It can be very tempting to buy convenient and inexpensive supplements. There are so many options and many of the products are very expensive. Why wouldn’t you pick the simple and inexpensive option? Especially when a big name is behind it? Unfortunately, not all supplements are created equal and there are even health concerns to consider when choosing supplements.
Since supplements are not medicines and are not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure a disease, the FDA does not review or approve them. While supplement companies are required to ensure their products are safe, they are not required to submit that information to any agency.
Tips for Selecting Quality Supplements
1. Buy supplements that have solid third-party testing.
Supplements are not regulated in the same way that prescriptions and over the counter drugs are. Under current regulation supplement manufacturers do not have to prove the quality of their products, rather it is up to the FDA to prove that they are unsafe. Typically, the FDA investigates when a problem is brought to their attention.
Types of issues supplements can have:
Can be contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins (like arsenic, cadmium, and lead).
Can have fungal and bacterial contamination.
Some herbs can even contain drugs, many experimental..
May also not contain the amount of active ingredient listed on the label. It could be much higher or lower.
Quality products will have third party testing done to ensure that their products are not contaminated and contain the correct amounts of listed ingredients. Organizations that offer quality testing include:
2. Talk to Your Nutrition Therapist, Acupuncturist, Herbalist, or other Holistic Therapist About Their Recommendations.
Before buying a cheaper version of a product ask your practitioner why they recommend the supplements they recommend? Here are just a couple reasons your practitioner may be recommending a more expensive product:
They only use supplements that have third party testing
Quality concerns – ingredients both type and handling. For example, the difference between folic acid and folate. Even between the different types of folates. Or how ingredients are sourced, harvested, stored, and shipped are important. For example, many oils are damaged by sun and heat (i.e., fish oil). Some oils may need to be stored/shipped away from heat and in dark glass, and some may even need to be refrigerated.
Clinical experience – they have used this product and know that it works for their clients.
3. Be Wary of Buying Supplements from Amazon or Similar Online Retailers.
Make sure to buy directly from the seller. This way you know you are getting the real product and you know that it is not expired and will be shipped/handled appropriately. For example, if buying a NOW product on Amazon you would want to purchase directly from NOW. Or you can buy directly from the NOW website. If you look at the graphic below, you can see highlighted in yellow that the product is sold by NOW and not a third party seller.
You can also purchase from a reputable online dispensary like Fullscript (to order from Fullscript you need a recommendation from a practitioner).
Avoid third party sellers – they are known to sell knockoffs that can be contaminated and often do not contain what they claim or may be expired or stored improperly. Heat and sunlight can destroy many of the components of expensive supplements.
4. Avoid Gummies.
Manufacturers have a difficult time getting the correct amount of vitamins inside the gummy, which can lead to too much or too little. Additionally, gummies tend to contain sugar (even in the variety of high fructose corn syrup). The gummy form is especially sticky helping the sugar adhere to teeth.
5. Learn About the Supplement You Are Ordering, or Work with a Knowledgeable Practitioner.
Each supplement has its own quality concerns. For example, probiotics. Some probiotics are shelf stable and some need to be refrigerated, even during shipping. Fish oils are also easily damaged and should have third party testing for mercury.
Additional Resources on Supplement Quality