The scientific world used to believe that a varied, healthful diet would provide all the vitamins and minerals we need. But recent surveys show that most American diets fall short of satisfying the minimum daily requirements for several vitamins and minerals. The majority of U.S. adults—75%—take dietary supplements (http://www.crnusa.org/CRN-consumersurvey-archives/2015/). Therefore, it’s imperative to understand what to look for when picking a supplement.
- QUALITY: Look for certification seals including cGMP, Made in the USA, and FDA registered facility. This means the manufacturer is adherent to cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practices) which assures the identity, strength, quality, and purity of drug products. This helps ensure you are not getting mis-branded or adulterated ingredients, and that you can expect to know what ingredients are actually in the product.
- INTERACTIONS WITH MEDICATIONS & HEALTH CONDITIONS: Before you add a supplement or vitamin to your routine, always discuss it with your doctor or pharmacist. Dietary supplements may interact with your medications or pose risks if you have certain medical problems or are going to have surgery. Some supplements, such as St. John’s Wort and Golden seal should be avoided if you take prescription drugs.
#2 DOES IT ACTUALLY WORK?
- PROPER DOSAGE: The key to whether or not a supplement will work is truly in the dose! Under-dosing renders the supplement ineffective while over-dosing may cause problems. Determining the proper dosage should be based on data from research studies on what has been demonstrated to actually provide benefit. Many supplement companies include many different ingredients at doses much too low to work – it’s about quality and dose of each ingredient, not quantity!
- BACKED BY CLINICAL STUDIES: Your healthcare provider may have professional access to clinical studies, but you can also search for legitimate research studies yourself here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/ . Use the search tab to type in the name of the ingredient and disease or symptom you are trying to investigate. Take note on the number of patients in the study and patient characteristics to help you decide if it is a good study or not, and applicable to what you are using it for. These studies can give guidance on what benefits or side effects to expect, and what doses to use.
- NOT ALL FORMS ARE THE SAME: Look for formulations that are easier for the body to use and absorb, another name for this is “bioavailability”. For example, Vitamin D supplements come as either Vitamin D2 (inactive form) or Vitamin D3 (active form) – which the body doesn’t have to convert since its already active. Magnesium, also, has many different salt forms – some have higher amounts of elemental magnesium and some are absorbed better than others (https://www.algaecal.com/expert-insights/magnesium-oxide-delivers-more-magnesium-with-far-fewer-pills/).
#3 I’VE DECIDED TO TAKE A SUPPLEMENT, NOW WHAT?
- TAKE IT CONSISTENTLY: In order to decide if a new supplement regimen is working or not, it’s important to take it consistently as directed on the bottle (i.e. every day – not just occasionally). If you have not noticed any benefit or change in symptoms within 3 months of consistently taking something, consider stopping the supplement and discussing alternative options with your provider.