If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you’ve found yourself in the supplement aisle of a health food store, hemming and hawing about which supplement seems like the best option to toss in your cart. But you’re pretty sure you aren’t getting enough vitamins and minerals and you think that supplements seem like a quick and easy answer for a new healthy lifestyle. If that sounds like you, keep reading to find out how to pick the best supplements for you and your personalized needs. Every body is different, and supplements aren’t always one-size-fits-all. Accordingly, consulting with a doctor or nutritionist for some specialized insight into the world of vitamins and supplements is a great way to start off your health journey.
One of the pitfalls of purchasing a guidebook to natural therapies is that it typically neglects to mention specific direction about what to look for when shopping. With hundreds of strange sounding compounds fill countless shelves, we often feel as though we need a translator to understand anything, and even deciding on which vitamin C supplement or what multivitamin is best can be overwhelming and frustrating.
Through practice and research, we’ve come to believe in the profound value of a couple key things:
The guaranteed potency of extracts, the importance of the proper delivery system, and especially the notion that all compounds are not created equal. In other words, compounds in different delivery forms, such as tablets, capsules, powders or liquids may act very differently inside the human body. And, based on their disintegration and dissolution times, where they are absorbed and whether they are taken on an empty stomach or with food, each individual body might react quite differently. Consumer compliance also affects the choice
of delivery form. If you don’t like to take pills or have a narrow esophagus, powders or liquids might be the best form to take. If you don’t like to take too many pills, tablets may work better than capsules. Fortunately, in today’s marketplace, there are enough choices to satisfy most needs.
A simple way to ensure that you’re consuming safe supplements, regardless of their effectiveness, is by making sure that any supplement you purchase should come from reputable companies that follow good manufacturing practices (GMP) in compliance with the latest FDA regulations, that have their own laboratories employing United States Pharmacopeia (USP) protocols where applicable and have a legal department that keeps them up-to-date on the latest FDA label regulations. Avoid buying products that advertise cures, easy remedies at bargain prices or that come from the back of a magazine at the check-out counter. When it comes to quality, the phrase that “you get what you pay for” holds true.
When it comes to formulations, it’s also important to think about what types of ingredients you’re looking for.
Are you looking for combo supplements or do you need individual vitamins, minerals or herbs? Is your doctor recommending vitamin D or magnesium to supplement your multi? Would you do better with a single herb, or an extract with a guaranteed percentage of active ingredients?
All minerals are not created equal as far as ingestion goes.
In other words, a zinc lozenge that is absorbed in the mouth may be more effective than a zinc tablet that must go through the entire digestive tract. Certain forms of calcium are better absorbed than others, especially when comparing younger people with better stomach acid to older individuals with insufficient stomach acid. Certain forms of calcium are not well absorbed when stomach acid is not adequate, so older people, patients who have had gastric surgery or who take PPIs should take calcium supplements that have been bonded (chelated) to an acid, so the calcium will be more easily unbonded and absorbed.
Another example is enteric coatings, which enable certain nutrients to bypass the stomach and dissolve in the intestinal tract, where they will be of much more value for diseases like irritable bowel disorder. Enteric-coated garlic, for example, would be more effective as a treatment for colon disorders than regular garlic capsules, plus the enteric coating will prevent unwanted burp-ups.
Some fat-soluble vitamins are also better absorbed than synthetic varieties. For example, vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol) derived from soy is much more effective than its artificially synthesized (dl-alpha-tocopherol) counterpart. It’s also important to know that much of vitamin B12 may be lost through the digestion process; therefore, a sublingual form (a tablet put under your tongue) that is absorbed through the mouth may be preferable.
Beta-carotene converts to vitamin A as needed by the body; thus, taking beta-carotene may be preferable to vitamin A supplementation in that large doses of vitamin A can be
toxic, especially for pregnant women.
With all of that in mind, here are some of the top supplements you could consider taking daily:
Multivitamins. Why? Multivitamins ensure that you’re getting healthy doses of essential vitamins and minerals in addition to antioxidants needed for optimal health.
Omega-3s. Why? These supplements protect the brain. They can assist in healing brain trauma, boosting mood, and improving overall brain function.
Probiotics. Why? Probiotics produce a healthy type of bacteria that live in the gut. They protect against gut troubles like leaky gut, bloating or gas, fatigue, headaches, trouble losing weight or keeping weight off, and joint pain.
