Whether you’re trying to optimize your health, boost your immune system, or reverse a chronic illness, you’ve probably wondered how (and where) can you find the best vitamins and supplements. It’s an important question, and while the answer to “what vitamins and supplements should I take?” is different for everyone, there are some common best practices that apply to everyone purchasing and consuming vitamins or dietary supplements.
While eating a whole-foods, nutrient dense diet is still the best way to get most of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients we need, there are times our bodies need extra support. If you’re going to spend money on a vitamin or supplement, you want to make sure that it’s safe, effective, made from quality ingredients, and properly stored/handled as it is transported to you.
Four Steps to Picking the Best Vitamins and Supplements
Whether you are looking for multivitamins, prenatals, probiotics, fish oil, magnesium, Vitamin D, or something else to support your health, there are four key steps to ensure you’re getting a high quality and effective product. (That is of course, in addition to the essential step of talking with your doctor or licensed healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take).
1. Read the Label – Know the Ingredients
The first, easiest, and most obvious step in choosing a vitamin or supplement is to read at the label. Some key questions to ask yourself include:
- What active ingredients are in the product and how much of each?
- Unspecified forms or amounts of an ingredient can be a red flag
- What form or type of active ingredient is used?
- Some forms have better bioavailability and efficacy than others, e.g. for most people, methylfolate is a better form of folate than folic acid. Liposomal forms of vitamins often have greater bioavailability
- What inactive (or filler) ingredients are added?
- Lower quality products often have more fillers and inactive ingredients. You want to avoid food colorings, preservatives, artificial flavors, etc.
- What format is the product in?
- Powder, capsule, tablet, liquid, etc.
- What certifications does the product have?
- Gluten-free? Non-GMO? NSF Certified? USP Verified? TruLabel?
Once you’ve determined what the product claims to contain (and the ingredients didn’t raise any red flags), you’ll want to do some research into the efficacy of the ingredients and look for third-party certifications to verify product purity, quality, and safety.
2. Research the Efficacy of the Formulation
There are a few ways to research the efficacy of a particular product’s formulation. It can be tricky – nutrients often work synergistically in the body, whereas many scientific studies try to isolate a particular compound and measure its effectiveness. You may have to research ingredients individually, and work to understand how they might support or counteract each other in a particular formulation.
One basic tool you can always use to find peer-reviewed, published research is PubMed. Try searching the product name, or the key ingredients and see what research comes up. Look at the dosages used (amount, frequency, & duration), whether it was a human or animal study, what the conditions of the experiment were (e.g. double-blind placebo controlled study vs observational study), and of course the results. And remember, as with all research, be sure to look at who funded the study. If the study was funded by the supplement company itself, you may want to look for some 3rd party, independent research to verify their claims. If you want to go deeper into what to look for in scientific research, see Chris Kresser’s Beginner’s Guide to Scientific Research.
An even more specialized tool for researching nutrition, vitamins, and supplements is Examine.com. Examine pulls together the research for you and provides helpful summaries, including the Human Effect Matrix, which shows the level of evidence in the research for a particular supplement’s impact on a long list of conditions. For an example, check out what they have to say about Fish Oil.
Once you (or your doctor) have determined that there’s good evidence for the efficacy of a particular supplement, you’re ready to move on to verifying the safety and purity of the product.
3. Verify Safety and Purity of the Product
As with any substance you put in your body, you want to make sure that it contains what it says it contains, and is free from toxins and contaminants that could harm your health. In some instances of popular, well-known supplements, you can find peer-reviewed research on safety and purity by searching PubMed. In other cases, you might want to try ConsumerLab.com or Labdoor.com to verify the purity of a product. These companies conduct reviews of hundreds of supplements and do their own independent lab testing. Not all supplements will be reviewed, but it’s a great place to start. And obviously, if you do find the product you’re looking for, you’ll want to avoid it if it has a low rating.
If you’re not able to find any information via those channels, you can also consider researching the brand/company itself. If the supplement is from a reputable company, there’s a good chance the product is meets the same quality, safety, and purity standards of the company’s other products. If it’s a brand new brand, without third-party certifications, you may want to steer clear and hold off for more data. Any reputable brand understands the importance of third-party certifications and reviews, and will put in the effort to ensure their products undergo proper testing and review processes. Some well-known third-party certifications to look for include: USP Verified, NSF Certified, and TruLabel. Looking for these seals of approval will help ensure that the product contains what you want and not what you don’t (heavy metals, microbes, pesticides, or other contaminants).
4. Purchase the Product from a Licensed Seller or Reputable Source
Once you’ve found a high quality supplement with proven efficacy and have cleared it with your doctor or medical provider, you’ll need to find a place to purchase it. Most supplements have particular conditions they should be stored under – often a “cool, dry place” – though some, including many probiotics, require refrigeration to maintain maximum potency. To get the greatest benefit from your new vitamin or supplement, you want to make sure that the product you are purchasing was stored properly along it’s entire journey from the manufacturer to your door.
As easy as it may be to order from Amazon, it might not be the best decision in the case of supplements. Between 3rd party sellers and climate conditions of warehouses and shipping vehicles, there’s a greater chance of a problem. Some better alternatives include:
- Purchasing the vitamin or supplement directly from your doctor or healthcare provider. Some providers will sell supplements onsite from their own apothecary or supplement store, and they often take extra care to ensure proper sourcing and storage of the products.
- Local health food stores & compounding pharmacy. If you have a good local health food store or compounding pharmacy in your area, they can be an excellent source as they truly understand the importance of sourcing safe, effective, and pure products and storing them under proper conditions.
- For an online option, you could look at Fullscript. They partner with practitioners to make it easier for patients to get quality supplements at affordable prices, with proper storage and shipping (ice packs are provided with orders that require extra temperature control). If you’re a client of mine, you can sign up for my Fullscript dispensary here. If not, ask your practitioner about creating an account so you can get easy access to the vitamins and supplements they prescribe for you.
- PureFormulas.com is another online option that carries a wide variety of high quality brands with direct to consumer shipping.
Interested in other ways to optimize your health, boost your immune system, or reverse a chronic illness? Check out these posts:
- Red Light Therapy at Home
- Need a New Tool for Your Stress Management Toolbox? Try Tapping!
- Are You Breathing Well at Night? 5 Common Myths about Sleep Disordered Breathing
- What is Mold Illness?
- How to Reduce EMF Exposure for Better Health
- Are You Breathing Well?
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