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Supplements – Making the Right Choice

Supplements – Making the Right Choice

by June 10, 2015 0 comments

Sometimes deciding which supplements to use and which manufacturers to choose can seem overwhelming. With the myriad of choices available on the market today it’s no wonder that so many consumers don’t know where to begin. Within almost every category of supplements (i.e. multivitamins, calcium, greens, etc) you may have dozens of different manufacturers to choose from at your local retailer. So where do you begin, and what should you be looking for to help you filter through the seemingly limitless number of products to choose from? The steps outlined in this article will at the very least offer some key things you should look for and avoid when choosing the right supplements.

Look for Individualized formulas

For starters consider using supplements that are individualized. Men, women, active individuals, and seniors all have uniquely individual needs. Studies have clearly shown that based on our age, gender and level of activity our needs can vary quite dramatically. Yet with this knowledge there are still so many formulas that use the dated “one formula fits all” philosophy.

This concept can be clearly illustrated in multivitamins for example. It has been known for some time now that athletic individuals require a greater need for antioxidants, given the increase in free radicals they produce during exercise, and their B vitamin demands have also been shown to be greater. Consequently a multi that’s used by someone athletic should contain greater concentrations of both free radical fighting antioxidants and B-vitamins. Most women under 50 should use a multivitamin/mineral providing some iron, whereas a woman over 50 should consider using multivitamins that are iron free. Excess iron can increase oxidative stress (free radical damage) to the body as well as increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and even cancer. Although we can’t find supplements that cater to your every individual need, attempt to look for supplements that are as specific to you as possible.

Avoid One a Day supplements

We never question the logic of having 3 or more meals a day. The idea of having one solitary meal daily would seem ludicrous to most of us. We appreciate the value in dividing the nutrients we ingest from our food over the course of a day and yet so many of us are using “one a day” supplements and hoping that our bodies have the capacity to absorb and utilize them.  We all wish we could simply take one single dose of a supplement and be worry free for the rest of the day.

In reality there is good reason for having more than one dose a day. One of the flaws often seen in one a day formulas has to do with the rate at which these tablets dissolve, known as the dissolution rate. Several studies have shown that the increased pressure needed to compress all the ingredients into a single tablet and the overuse of binders (compounds that “hold” the ingredients together) can result in tablets that either dissolve too slowly, or worse still not at all! In fact many tablets have been shown to take up to 6 hours to dissolve and many even longer than that. Caregivers that work in nursing homes and nurses in hospitals often refer to these tablets as “bed pan bullets” due to the fact they are found intact in the stool found in their patients bed pans. We’ve all heard the expression “you are what you eat” but have you considered the lesser known expression “you are what you absorb”.

If your supplements aren’t dissolving readily then how can you expect to absorb them? If these compounds dissolve 6 or more hours after they are ingested, from an absorption standpoint, you may have “missed the boat”. As you will see in the illustration below, most vitamins and minerals are absorbed in specific locations throughout the gastrointestinal tract. Other noteworthy points to keep in mind:

  • The half life of alpha lipoic acid is 30 minutes and vitamin B5 is 2.5 hours therefore supplementing more than once is advisable
  • No more than 27 mg of vitamin B2 can be absorbed at one time
  • Given the rapid rate at which water soluble vitamins and antioxidants leave the body taking one should take more than one dose a day
  • 500 mg of calcium is the upper limit of absorption


Look for vegetable capsules or rapidly dissolving caplets

Look for formulas that are vegetarian friendly. Although highly unlikely, there has been recent debate that the gelatin used in capsules may hold a possible chance of containing contaminants that cause BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy). Having contacted several suppliers of gelatin capsules not one has yet been able to provide evidence to support that they screen their gelatin for the organism (prion) that causes BSE. Consequently many manufacturers have switched to vegetarian capsules or vegetarian friendly caplets/tablets. The BSE controversy aside for religious and ethical reasons some individuals may choose to avoid gelatin given that it is derived from animal by-products, usually pork skin/bones or cattle hides/bones.

Does your retailer or naturopath support a product and/or brand? 

Trusting your local retailer or naturopath can help when choosing the right supplements. With years of experience in the health and wellness field they have the unique insight to recommend products that they know work. Receiving regular product feedback from their customers and patients they are in a unique position to recommend the right supplements they know work. As good as a supplement may sound on paper the “proof is in the pudding”. So when in doubt, ask the experts for advice regarding the trusted brands and products available.

“You Get What You Pay For”

The age old adage “you get what you pay for” not only applies to a good pair of shoes, a nice car, and well made clothing but it can certainly apply to supplements. There are an endless number of suppliers providing the raw materials that go into your supplements. Some companies provide consistently high quality raw materials while others provide ones of questionable quality. Time and time again raw material suppliers that provide manufacturers with an assurance of both purity and potency when independently tested fail miserably. High quality raw materials often come at a higher price. One should look at one specific supplement and ask themselves why are most within a narrow price range and a few significantly less expensive? Items on sale aside, one should ask why some companies are providing supplements at a significantly lower price than their competitors.

Choosing which supplements and more specifically which brands to choose from can at times be a daunting task. Clearly there are many things to consider when deciding on which brand of supplements to use. Unfortunately it’s impossible to cover as complex a topic as this in an article as short as this one. Hopefully you are now armed with at least some knowledge that you can use to make the best choice for your own needs.

Nelson Narciso
National Product Education Consultant


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