How do you Determine if a Supplement is Good or Bad?

The supplement industry is a totally unregulated industry and buyer beware is the rule, but so few people know what to look for. How do you tell a fantastic supplement from a worthless one? The labels look the same, they both claim to be the best and complete form A to Z – So how do you know?

First many claim they have 100% of the RDA, but what does that really mean?  Most people, nor doctors,  don’t know that the RDA was started in the 1940s during WW2 as the bare minimum a solider needed to avoid diseases of deficiency. So if you had 100% of the RDA you would be just avoiding beri beri, scurvy, pellagra, rickets, etc. So in school terms the RDA is a D- grade, just passing, but barely. Though far from the A+ you’d hope you kids got.  The A+ levels are usually dozens or hundreds of times higher than the RDA.

Many think that if the manufacture is FDA approved, then they products are good. Sadly the FDA will step in if they the products are laced with undeclared drug substances, but those are usually in the weight loss, body building, and male enhancement areas. Very occasionally they they may step in if there are dangerous levels of toxic substances such as lead, mercury, PCB, etc. California did this a year ago or so when they sent notices to half a dozen fish oil supplement makers because the levels of PCBs were to high for the state. For supplements though the FDAs main concern is just that they are safe, they don’t certify that they are effective.

There are several independent organizations who do analysis of supplements  One is www.ConsumerLabs.com. They conduct tests of supplements looking for active ingredients below, or way above the label claim amount and they also look for the usual contaminants like lead and mercury.  Each month they test maybe 20-30 products and 3-4 have way less than the label amount and 1 or 2 have high levels of contaminants. But they don’t test all products from a category so a perfectly good product may not be tested for years.

www.NSF.org is an organization which does certifications of products and tests for the stated quantities of ingredients in supplements and that there are no contaminants. They also have a Certified Safe for Sport certification which also tests for the typical performance enhancing ingredients which are banned in sports. Of the thousands of supplement makers out there only 44 have received the general NSF certification and  33 are certified Safe for Sports.

One key criteria to look at is how the company manufactures their supplements. There are two different grades of manufacturing stipulated by the FDA. Pharmaceutical GMPs (good manufacturing practices) are what the FDA requires for prescription drugs. The other is Food grade GMPs, which supplements are required to meet as are the foods you buy.

The focus of Food GMPs is to insure that the product is safe, uncontaminated, not spoiled, minimal rat fur, etc.  Think of a can of spam.  No e-coli, staph, mold, etc. No spoilage, and it has been kept either below or above a certain temperatures, etc.  Basically is it safe to eat from a sanitary standpoint, but which cuts of meat go into it, which by-products, etc is unregulated.

Pharmaceutical GMPs on the other hand are concerned not only with sanitary production like food, but also to insure that the amounts of the ingredients are precisely controlled.  If you’re taking a 20mg drug tablet you need to be assured that there is exactly 20 mg of the active ingredient in each and every tablet. There are very involved procedures to go through to insure this. To manufacture a multivitamin to food GMPs can be done with 2-4 pages of paperwork and documentation. To manufacture the same to pharmaceutical GMPs requires close to 100 pages with hundreds of signatures, often two people are required to look at say a weight and verify the number is correct.

Unfortunately very few supplement manufactures manufacture to pharmaceutical GMPs. Why not? Because it is very expensive to implement the additional controls and documentation which are required. Plus the market place isn’t asking for it, so why do it.  The few who do follow pharmaceutical GMPs do so because they are compelled to for internal reasons and hold your health to a higher standard.
Next is the ingredients they use, the forms, ratios, etc.  For a given generic name of an ingredient there are different forms. For example Vitamin E. There is the form our bodies rapidly absorb and utilize (d-alpha-trocopherol.  The other form, which is poorly absorbed, but much cheaper is dl-alpha-trocopherol.  For minerals there are the oxide forms, like magnesium oxide, these are basically mineral salts and very poorly absorbed. At the other end of the spectrum are the chelated minerals. This is where the mineral is bound to a bit of amino acid. These will usually have the ending of something like citrate, carbonate, etc.  usually ending with “ate” these are much more expensive, but much more readily absorbed.

So two products with similar looking labels can be vastly different in price and effectiveness depending on the forms of the vitamins, minerals, and other ingredients they use.The “Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements” Published in Canada by Nutrisearch is now in its 4th edition and they first consulted with a dozen of the worlds experts about what would the ideal multivitamin be composed of. They then analyzed and ranked all the available nutritional supplements available in North America against this standard. So this guide along with ConsumerLab.com and NSF can give you a good indication of the quality of a multivitamin.

Vitasmart line for example is NSF certified, but the Comparative Guide ranks them a zero (0).  So basically very safe pressed dirt.  Of the over 1500 different products only 18 rated the top score of 5 (0-5 scale) they then asked those to prove they mfg to pharmaceutical GMPs and to submit their products to an independent lab to confirm that what is on the label is what is in the product. Only 4 could meet those requirements.  They then looked at those for products and looked a the company behind the product: green initiatives, humanitarian efforts, etc. and one was head and shoulders above the others.  That one company has earned the trust of many Olympic athletes, professional athletes, and physicians across the globe.

I don’t want to advertise for them, but write me and I’ll tell you who that #1 rated company’s product  is.Finally there is a ton of hype and many companies make up their spin to try and different their products. Sadly the published medical research just doesn’t support some of their claims. One claim a few use which has no credible research to support it is that vitamins and minerals from living plants have a certain “resonance” that our bodies recognize and reject anything which doesn’t come from living sources. Sorry, but the research doesn’t support that.  Another along similar lines is that your body only absorbs vitamins, minerals, etc from plant sources. So they dehydrate, crush, and extract the ingredients form living plants.  The marketing usually goes on to say that our bodies don’t recognize synthesized molecules.  If that was the case then aspirin, viagra, codeine, and all the pharmaceutical drugs wouldn’t work, but out bodies do react to those molecules.  Also the thousands of published medical research articles which have show very positive results using different vitamins and minerals for the most part have used the commercially available forms. Often when extracting the natural form there is more contamination from the extraction process than producing it in a factory. If the molecules are identical in form, then they will work the same.

If you want to check something out, go to www.pubmed.gov  and search through the research. This is the governments repository of published research papers from journals around the world. If you see some company making a claim for their secret ingredient, or secret source, go there and check it out. If legitimate research has been done, you’ll find it there.

One Reply to “How do you Determine if a Supplement is Good or Bad?”

  1. Thanks for sharing the information,Basically not all dietary supplements are created equally.There are no standards that require that the ingredients listed on the label match what is actually inside the product.

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