Many of us take dietary supplements. In fact, according to studies close to 85% of Americans do. The industry has grown exponentially and there are no signs of a slowdown. The rising healthcare costs, longer lifespans, and increased metabolic and environmental diseases, have pushed the wave of prevention. Prevention is what in part is driving the rise of the organic food, integrative medicine and the supplement industry.
Multivitamins, vitamin D3, omega 3 oils and probiotics are now common household items. There are thousands of brands to choose from and even more health claims. Social media fuels the purchasing frenzy by subtle or not so subtle endorsements of brands that friends have used with “great” results. How often have you scrolled through Facebook to see how your friend likes this company or another? Did your friend really intend to endorse this company to you, or they simply liked the company so they can get their coupons or just follow them?
Supplement marketers now have more sophisticated tools than ever to help them get their message out to the right audience with pinpoint accuracy. How often have you clicked on a company link to only be haunted by their advertisements everywhere you go on the internet for months afterwards? Many marketing messages are also often cloaked under the umbrellas of educational articles or breakthrough studies. It makes them almost impossible to differentiate from legitimate clinical research.
That’s where the healthcare practitioners come in. There are retail brands (sold everywhere) and there are professional brands you can only purchase from your clinician. The latter are generally produced by much higher quality standards, the formulas are created and approved by physician boards, and their clinical efficacy is continuously followed by thousands of independent healthcare practitioners who choose to recommend them to their patients every day.
Having spent years in the supplement industry and seen the full cycle from ingredient sourcing to finished product marketing, here is some of what I have learned:
That multivitamin that you bought at your local health food store, grocery store, online, or pharmacy is most likely doing absolutely nothing for your health. Yes – even the high-end one. Most products you see on the store shelves cost next to nothing to produce. They are sold to you thanks to well-funded and clever marketing campaigns. In fact, most times a much bigger part of the price you are paying goes towards packaging and marketing than actual product cost.
The RDA doesn’t mean much. It is geared towards what the average person needed years ago to sustain life. Well, we are not all average and we don’t want to simply sustain life. We want to optimize our life. Thousands of studies have shown that you often need to take many times the RDA of a specific vitamin to get any clinical benefit.
Most people also don’t realize that each vitamin and mineral can have many forms. Some forms have almost no bioavailability while others are ready to be utilized by your body right away. A classic example is Magnesium Oxide with bioavailability close to 4%, and Magnesium Glycinate shown being close to 80%. Of course, everyone is different so this numbers can vary greatly, but you get the picture. There is also Magnesium Citrate which is great mostly as a laxative. Now apply this lesson in magnesium to every ingredient in the multivitamin you are trying to purchase at the store. Please also keep in mind they are all comparatively and low priced so there really wouldn’t be too much of a variance between them. Good luck.
Your healthcare practitioner has already done all this work for you. Many spent countless hours and thousands of dollars attending conferences and on continuing education so they can make that decision for you. They also have the clinical feedback of thousands of patients before you to know that what they are recommending to you works. No, professional brands are not as cheap as the store brands, but you get results. After all, this is the whole reason why you are taking supplements, isn’t it?
To the untrained eye, that 1000 mg fish oil capsule is the same as the 1000 mg fish oil capsule prescribed by your doctor. The latter normally costs more so many decide to just get the jumbo, “now get 25% more” store brand. What many fail to notice is the actual Omega-3 (beneficial) oil concentration in the store-bought brand is often only 300 mg vs the 600, 700, even up to 900 mg in the professional brand. According to the Mayo Clinic compiled research to treat many conditions you need several grams per day of the Omega -3 portion of the fish oil. When was the last time anyone you know took ten fish oil capsules on a continuous basis?
Many store-bought fish oils do not meet the quality standards set by IFOS and other standards associations. The oil is oxidized (spoiled) and you can often tell simply by the strong fishy smell when you open the bottle. The same rule as buying fresh fish from the market applies – if it has strong fishy smell, it is probably old. Would taking rancid fish oil hurt you? Probably not, but it is probably not going to help you either. You would be just wasting your money.
Then there is molecular distillation and there is molecular distillation. It is not all created equal. Taking high doses of a fish oil that has not been properly distilled, can potentially hurt you over the long term. So how is one supposed to decipher all the variables that go into picking the right Omega-3 to take?
It is simple – talk to your integrative healthcare practitioners. The professional grade supplement companies are held to a higher standard. They are constantly accountable to the tens of thousands of clinicians who recommend their products. Your doctor or nutritionist can help you not only pick the right brand but also the right dose.
