Dietary supplementation is now commonplace in the American diet with many people concerned food alone cannot meet nutritional requirements. However, not all supplements are created equally. In order to ensure that an individual can successfully navigate the endless choices of supplements, it’s important to know some do’s and don’ts of proper dietary supplementation.
Bottom line up front: If a product claim sounds like it is too good to be true, it probably is.
A dietary supplement is used to enhance the diet by increasing both the quality and quantity of total dietary intake. Dietary supplementation is necessary given either of the following two conditions: you do not eat a variety of food, or you have a health concern that requires additional nutritional support. In our current day and age plagued with deteriorating soil quality, increasing levels of environmental toxins, and hectic lifestyles, it may not be realistic to get everything we need from food. Some examples of dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbals/botanicals, and amino acids.
How do you know if your product is good? Should you buy your supplements at the same place you buy your groceries and cleaning supplies? Does it matter?
The quality of nutritional supplements varies widely, and consumers should choose products from companies that can provide certifications assuring high quality and, also, assurance that what is listed on the label is what is in the product. Also, a quality certification will verify the product does not contain potentially harmful ingredients. With food allergies on the rise, it is especially important to understand allergen terminology and pay careful attention to product labels.
Buyer beware of ingredients that don’t belong in supplements. Some ingredients to look out for that may be used to enhance the look of a supplement include artificial colors and titanium dioxide. Other dangerous substances providing unnecessary fillers include hydrogenated oils and magnesium silicate; both are associated with negative health outcomes. Also be on the lookout for lead, mercury, and other contaminants found in inexpensive omega-3s/fish oils. Without quality control, it is possible that supplements may even contain mold and fungus.
Professional brands are sold directly to healthcare providers and typically claim tighter quality control than over-the-counter supplements. There are numerous markers of quality control to ensure public safety while verifying that products contain the identity, purity, strength, and composition claimed on the labels.
GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) is industry terminology indicating that a manufacturing plant has been inspected and certified by USP (US Pharmacopeia Convention) or NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) and Consumer Lab.com. GMPs are designed to minimize risk in dietary supplements. This certification is not free, which is why many nutritional supplement manufacturers are not officially GMP-certified. However, without the actual GMP certification, you can’t be sure if a company is adhering to the strict requirements. Some other organizations committed to supplement quality include EQP (Emerson Quality Program) and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Ensuring the facility manufacturing your supplements has been fully inspected by the FDA is also important.
Comprehensive Scientific Evaluation of Ingredients. The selection of ingredients makes a big difference in the quality of the product. Even a great scientific formula won’t meet its potential without quality ingredients. In many cases you get what you pay for, and low-cost products are likely made with low-cost ingredients, which could also mean an ineffective product or one that could be harmful. To ensure the raw materials are of a high quality, confirm that the manufacturer has a Certificate of Analysis (COA) for each ingredient.
Another consideration is what form of a nutrient is the best. Not all forms of a nutrient are the same. One example is vitamin D. Supplements can be found as vitamin D2 or vitamin D3; in this case the latter is more effective at raising vitamin D levels. Also, is there added vitamin K for absorption? If so, in what form? Is the delivery method one in which the body can recognize and utilize the nutrient?
Magnesium also a mineral that can be found in several forms that each provide different benefits. Be sure to talk to a healthcare provider to ensure you are using clean supplements that best suit your individual health needs and in forms your body can recognize.
Some things to consider before taking a dietary supplement:
- How much of a particular nutrient do I need?
- At what time of day should I take it?
- With food or without food? For how long?
- Are there safety risks?
- Does it interfere with any prescription medications?
Always consult with your healthcare professional before taking any supplements.
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