Selecting a good quality supplements can be confusing. With so many brands and so many choices… where to start? This post will cover the basics to look for in a good quality supplement and also a short list of good brands on the market today.
Note that this post will not cover when/if supplements should be used or at what dosage.
General Guidlines for Supplements:
- Buy supplements in capsule form, not in compressed pills or tablets. This will eliminate the use of high pressure binders and waxes in tablets.
- Avoid Magnesium Sterate and Titanium dioxide in supplements. These additives are used as flowing agents so it is easier for the manufacturer to create the final product. Neither of these chemicals will likely cause any major harm in small doses, but effects may add up over time as these additives could possibly irritate the sensitive gut lining. In addition, magnesium stearate may bind to and prevent the absorption of nutrients in the digestive tract. Magnesium stearate is not a supplemental source of magnesium but rather a form of stearic acid. It’s essentially chalk, and research has shown that it suppresses your natural killer cells, which are a key component of your immune system.
- In general, supplements found in major chain drug stores (like CVS, Walgreens, etc) should be avoided. The brands carried in these stores have consistently been shown by independent tests to have lesser quality (see below for unbiased review sites).
- Look for low quality ingredients on labels including: sugar (in its many forms), artificial coloring, artificial flavoring, preservatives, and additives such as shellac, chlorine and other questionable chemicals.
- Read labels. Different nutrients have different forms used in supplements. For some nutients, like Vitamin C, the exact form may not be quite as important. In contrast, supplements like Vitamin E and beta-carotene, should only be taken in their natural forms.
- The FDA does not regulate supplements. Therefore, look for supplements that are approved by a 3rd party with considerations for quality, purity and absorbtion. Certifications to look for include: CL (Consumer Labs) and USP (The United States Pharmacopeia) or for athletes, NSF and Informed-Choice marks.
- When relevent, ingredients should be sourced from organic sources whenever possible.
- For certian products like fish oils, supplements should be tested for toxic substances and any contaminants such as lead or mercury.
- Be especially careful to look for hypoallergenic products if you have sensitivity problems or allergies.
- Look for an expiration date on the bottle. No expiration date on the label generally indicates a questionable product.
- The producer’s contact information should be easy to find on the packaging. If there is limited information about the producer on the bottle then this indicates a questionable product. Don’t hesitate to call the manufacturer to ask questions. The experience of calling the company’s help line will likely give valuable insight into the quality of the company and therefore the quality of the final product.
Notes on Taking Supplements:
- Take most vitamins and supplements with food.
- Take fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) with a food source containing fat.
- Take enzyme supplements between meals or just before meals (depending on the type of enzyme).
- Calcium can inhibit the absorption of Iron, so take these supplements at different times (Note that Iron should only be taken after a lab test confirms Iron deficiency).
- Take probiotics between meals on an empty stomach. This can be first thing in the morning or last thing at night.
- Take amino acids on an empty stomach.
- Some herbs need to be taken at rather large doses to get an effective dose. Depending on the herbal product and condition, some herbal supplements will need to be taken at 2-4 times the dosage listed on the bottle. (consult your healthcare practitioner for specific instructions).
Unbiased Research on Supplement Quality:
The information above should serve as an unbiased template to evaluate supplements and manufacturers. The information below is strictly the opinion of the author based on years of experience and experimentation.
Highest Quality Supplement Brands:
- Thorne Research
- Pure Encapsulations
Mid-Level Supplement Brands:
- Now Foods
- Designs for Health
- Biotics Research
- Gaia Herbs
- Ortho Molecular
- Integrative Therapeutics
- Source Naturals
- Life Extension Foundation
* Most supplements carried in the major drug-store chains would be grouped under the heading “low quality supplement”. I will not attempt to list any specific brands here, but purchasing supplements in reputable health food stores is a good starting point to exclude low quality supplements.
* The lists above should serve as a starting point in finding high quality supplements. This list is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all supplement companies, and there are certainly many good quality supplement brands that have not been included for the sake for brevity and/or lack of personal experience with certain brands.
* Also note that some of these supplement brands have excellent products in certain areas, but not in others. Jarrow, for instance, has some excellent herbal products, but generally produces ineffective probiotics (just an opinion, of course).