How To Choose Supplements Wisely
If you're generally healthy and eat a wide variety of whole foods, you likely don't need supplements. However, supplements might be appropriate in some situations and each individual has different requirements based on their current health condition. In my opinion, it is best to follow the recommendations of a health practitioner.
We all know the vast array of supplements on the market. It seems that new ones are launched every day and there is more and more marketing lingo that promises to save your health. However, you are a savvy health-conscious consumer and you want to make sure you're making wise choices with your health (and money). Here are eight expert tips for you when choosing supplements:
Tip #1: If you’re in a country that licenses or pre-approves supplements (like I am in Canada), then make sure you’re getting the real thing, and not some illegally imported bootleg of a product. This is your health, and it’s important enough to make sure you’re getting a product that at least meets the minimum requirements in your country. There are always recalls and safety alerts issued for contaminated supplements, or products that don’t even contain what they say they do. This health authority approval is not a perfect gauge of quality, but it does have some benefits worth considering. In Canada, you would check its approval by making sure it has an 8-digit “NPN” number on the front label. This number means that the company meets the required standards. If you’re not in a country that pre-approves supplements, make sure what you buy meets the regulations of your country. If you have to look up the company or product online or call them, please do it – don’t be afraid to ask questions before you use any health products.
Tip #2: Read (and heed) the warnings, cautions, and contraindications. You don't want a reaction, so check the label for things like:
· Consult a healthcare practitioner if you're pregnant or breastfeeding, or
· If you have medical conditions (e.g. high blood pressure, auto-immune disease, ulcers, etc.), or
· If you are taking certain medications (e.g. like blood thinners or immune suppressants, etc.) or
· If you are taking other supplements, or
· If you shouldn't take it for more than a certain length of time (e.g. 6 or 8 weeks).
Tip #3: Look at the medicinal and non-medicinal ingredients for things you might be allergic to, or have reacted to in the past. Just as you would do this with foods, do this with supplements. Manufacturers may make changes to ingredients from time to time. Any credible supplement company will list every active ingredient, as well as the inactive ingredients. The print may be small, but worthwhile. If this information is not stated, inquire by phone or email. Most reputable companies have a toll-free number on the bottle, or at the very least, their website address.
PRO TIP: You can look up any Canadian NPN number on Health Canada's database here:
Tip #4: Read the labelled “Indications” or “Uses” (a.k.a. How can this product help me?). What is the company claiming that their product can help you with? Beware of people who tell you that this product can help you beyond what’s on the label. Ask for scientific studies, or look it up on credible websites that don’t make money from selling supplements (such as Examine, or the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements).
Tip #5: What “dose forms” can you get (i.e. tablets, capsules, powder, liquid, etc.)? This is because tablets and caplets are not very easy to absorb because they’re compacted into a hard rock-like form that sometimes doesn't break down in your digestive system. Powders and liquids are easier to swallow and to absorb, but they can expire quicker because every time you open the bottle, you’re exposing all of the contents to the oxygen, and moisture in the air. Capsules (my preferred form) are powders placed into tiny dissolvable vegan or gelatin capsules. They’re not compressed, so they're more easily absorbed (they're still loose powder), and the capsule itself provides an extra layer of protection from oxidation and contamination from the air. The front label should mention this, along with how many are in each bottle.
Tip #6: How much/many do you need for a recommended dose? This is important to keep in mind because you may not want to take several capsules per day in order to get the recommended dose. This helps you see how much you need to take, as well as the real cost per serving/dose. Read carefully. Is the label information based on one capsule, two, or six? The amounts of each nutrient listed on the label may be based on each dose, or the entire daily dose. For example, if a label recommends you take 2 capsules per day, the active ingredient amounts listed may be the total amount in those 2 capsules, unless it says "per 1 capsule".
Tip #7: Check the storage requirements and expiry date. These two go hand-in-hand because the expiry date is based on how that supplement degrades over time at certain temperatures, humidity, and light exposure. If the bottle says that it should be refrigerated, make sure it’s in the fridge at the store, or refrigerated during shipping. If it says to refrigerate after opening, then make sure once that seal is broken, you keep it in your fridge. If it says to keep out of sunlight, make sure the store/shipping company is doing that, and that you do that too. This is sometimes why supplements are in dark or opaque bottles – to prevent sunlight from degrading the product before the expiry date. And, of course, I wouldn't recommend taking supplements past their expiry date. After this date, the manufacturer does not guarantee the quality or dose of the product.
Tip #8: If you’re trying a new supplement for the first time, start slow. It’s important to keep an eye out for both positive and negative reactions, and act accordingly. You don’t have to dive right into a full dose on the first day. Try starting with half-doses, or take one every other day for the first week or two before ramping up to the recommended dose.
I hope these eight tips help you choose supplements wisely!
This is Janice, Inspiring Change