting a supplement:

  • Quality control methods and purity
    • One study of 55 different brands of vitamin D showed that the actual amount of vitamin D per dose varied from 9 to 146% of what the labels said.
    • Several years ago, Consumer Labs studied numerous brands of multivitamins and nearly half of them didn’t have in the bottles what the bottles said were in the bottles.
  • The “other” ingredients: Binders, colors, coatings, sweeteners, and fillers
  • Amount of active ingredient(s) per dose
  • How minerals are chelated (i.e., bound to substances that enhance absorbability of the minerals)
  • Synthetic vs natural ingredients
    • Whole-food based supplements aren’t necessarily better
    • dl-alpha vitamin E is the synthetic form and should be avoided.  The best form of vitamin E would be “mixed tocopherols”.

1. Higher-end, reputable supplement manufacturers use the best raw materials, create formulations based on solid scientific data, and use 3rd party testing to ensure quality and purity of their products.  These factors command a higher price. Common contaminants found in vitamins and supplements include mold, pesticides, and heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, and mercury.  Don’t you want to feel confident that your supplements don’t contain these?  Also, if you see a USP or GMP or NPA seal on a supplement, that supplement has at least met some minimum quality standards, but it doesn’t ensure top quality.  Moreover, absence of these seals means nothing.  There are many top quality supplements without these seals.

2. Look for supplements with the least number of ‘other’ ingredients.  Covering all of these is beyond the scope of this article, but know that some are harmless (e.g., silicon dioxide, cellulose, citric acid), while many may be harmful (e.g., food dyes, talc, allergenic foods such as corn and soy)

3. The amount of active ingredients varies widely across supplements.  A supplement may appear great because of numerous healthy ingredients listed, such as CoQ10, turmeric, spirulina, chorella, ginger, fruits and vegetables, but they may be insignificant amounts that aren’t doing much good, if at all.  It’s also noteworthy that the RDA (recommended daily allowance) is often very suboptimal.  For instance, the RDA for vitamin C may be enough to prevent scurvy, but it’s hardly an optimal amount to support immune function, alleviate seasonal allergies, and neutralize the onslaught of free radicals you create, and are exposed to, on a daily basis.

4. When looking at nutrient labels on vitamin and mineral supplements, you’ll notice, for example, that there are several forms of magnesium.  Magnesium glycinate, magnesium oxide, magnesium citrate, and magnesium malate are all different chelated forms of magnesium.  If your magnesium supplement is magnesium oxide, it’s nothing more than a good laxative. You aren’t absorbing that magnesium for its internal benefits.  Calcium is another good example.  Calcium carbonate is very inexpensive and also not well absorbed.  If this is the form in your multivitamin, it’s time to find a better one.

5. It seems intuitive that taking a ‘natural whole food’ supplement would be better than a synthetic form; however, that’s often not the case. A supplement claiming to have nothing but fruits and vegetables in it may be contaminated with pesticides, and it’s also difficult to get optimal doses of nutrients from fruits and vegetables.  Sure, it’s obviously important to eat your fruits and vegetables, but these days our bodies require much more than produce can provide.  This is mainly due to depletion of nutrients available in soil, and increased toxins in the environment.   Another reason that whole food based supplements may not be ideal for some is the yeast content.  Yeast is a common allergen that could be affecting you without you realizing it.

I hope you realize how important it is to do your homework before buying your supplements.  A popular brand isn’t necessarily a good one.  For instance, Centrum® is one of the most popular brands of multivitamin, however, it contains corn and soy (highly allergenic and genetically modified), 3 food dyes including red dye #40, Talc (yes, baby powder, and has been linked to cancer), and contains the cheapest and least absorbable minerals, namely calcium carbonate and magnesium oxide.

Overwhelmed?  Well, we’ve done our homework and offer several product lines at our facility to make your life easier.



O magazine, June 2004  (Article on Consumer Labs study)







By |2017-01-03T07:41:57-06:00January 2nd, 2017|Articles, General|