Navigating the World of Supplements
By Kebbie Stine, MNT
Master Nutrition Therapist
Dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, and other compounds related to human nutrition. They can come in many forms including tablets, capsules, powders, beverages, and bars. With roots dating back to the 1930’s supplements currently comprise a multi-billion dollar industry, and there are numerous claims out there to the benefits as well as the detriment of taking them. It can be confusing, to say the least, to know which supplements may be right for you and how to choose wisely.
What You Need to Know
Supplements are regulated under the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which relies on individual companies to be responsible for evaluating the safety and labeling of their products before they go on the market. The FDA steps in only when complaints are filed against a company. Since there are no safety evaluations required to market a product, it is important to know and trust the company from which you purchase supplements.
How to Assess the Quality of Supplements
Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP) were created by the FDA as a baseline standard for the manufacturing process of supplements and include requirements for processing, preparation, testing facilities and storage. Look for the CGMP labels on products.
Third party verification is another way companies guarantee the quality of their products. These consist of random audits and testing of materials used in supplements by labs that are not involved in the manufacturing process. Common third party label certifications to look for include NPA, NSF, USP, CL, UL and IFOS.
Do your research, and when possible work with a practitioner that is educated about supplements to ensure you are getting top quality products.
Know What is in Your Supplement
Conventional vitamins and minerals are generally synthetic and isolated, meaning they are artificially made in a lab and contain a single nutrient allowing for higher doses with a reduced cost to the manufacturer. For example vitamin B1 often is derived from coal tar or petroleum, Vitamin E is typically synthesized from vegetable oil, and Vitamin C from cornstarch.
Food based vitamins and minerals are made from nutrients extracted from food and cannot be isolated because food contains a variety of nutrients. Food sourced supplements generally come in lower doses since it would take extreme quantities to get enough nutrients as those found in synthetic forms. Examples include Folate from broccoli, Carotene from carrots and Vitamin C from citrus fruits.
When to Take Supplements
The optimum way to prevent nutrient deficiencies is to eat a balanced diet of real unprocessed foods. The body is best equipped to break down, absorb and utilize nutrients from food, whereas this is not always the case with supplements. However, despite our best efforts we are not always able to eat a nutrient dense diet. On top of that, evidence shows that due to modern agricultural practices our food contains less nutrients today. “The USDA has reported that the nutrient content of vegetables has fallen since 1973. Of the vitamins we do ingest from whole food, absorption can range from 20 to 98%.” (usda.gov)
There are many reasons to take supplements; ranging from nutrient deficient diets to specific health concerns to “biohacking”, and did you know that certain medications can deplete nutrients in the body? So how do you know if supplementation is right for you? The best way to know when to take dietary supplements and which ones to take is to seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider (like a nutritionist or homeopath), but if you are in overall good health and taking matters into your own hands here are some general guidelines:
Good for Everyone:
Fish Oil (Omega-3 fatty acids)
Good for Vegetarian/Vegans:
Iron (test levels first!)
Algal OIl (omega-3)
Good for Pregnancy and Postpartum:
Good for Athletes:
The bottom line is nothing can replace a varied diet of whole unprocessed foods, regular exercise, hydration and quality sleep, but supplements can help to add that extra boost when necessary. Protect yourself by understanding what you are taking and take time to research the best quality products.
Kebbie Stine is a Master Nutrition Therapist in the Denver area. She practices nutrition therapy at Washington Park Chiropractic and is the owner of Whole Choice Nutrition Therapy. Contact Kebbie at email@example.com