Are you wasting money on low-quality supplements? Or worse, is your supplement routine just not doing anything for you? Did you know that not all supplements are created equal and not all supplement makers can be trusted? It’s true!
Americans love vitamins. More than half of all American adults take a vitamin or supplement. It’s a $27 billion-dollar industry in the U.S. With thousands of choices, it can sometimes be overwhelming to choose the right one for you. Plus, how do you know if you’re getting your money’s worth or if you’re just getting ripped off?
Unless you’re part of the development of a supplement, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to know if you’re getting trusted, quality products or if they’re delivering everything they claim.
In this 3-part blog series, we’re going to teach you everything you need to know to identify the best-quality supplements. So you can get the maximum benefits from your supplements and reach your health goals.
The 3 parts of this series are:
Labels & Claims
Now let’s dive right into labels & claims:
Some labels make extravagant claims, but all too often the claims are a little hard to swallow. Before you buy a supplement, read the label, especially the Supplement Facts box that by law must list the ingredients. Carefully read the directions for use, and any cautions or warnings that follow them. Read the packaging, and any claims for efficacy and/or safety that are on the label. Be forewarned, supplement claims can be easy to misread and many supplement makers play games with the content of their labels.
According to the Food & Drug Association (FDA), supplement makers are not legally allowed to make claims that their products treat, diagnose, prevent or cure diseases. The FDA does allow claims that a product affects the body’s structure and/or function, nutritional status, or general health and wellbeing. But the product’s maker is supposed to have proof to support all the claims they make.
The Supplement Facts box is the heart of the dietary supplement label. It’s supposed to accurately list all the active ingredients, in specified order and with specified names for the various nutrients, herbals or other ingredients. Read this very carefully. You may notice, for example, that vitamin A is listed as beta-carotene, which many people do not efficiently convert to vitamin A. Or that magnesium is listed as magnesium oxide, which happens to be very poorly absorbed and is an inferior ingredient compared to magnesium malate, citrate or glycinate. Sometimes there’ll be ingredients listed that aren’t proven for use in humans. If you have doubts, contact the supplement maker, who by law have to provide their contact information on the label.
It’s important to understand that outside the Supplement Facts box, companies have a lot of room to make vague claims on their labels. For example, the phrase “natural flavors” still allows for the product to contain sugars and other hidden and potentially harmful additives. At BrainMD, we ensure that our natural flavors are as pure as possible. We refuse flavors that use sugar or other high-glycemic ingredients, or hidden additives that are potentially unsafe.
Another challenge for you is to detect and become knowledgeable about undesirable additive ingredients in your supplements, especially in the binders or coatings of tablets such as unnecessary sucrose, titanium dioxide which has questionable safety, hydrogenated oils, heavy metals including lead and mercury, and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) or dioxins.
Cautions and Warnings
While it may seem counter-intuitive, cautions or warnings on products can be a good thing because they show that the company understands their ingredients and how they can affect the body. Cautions and warnings also indicate that the company places concerns about their customer’s health and safety above making another sale. The caution or warning both prevents the sale of a product to someone that should not be taking it and allows the product to get into the hands of consumers who can safely take it.
You’ve almost surely heard the saying, “Don’t believe everything you hear.” Well, that rings even more true for the supplement industry. We can start by asking ourselves some common sense questions. Does the supplement company make reasonable promises or do they make claims that are too extreme to believe, for example that a supplement can cure Alzheimer’s or cancer? Outlandish claims in marketing materials can be an indication that the company is over-promising to try to gain sales. Look for realistic statements about a product for “supporting”, “promoting” or “enhancing” specific structures or functions. People’s bodies work differently, so supplements are rarely one size fits all. A supplement that works wonders for one person, might not work for another. Therefore it’s important to examine the product’s label or support documentation for evidence that it’s ingredients (some of them, at least) have been put through controlled human clinical trials, which are the highest level of proof that they possibly could work for YOU.
That’s also why a company’s return policy is important. If a supplement company allows returns and even guarantees their products or your money back, that is a good sign of trust. Look out for free product trials. The sponsoring company will say this shows their confidence in their product’s effectiveness. But read the fine print and make sure they are being upfront about what kind of arrangement you’re getting into. Most free trial programs automatically turn into a membership program unless you cancel, but some companies don’t put that information upfront and don’t take measures to make sure you agree to the deal in advance.
To make better buying decisions about dietary supplements, and to have the best chance the products you purchase will improve your health and wellbeing, you need to know first, that what the company claims on the label is accurate and reasonable; second, that the ingredient list is transparent and clearly understandable; and that they stand behind their products enough to make you feel safe and confident to shop with them.