The first time I meet with a patient, we sit together and review which medications and supplements they are currently taking. It always blows my mind when people walk in with an entire shopping bag filled with all sorts of vitamins. Going through them one by one, I notice a lot of redundancy, insignificant dosages, and poor quality—a waste of their money and energy.
I then evaluate their nutritional status through a combination of clinical evaluation and lab testing, so I can recommend supplements tailored to their particular deficiencies. This is a much more efficient, effective, economical, and safe way to take supplements. That’s right—just because supplements don’t require prescriptions does not make them safe! Vitamins can interact with medications, and improper use can lead to unwanted or even dangerous side effects.
Knowing which supplements to take is half the battle, but it can be confusing to choose the right brands. The best way to ensure you’re getting top-quality supplements is to purchase them in a place where they have already gone through a selection process, such as a health food store or doctor’s office. In my office, I make it a point to carry supplements made by well-respected companies that have performed research on the best herbal and nutritional combinations and dosages.
If you don’t have access to a health food store or doctor who carries supplements, here are a few helpful hints:
- Look for the cGMP (Current Good Manufacturing Practices) mark, which means the manufacturer has met minimum requirements for controls used in manufacturing, processing, and packing. When a supplement is cGMP-certified, it has the ingredients and strength to which it claims.
- Look for the USP (U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention) mark, which sets standards for the identity, strength, quality, and purity of dietary supplements. If a product is marked with USP, its ingredient manufacturing and quality control documentation have been reviewed, its ingredients have been tested in a laboratory, and it has gone through post-verification testing. USP ensures the supplement is made according to GMPs, it meets label and certificate of analysis claims for identification, strength, purity, and quality; it meets acceptable limits for impurities and contaminants, and it is consistent in quality.
- Whether to take natural versus synthetic vitamins remains open for debate. Synthetic vitamins are made in a lab, while natural/organic vitamins are derived from food. Natural vitamin forms often come with enzymes and minerals that regulate the body’s ability to recognize, metabolize, and utilize the vitamins effectively, while synthetic vitamins lack these natural transporters and co-factors. Some vitamins and minerals are more important to receive in a natural form, while it doesn’t matter as much for others. ConsumerLab.com is a great resource to use when trying to decide between natural and synthetic, or when seeking information on supplements in general.
- Seek out a professional. Schedule an appointment with a naturopathic doctor (or a practitioner who does nutritional investigation), and get your nutritional status properly evaluated. Learn about your individual deficiencies and how to correct them safely and effectively.
- Read labels. Go through your medicine cabinet and make sure all your supplements have met either cGMP or USP standards, or that they come from a well-respected, research-oriented company.
- Eat a whole, organic foods diet. The best way to get most vitamins and minerals is to consume them in their natural state—in foods. If you consume a whole foods diet (avoiding processed foods) and your digestive tract is healthy, chances are your nutritional deficiencies will be minimal.