SUPPLEMENTS: What you need to know!

supplements Jul 30, 2021

There seems to be a lot of information out there regarding supplements. In addition, most people are very confused about whether they need them or not. People hear things on the radio, the TV, or from well-meaning friends about how a certain something can make you feel better or cure what ails you. For example, raspberry ketones, green tea, Vitamin D, CoQ10, and fish oil are very much brought to our attention by people like Dr. Oz. If you catch a few episodes, you’ll be overwhelmed with what and how to take supplements!

The much more important factor to consider when supplementing is the quality. People tend to believe that all supplements are created equal and that is so NOT true. Adding to the confusion, companies and/or distributors tout their brands are the best. But did you know supplement companies are an unregulated industry? Because of this, you need to do your research to find out which ones are of the highest quality. In order to do this, you need to know which form of the micronutrient (vitamin/mineral/other) is most bioavailable, what conditions you may have that makes one form better for you than others, what type of quality control is done with each product, what kind of purity testing is done, and what inactive ingredients may negatively affect you.

Cost is a big factor when the consumer decides to use/purchase supplements. Quality supplements may cost more than “big box” supplements, but you’ll actually use less over time because of the greater bioavailability (your body’s ability to use them).

At times, you might find you could benefit from several supplements but you probably only have to take them short-term. If you are using low-quality supplements, you could take them forever and may not be replenishing the nutrients your body needs. Oftentimes, the buy one gets one free offer on your fish oil will actually cost you WAY more in the long run because you have to take twice the dose to get some of the benefits than taking a quality supplement. The best value does not always equal the best quality.

So, how do you know what to buy? A consumer should know that the grade, form, purity, bioavailability, and third-party verification all contribute to the effectiveness of the product they're taking. Nutritional supplements are typically available in different grades.

These grades included pharmaceutical grade, cosmetic or nutritional grade, and feed or agricultural grade. These grades are discussed below:

  • Pharmaceutical grade is the highest quality grade of vitamins, meaning the purity, dissolution, and absorption meet the highest regulatory standard verified by an outside party. This grade has 3rd party quality and efficacy verification testing, they produce their own products they sell (they know where their products come from), and quality control measures are utilized with each individual package (versus exposing a whole batch to irradiation when a “bug” is found and then selling that same batch which is now less effective). Pharmaceutical grade supplements may be available without a prescription, but they are typically only sold by professional health care practitioners such as functional nutritionists such as myself, which allows the client to be educated on which supplements fit them the best.
  • Cosmetic or nutritional grade supplements are typically sold in health food stores and through direct sales companies. These supplements might not always be tested for absorption, dissolution, or purity. Additionally, these supplements do not always have the same concentrations of active ingredients as what is listed on the label. Remember, this industry is not regulated so what’s on the label doesn’t mean it’s in the bottle. These direct sales brands comparison studies are often done against drug store brands and usually don’t hold up to the quality and efficacy of Pharmaceutical grade supplements.
  • Feed and agricultural grade supplements: Self Explainable - No one reading this should be ingesting these.

Why do purity, form, and bioavailability matter? For example, if you have GI issues, one form of Vitamin D may work better for you than another. If you are taking synthetic Vitamin E versus natural Vitamin E, you are not going to absorb it as well through the digestive tract. If you take the wrong kind of Magnesium, you’ll likely end up with GI issues.

All vitamins should be screened for pesticides, mercury, lead, and other toxic ingredients but they are not. In fact, many fish oils on the market contain mercury that will build up and cause you problems in the long run.

The best way to ensure a high-quality supplement is to go with a Pharmaceutical grade supplement. If you don't know if the supplements you are purchasing are pharmaceutical grade, “make sure the company is Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certified AND find out by whom they are certified.

You may also want to make sure they perform laboratory analysis on their products, find out what kind of assays they perform on their products, and see if they do disintegration studies on their supplements.” But the easiest and most direct way is to seek out a healthcare professional or a Functional Nutritionist, such as myself, in order to get the best quality for your personal needs.

Smith, Pamela. (2004). Vitamins: Hype or Hope? Healthy Living Books, Inc., Traverse City,

  1. P 11-12.
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