Supplements Know-How: A Primer To Smarter Supplement Buying

Knowing how your supplement is processed is just one step in the supplement-safety chain.

Supplements should not be purchased in ignorance. The more you know about what to look for in a quality supplement, the more likely you will have success in choosing products for your health goals. Here are some tips for your next foray into the supplement aisle.

Know what laws govern the industry

FDA guidelines under the Dietary Supplements Health Education Act (DSHEA) define supplements as food, which means most supplements are not required to provide the kind of test results and clinical trials that pharmaceutical companies do for drugs.

But, just because nutrition companies do not have to file clinical trials to make a vitamin C does not mean legitimate manufacturers do not get regulated.  Even though supplements as food do not act in any way as drugs, they are still consumed and thus must be clean, accurate in labeling and not include ingredients not listed on the bottle.

In fact, manufacturers of dietary supplements are required to follow current good manufacturing practices (the cGMP you see on the labels of many brands). Really good manufacturers of dietary supplements go beyond the requirements of cGMPs.

So, how do you tell if a supplement company is legitimately playing by the rules set forth in DSHEA? This Is an important question at the core of your best health.

Know Key Offenders

First, knowing the kinds of products that often see abuse can tell you where to practice great caution.

Weight loss products, sports nutrition and virility products often are discovered to have undisclosed ingredients. Some even have actual drugs in them!

Beware of over-reaching claims

Knowing the guidelines set in DSHEA can help you discern if a product is trustworthy. According to DSHEA, products cannot make any claim to treat, prevent, cure or diagnose any disease. If a product purports to improve glaucoma, lower cholesterol or fight cancer, then the company that put such claims on the label are not following the law.

Legally, a supplement can claim to support bodily functions that we all have that are normal. For example, a product may support normal cholesterol levels. It may also support joint health. Because we all have immune systems, products can say they support general immune. These claims are grouped under the label of structure/function claims.

Some claims, like calcium supporting bone health, have been approved by the FDA and can also be used to promote a product.

As with most things, also with supplements, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. So, if you are on an internet page reading about what a product is supposed to be able to do, if that website is also trying to sell you that product, you may want to seek other, more scientific sources to verify the claimed efficacy of the product before giving that company your hard-earned dollars.

No matter how helpful a third party might be, you are your own best health advocate.
No matter how helpful a third party might be, you are your own best health advocate.

Know How To Read The Label

Whenever a company wants to sell me a product, I check for several things. First, I look to see what kind of claims the product makes on its label. I also look for what kind of certifications the product has, which may indicate further testing, even third-party testing, of the product. These certifications include USDA Organic, Kosher, NSF, and Non-GMO, to name a few.

I also look to see if the label tells me specifically what is in the product. For example, if the label only lists CoQ10 without telling me the form (ubiquinone or ubiquinol), then I immediately downgrade the potential product. If I can’t see the ingredients, then I have no assurance that this company really plays by the rules.

Because the Natural Products Association is the trade association for the health foods industry, I am most likely to want products that are active members of this organization because membership shows the manufacturers care about the reputation and quality of our industry. This information may not be on the label, but hopefully the manufacturer indicates membership on their website.

Know Price May Matter

When comparing two similar products, I do not automatically choose the cheapest. Legitimate manufacturers have to turn away raw material on a regular basis because it is contaminated with other material, doesn’t pass the many tests of raw materials, etc. Because I know the raw material supplier finds somebody to buy that product, I need to be aware of that possibility when I am choosing product on the shelf.

Is there a reason other than the raw material that would explain the large difference in price of a certain product? If I can’t find one, chances are I will spend the extra to ensure a higher quality product if the more expensive item is from a company I trust.

Shop Where You Can Trust

At Betsy’s, we strive to ensure the products we have on our shelves are of the highest quality. We have visited the manufacturing facilities of most of our major brands. We visit with companies at national trade shows to learn the latest things they are doing to bring our customers the best possible dietary supplements. We also vigorously follow the trends and news from our national trade magazines and our Natural Products Association.

We hope that when you need to purchase supplements, you will trust us to help you find the right product for you. Though not exhaustive, may these tips be of use to you the next time you want to choose a new dietary supplement.

In health,

Betsy’s Note: This article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. Consult your healthcare provider, especially if you are on medication and are considering taking supplements.