Vitamin B-12. Why? This one is the big guy of vitamins, as it plays a critical role in the nervous system. A deficiency in B12 can show if you experience exhaustion, muscle weakness, breath shortness, as well as a variety of gut issues.
Vitamin D. Why? This one is important because it has a number of important roles in the body. It keeps the bones and teeth strong & healthy, boosts the immune system, protects the heart, and supports muscle function.
Digestive enzymes. Why? Because they can assist in converting the food into nutrition and energy. You’ll know if your digestive enzyme production has slowed if you experience gas and bloating after meals.
Now that you’ve got the skinny on what vitamins you should consider and why, here are some things to keep an eye out for as you peruse the supplement aisle:
- Multiple vitamins with strong potency for each nutrient and a good array of trace minerals
- Chelated or plant-derived trace minerals with no aluminum additives
- Vitamins with plant factors – certain vitamins and minerals can be enhanced by specific plants or extracts
- Natural source vitamin E from soy or sunflower with selenium
- Lutein and zeaxanthin from marigold flowers to support the macula and lens of the eyes
- B12 and B6 in sublingual tablets (tablets you put under your tongue) may be preferable to other oral sources
- Calcium (gluconate, citrate, aspartate, lactate). Note: Carbonate is acceptable if combined with other sources or for young people with adequate stomach acid. Citrate has a good track record for absorbability and assimilation
- Magnesium glycinate is less likely to cause intestinal upset
- Iron from natural sources such as ferrous gluconate or certain botanicals and in doses less than 50 mg at a time to prevent constipation
- Free-form amino acids in people with digestive issues
- Omega-3 EPA and DHA from fish oils, calamari, krill or microalgae (for vegetarians)
- Omega-3 EPA (alpha-linolenic acid) sources for vegetarians—flaxseed, chia, and hemp
- Omega-6 GLA sources from evening primrose, black currant, and borage seed oils
- Probiotics and prebiotics. Make sure that all probiotics are purchased in the refrigerated section, except for Bacillus coagulans, which is naturally heat and cold tolerant
- Enzymes: plant or fermentation sources of protease enzymes can resist stomach acids. If using proteolytic enzymes, they should be enteric coated to dissolve in the bowel only
- Progesterone from wild yam in cream/topical forms
- Glucosamine sulfate is very effective by itself. Adding chondroitin sulfate may or may not add to its effectiveness
- Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) inadequate doses may relieve some arthritic conditions
- Protein: Adequate protein intake of 1 gram per kilogram can help prevent pressure ulcers and significantly improve recovery of tissue after surgery or injury
- Guaranteed potency herbs that list the amount of active and what part of the plant it comes from
- Broad spectrum antioxidant blends using vitamins A, C and E, selenium, alpha lipoic acid, bioflavonoids—quercetin, rutin and hesperidin, turmeric, Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ-10), NAC, the polyphenols in resveratrol, grape seed and skin extracts, green tea and coffee bean extract and the carotenoids—lycopene and astaxanthin
- Bee pollen that is cool air-dried and tested for microbial, mold and mildew contamination (not fresh)
Some other things to look out for:
- Be wary of products that contain sugar, starch, salt, yeast, corn and artificial colorings, flavorings, and preservatives
- Be aware of products that may contain allergens. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now recommends all products to label them—wheat, soy, dairy, shellfish, fish, eggs, tree nuts, and peanuts
- Look for non-GMO products whenever possible. GMO products are found in commodities, such as corn, soy, grapeseed/canola, potatoes, and sugar beets
- Look for organic certification. Organic products cannot intentionally include any GMO ingredients.
Just because a product is found on the shelves of a health food store does not mean that it is necessarily good for you or side effect-free.
While some of their properties are impressive, nutritional supplements should be used with caution. Remember, buying products from reputable manufacturers who believe in purity and potency and have high-quality control is essential. Companies that have in-house research and development departments and laboratories to test their incoming raw materials for microbial and heavy metals are also recommended.
On one final note:
Always remember to read labels, look for the percentage of active ingredients and ask lots of questions – look for labels that connect you with the manufacturer via an 800-number and never hesitate to make a phone call to a particular firm to find out all you can about a certain product. The health of your body, as well as your pocketbook, depends on it.