Although flu season should be over, the ugly little virus is still making it’s way into many of our homes and bodies and holding on to this season as long as it possibly can. I’m sure many of you have been frantically running to your local drugstore to stock up on Emergen-C, Airborne, or the generic brand of 1,000mg vitamin C tablets to help boost your immune system. I bet you’ve even been super diligent about taking your One-A-Day or Centrum multivitamin lately, just to be safe. I also bet you didn’t know that many of the vitamins you are consuming actually contain much less of their stated active ingredients, are rancid before they hit the shelves, contain genetically modified materials, or contain traces of pesticides, mold, and salmonella. Maybe you are one of the more health conscious people and only buy your vitamins from Whole Foods or a similar natural foods store, but did you know that even some of those “healthy” brands don’t test for the presence of genetically modified materials and may contain other unnatural binders and fillers? Does this surprise you?
Unfortunately, supplements are not required to be regulated for product quality the same way pharmaceuticals are. The FDA devotes so much more time, energy, and money toward testing pharmaceutical drugs that it seems as if they barely pay any attention to what supplement companies are putting into their products and selling to the public. That’s not to say that the FDA doesn’t ever check supplement companies for quality assurance. They routinely issue warning letters to various pharmaceutical and nutraceutical companies and list it on their website which you can view here. However, during the production and packaging process, just like with food, these supplements may be exposed to harmful chemicals or lose some of their nutritional value. This is one of the reasons it’s important to buy from companies that test not only their raw materials, but also test the finished product to make sure the product actually meets the label claim. In other words, if you buy a vitamin bottle that says each capsule contains 10,000 IUs of Vitamin A, you want to be sure you’re actually consuming 10,000 IUs of vitamin A. Like I mentioned earlier, companies that don’t do rigorous testing on their products may be selling items that have little (or no) nutritional value and may even be rancid by the time they hit the shelves and sold to the public.
If by now, you’re on the verge of warding off nutraceutical companies altogether – don’t. You just need to do a little homework before you go out and buy your next bottle of vitamin C. Talk to the staff when you go to Whole Foods, Sprouts, or any other natural foods store. Ask them what products they use and if they have seen good results. Talk to your Naturopathic Doctor or other licensed alternative health specialist about what products they use for their patients and ask for recommendations on where you can find these products (if they aren’t sold in-office). While doing your research, a good website to check out is ConsumerLab.com. There, you’ll find a huge list of results from tests and product reviews on supplements and health products. You can also be on the lookout for a “USP” stamp on vitamin bottles, a label that means it has been tested and approved by the United States Pharmacopeial Convention. If you’re really dedicated to your research, you can even call the supplement company directly and ask for someone who can answer some product quality questions for you. If they are a good, honest company, they will gladly offer the information. Ask them what kind of tests they run on their products. Ask if they work in an FDA inspected facility, if they ever reject their products due to negative test results to protect the consumers, if they check for the presence of herbicides, fungicides, or heavy metals, if they have independent labs complete objective tests on their products, or if they use exipients (any binders or fillers) in any of their products. To make things a little easier for you, I’ve also listed below some basic rules to follow when trying to find good quality supplements in your local health/natural food store. When it comes to your health – a little research goes a long way!
• Buying vitamins in liquid form is always your best bet. Liquids are typically more pure and you’re more likely to get maximum absorption. The next best thing is to buy the vitamin in a powder, or dry form. Vegan capsules are also great and sometimes more convenient if you’re in a rush or need to take it to go. Tablets should be your last resort as they tend to have artificial binders in order to hold everything together.
• The darker the packaging, the better. During shipping, vitamins have the potential of being exposed to a variety of weather conditions such as extreme heat, cold, or light, all of which can compromise the integrity of the product. Typically, supplements that have a dark brown or tinted casing means that the company who produced it is attempting to keep everything temperature controlled to prevent rancidification.
• Unless you’re on a 20-vitamin-a-day regimen, opt for taking your vitamins individually over taking a multivitamin. Yes, that means if you want to take vitamin B, calcium, zinc, magnesium, vitamin C, and vitamin A every day, then you will be taking 6 different vitamins from 6 different bottles, daily. Multivitamins are still beneficial, but ingesting these nutrients individually allows for a greater chance of absorption.
• If you are planning to take a high dosage of a vitamin or are trying a new herb for the first time, always discuss your plan with a professional first. Although “overdosing” on vitamins is incredibly rare, it can send your body into detox mode and you may experience some unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects. As stated earlier – do your homework and talk to people who specialize in this subject.
• A good fish oil is a refrigerated fish oil. Anything you buy on a shelf is rancid or artificial. Enough said.
Hopefully these guidelines help you in your journey toward finding good quality supplements, staying healthy, and keeping those colds away!