By Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D
This article originally appears on her site >>
A couple decades ago, buying vitamins was a pretty easy process. You’d go to the drug store, find the small section in the back where the multivitamins and other basic nutrients were shelved, and choose one of the three or four options available to you.
But since then, research into supplements has intensified dramatically, as has demand from health-conscious consumers. As a result, there are now literally hundreds of options available, and many more types of supplements than ever before. And if staring at an entire aisle of countless supplements isn’t enough to make your head spin, try shopping online—it can be a completely overwhelming experience!
I’m always recommending various nutritional supplements to my patients…but not just any supplements. I want the best for my patients, so I always suggest they buy the highest quality ones they can. But what exactly does high-quality mean when it comes to supplements, and how can you spot them in a huge crowd of competitors?
Well, I’ll tell you what I tell my patients: A cheap price tag may be appealing, but it may also mean lower quality ingredients. At the same time, though, a high price does not necessarily mean you’re getting a safe product that delivers what it’s supposed to.
That’s why I think it’s helpful to know what clues indicate that a supplement is good quality and that the manufacturer is reputable and truly takes your health and well-being seriously. Here are the six things to look for (or avoid) when buying supplements.
- Avoid products that overpromise or make health claims that seem too good to be true.Stay away from manufacturers that state that their products can cure conditions or diseases such as Alzheimer’s or cancer. What supplements are supposed to do is provide the body with the raw materials it needs to function at its peak. Any company that claims that its products can make the impossible possible is probably one you don’t want to deal with.
- Look for the “Good Manufacturing Practices” logo. A reliable way to know that the supplements you buy are from reputable companies is to look for the GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) mark on the label. This indicates that the company has followed strict guidelines set forth by the FDA for proper manufacture, storage, safety, and efficacy. In fact, it covers all aspects of production from start to finish, including materials, premises, and equipment to the training and hygiene of the workers. It’s also helpful to do a simple Google search of the manufacturer, which can bring up any concerns with the company, such as product recalls, litigation, consumer complaints, etc.
- Check for third party testing. This means that the manufacturer has submitted their products to an outside company for quality and purity testing. Third party testing adds an extra layer of certainty that the product contains the ingredients listed on the label in the stated dosages, does not contain contaminants, impurities, or toxins, and has been produced using safe, sanitary practices and procedures. Some well-respected organizations that conduct such testing are NSF International and United States Phamacopeia.
- Scrutinize the ingredient list. First, make sure the active ingredients are the naturally sourced forms of vitamins/minerals. Depending on what you’re shopping for, this may take a little bit of research beforehand. But generally speaking, cheaper products use the synthetic (read: inexpensive) forms of many vitamins and minerals, instead of the naturally sourced (and much more bioavailable/easily absorbed) varieties. Here are a few examples:
Nutrient Low-quality/synthetic form Preferred natural form Vitamin A Palmitate Beta-carotene Vitamin B9 Folic acid Folate Vitamin B12 Cyanocobalamin Methylcobalamin Vitamin D D2 (Ergocalciferol) D3 (Cholecalciferol) Vitamin E dl-alpha tocopherol d-alpha tocopherol Magnesium Oxide Citrate, glycinate, Zinc Oxide, sulphate Picolinate, glycinate Iron Sulphate Citrate, glycinate Calcium Carbonate Citrate
You also want to make sure that inactive ingredients (fillers) are kept to a minimum. Check that the supplement is free of artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners; gluten/wheat, nuts, lactose, and other allergens; GMOs; sugar or high-fructose corn syrup; preservatives; and hydrogenated oils.
Finally, look to see that the potential allergens and contraindications are clearly written out on the label.
- Look for clinically studied dosages. A lot of companies will include well-known ingredients in their products, but at levels so low that they have little, if any, effect. I believe your best bet is to buy from companies that include dosage levels that match what the clinical research has found to be most effective and beneficial. This is particularly true if you are looking for therapeutic doses of a specific nutrient to really target and treat a problem. You’ll usually find clinically studied doses in physician-formulated supplements because the doctors carefully review the research and are involved in every step of development before approving the product for sale. After all, their reputations are on the line.
- Does the company stand behind its products? Good, reputable manufacturers stand behind their products 100% and offer reasonable time periods and generous return/exchange policies for unsatisfied customers.
I hope this information makes supplement shopping a little easier and less overwhelming for you. I know that there are a lot of options, but a little bit of knowledge beforehand can ensure that your personal choices are safe, effective, and provide the results you’re hoping for.