An American Revelation: Nutritional Supplements – Not All Are Created Equally

As appeared in the May/June 2015 issue of Natural Nutmeg Magazine

In the last few weeks, the New York State Attorney General issued cease and desist letters to GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart, requiring them to pull store-brand nutritional supplements from their shelves (specifically herbals), based on the results of DNA testing of the ingredients. The products tested included Echinacea, garlic, ginkgo, ginseng, saw palmetto, St. John’s Wort and valerian.

Shopping for supplements can be an overwhelming experience. Every grocery store, box store and chain has aisles of supplements, herbs and vitamins overflowing from their shelves. How do you pick what you need? Many people feel comfortable with familiar company brands, generic store brands, or names they’ve heard on TV ads. Price is also a factor in buying decisions. This is why so many consumers assumed that they could trust their neighborhood Target or pharmacy. But unless you have a specific recommendation from a health care provider, it becomes a game of luck to pick a supplement that will be useful.

When purchasing a supplement, there are three properties to check for: purity, potency and third-party quality testing.

Purity
Good quality supplements don’t have dyes, fillers, glues, artificial sugars, and hydrogenated oils. Some manufactures add these ingredients to keep production costs down, but unfortunately they can be a source of allergies for people. Most people are trying avoid these fillers in their diet—they certainly don’t want to find them in a supplement they’re consuming to improve their overall health.

Potency
We expect that the supplement we’re purchasing will actually help the health condition that we’re looking to improve. Many supplement companies have found that marketing campaigns are much cheaper than using good quality ingredients. Manufacturers may use forms of the nutrient that are old, inactive or poorly absorbable, in efforts to make a cheaper product. The most common tactic among less-savory brands is to use a low dose of a particular nutrient per capsule. Sometimes the dose is so low that if you added up the total milligrams in the whole bottle, you still would not get what you actually need.

Third Party Quality Testing
Product testing conducted by an outside, reliable source can ensure the quality of the product and also the consistency of ethical manufacturing practices. Supplements should be tested to for heavy metals, pesticides and the bioavailability of the herb, vitamin or supplement.

How to Purchase Quality Supplements
Where you purchase your supplements is important. Recent reports have shown that many websites sell counterfeit products with labels that appear to be authentic, but with a different product.

A patient here at ProNatural Physicians Group recently refilled a supplement online after having purchased the original product from our office. She noticed that while the original product was a capsule with a white powder, the one she bought online was a capsule with black “gook” in it. This is very dangerous—never take a supplement if you don’t know for certain where it came from. Even large sites like Amazon are not supplement companies; they simply list items on their site and orders are sent all over the world to be filled and sent to the customer. You truly have no way of knowing where the supplements came from. Most legitimate supplement vendors do not sell through these websites.

Another factor to be aware of is that some retailors do not store heat-sensitive supplements at appropriate temperatures, so the product becomes inactive.

The safest way to ensure that you are taking a quality product is to have specific recommendations from a trusted healthcare provider such as your Naturopathic Physician. It is best to seek advice from an ND who specializes in using natural therapies as medicine, as they have the most up-to-date information about which supplements are worth your time and money. Your healthcare provider can recommend the best supplements, herbs or vitamins that will be designed for your unique health concerns, saving you from wasting money on products that aren’t appropriate.

 

What’s the American Revelation? The American Revelation is a series of articles about the various ways that patients and consumers are becoming part of the healthcare solution, by first becoming aware of the existing problems. In our history books, the orignal American Revolution was the result of a series of social, political, and intellectual transformations in society, government and ways of thinking.Today, these same concepts reflect the changes, growth, and evolution of health care.

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