As a savvy and conscious seeker of health and wellness, you definitely want to ensure the supplements you’re buying are safe and effective. You want to be confident that what you're buying is what's best for you and anyone else in your household.
So how do you know… what is a high-quality supplement?
You want something that is not just labeled “quality,” but actually presents proof that it has gone through a significant vetting process.
Listed below are some of the questions we ask ourselves when screening supplements to help us look and feel our best.
What’s in it?
When looking at supplements, you’ll want to start by reading the label. Typically a good rule of thumb for food products and supplements it to look for ingredients that you can pronounce.
Check out whether the company’s mission is to provide high-quality, holistic nutrition. Buy your supplements from a reputable source, but be wary even then. Unfortunately, a lot of brands on the market — even best-selling brands — skimp on quality.
You want to ensure it has enough of a specific ingredient to be effective. Trace amounts -- such as a hint of turmeric or acai -- usually aren’t enough to make a difference in your system to give you the benefits you need.
Avoid “proprietary blends,” because the companies selling them aren't required to report ingredient amounts on their labels.
What’s not in it?
You want to avoid chemical or synthetic ingredients.
We like supplements that are:
- All natural
- GMO free
- Gluten free
If your supplements are herbal or or botanical, please buy organic to ensure that harmful pesticides are not unintentionally included. Products like herbs can be tainted with germs, pesticides, or toxic heavy metals -- so there should be a quality control process in place to ensure this is not the case.
Look for brands that source ingredients grown in the United States to help ensure there aren’t any mystery ingredients. Some heavily marketed products-- such as those aimed at weight loss, sexual enhancement, or bodybuilding -- have been found to contain ingredients not listed on the label, including prescription drugs not allowed to be in the product.
Ensure it’s not expired. Some supplement ingredients may lose their potency and effectiveness over time.
Along those lines, follow the instructions for storage. If you're buying ingredients that need to be kept away from light, be sure they come in a brown bottle and store them as instructed. Additionally, some supplements need to be refrigerated to stay fresh.
Intuitively, do the manufacturer’s claims pass the “sniff test”?
Does the marketing campaign respect your intelligence? Some supplements are endorsed by a celebrity or someone highly recognizable, but unfortunately the products aren’t actually all that safe or beneficial. Consider who is behind the label, not just the marketing campaign.
Similarly, be cautious of products that make in-your-face claims like, "maximum strength," but don’t actually have any effect. Watch out for anything that sounds too wild or too good to be true.
A quality supplement should not make you feel sick or off balance in any way. If any supplement you are taking is causing you physical concerns or generating anxiety for you, or if you feel terrible after beginning a new supplement, please stop taking it. Consult your medical professional before beginning any new supplement routine, and seek to empower yourself with information about what you are ingesting as well.
Is the company transparent about sourcing and manufacturing?
Dietary supplements that are made in the U.S. at well-established and highly regulated facilities help guarantee the safety of the product and its ingredients. In the US, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) oversees and inspects facilities as needed.
Compare this to products that are imported from countries where regulations are unclear or lax.
Look for a third party verification on the bottle. The Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) label helps ensure that products are produced consistently and meet certain quality control standards. This helps minimize risks. Good Manufacturing Practice regulations are set forth by the US Food and Drug Administration under the authority of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.These regulations, enforced by law, require manufacturers, processors, and packagers to proactively ensure they’re making safe, pure, and effective products.
Is it safe, and safe for me?
The primary safety concerns for dietary supplements include the possibilities of:
- Product contamination. Hidden prescription drugs or other compounds have been found in dietary supplements. As mentioned above, watch out especially for those supplements marketed to populations looking for “a quick fix” to concerns such as weight loss, sexual health (including erectile dysfunction), and athletic performance or bodybuilding.
- Drug interactions. St. John’s wort, for example, can interfere with the effects of antidepressants.
Government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provide notices, alerts, and advisories. These let consumers know about recalls, tainted products, and other concerns as they arise.
As you surely know, supplements are not medicines and are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure diseases. Consult your medical care providers if you have questions about how any supplement might help support you in developing or maintaining a holistic, healthy lifestyle.
In sum, it’s a good idea to seek out supplements that are careful with their claims, transparent with labeling, and attentive to the quality and processing of ingredients. You deserve to feel good about the supplements you take.
Finally, remember that dietary supplements are products intended to do exactly that -- supplement your food intake. The best supplements are carefully designed to fill specific nutritional gaps, but never to replace whole foods. Eating more wholesome, nutritious meals alongside high-quality supplements can help you look and feel your best.