A couple of years ago the New York Attorney General exposed that many supplements in GNC, Walmart, Target and Walgreens did not contain any or very little than what is claimed on the label. They were also full of many contaminants. I can guess these brands were not purposefully deceiving their customers; however, the lack of knowledge, protocols and attention created a dangerous situation for consumers. If large retailers like these were lacking the proper quality control, what does this mean for the small health food store around the corner? They do not have the resources, time or knowledge to properly vet their vendors.
There are thousands of products you see every day marketed to you by small one product manufacturers on Facebook, Instagram and other social media. The reality is that claims aside, you really do not know what is in those products. Even scarier, sometimes even the manufacturers do not know what is in their products! Many of these individual products are produced by people with little experience in the supplement manufacturing industry who simply have an idea for a product. They go out and find a so called contract manufacturer which produces their formula for them. Most products on the market are made by contract manufacturers and there is nothing wrong with that. There are many bad (very bad), and many good custom manufacturers. The problem is that most individuals producing their one product, have no idea how to properly choose a contract manufacturer. They have no idea what protocols they need to have in place to make sure they are getting the product they ordered. They have no idea how to properly verify their label claim to ensure the safety of their supplement.
On the flip side, there are so many brands that are known for their quality manufacturing. These are the brands that have been personally visited and inspected not only by the FDA and industry certification groups, but also by countless physicians. These are the companies that can easily produce a certificate of analysis and a third-party verification testing. These are the clinician recommended brands.
Many marketers use this claim to raise their prices and to help sell their product. Unfortunately, many formulas are produced based on the latest hype with very little clinical data to support their efficacy. Just think of the countless products promising instant weight loss, only leaving you instantly feeling lighter in your wallet. When was the last time that natural vitamin you bought at the store was tested using before and after clinical testing not just a few paid testimonials?
The natural ingredients claim by itself does not mean anything. The important things to look at are the extraction process, bioavailability and dosage. There are many different chemical solvents that are used to extract that natural ingredient. Some companies use them and some use other processes. With many of the ingredients coming from overseas, it is very difficult to truly know how that ingredient was extracted. That is where spectrophotometric testing among many other quality control protocols are routinely used by the professional brands. Some ingredients are more bioavailable in their natural form and some are not. The knowledge which one to use comes with years of clinical experience and education.
Dosage is key as well. There is so much “window dressing” going on in the market. That is where an ingredient is added to a product just to make a claim but in reality, the dose is not even marginal to make a difference. How many times have you seen a natural anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory fruit blend on a label with a health claim, to only see the total amount is 100 mg? What do you think a 100 mg of a blend of fruits is going to do to help you? You guessed it – absolutely nothing.
Instead of looking for a natural claim to help you improve your health, ask your healthcare practitioner for a comprehensive plan which includes a recommendation for supplements, diet and exercise aimed at improving the condition you are trying to treat.
There are reports there are many expired or counterfeit products sold online. It is very easy to delete and stamp a new expiration date or copy someone’s label. There is an entire industry selling counterfeit vitamins online! Another report from Boston Magazine shows that one in three supplements could be fake.
Proper storage to preserve potency and freshness is another issue. According to a New York Times report the temperatures in an Amazon warehouse reached 102 F!. What do you think that means for the supplements or probiotics? When was the last time anyone received their probiotic with an ice pack from Amazon?
The fact is that unless you purchased that supplement directly from your doctor or their approved online supplement dispensary, you may be getting counterfeit, expired or not properly stored product.
Taking a drive to your doctor’s office can be cumbersome – no question about it. That is why there are more and more practitioners using high quality online dispensaries like Kaerwell which allow them to streamline and put all the supplements they recommend all in one place, in an access code protected store so you can easily get what you need delivered to your doorstep without having to go to multiple websites and pay multiple shipping charges. That makes it easy to get the professional grade product you truly need, recommended by a practitioner you trust without having to put almost any effort. If your doctor doesn’t have an online dispensary, ask them to create one.
As much as we all feel as experts after spending 15 minutes on Google, the fact is that it takes a much more in-depth knowledge to determine what supplement we should take. Just the way we don’t try to figure out what eye glass prescription we should have by starring at letters on the wall at home, we shouldn’t also try to pretend to know what we are doing at the supplement isle. Simply talk to your integrative healthcare practitioner – it is that simple.