Why Supplement Quality Matters

For many people, supplements are an opportunity to make positive changes to one’s health. However, not all supplements are equal. When we work with clients, we typically ask about what brands they may be using and in what forms they are consumed. It’s not unusual for supplements to contain additives or for them to be sold in a poorly absorbed form. Seems like products like this shouldn’t be sold, but supplements are not well regulated by the FDA, leaving all the research work up to buyers. 

Could your supplements use an upgrade? Before we get into that, let’s talk about why you might want to take supplements in the first place.

Why Supplements are Valuable

1. “Frankenfoods” – Additives like flavors, colors, and preservatives along with trans fats, hormones, pesticides, antibiotics, etc. ought to be known as the vampires of the food world. They can easily trick you into thinking you’re making healthy choices and rob valuable nutrients from your diet.

2. Nutrient depletion – Every minute of storage, transportation, and processing leads to a decline in nutrient levels. This can also result in poor flavor, which is frequently made up for by adding additives like salt and sugar.

3. Medications – Your over-the-counter and pharmaceutical medications may deplete nutrients in the body. Oral contraceptives, statins, and Metformin are just a few medications that come to mind.

4. Poor soil quality – Today’s industrialized agricultural processes have decreased nutrients in the soil. Plants are only as nutritious as the ground they are grown in! You should eat your fruits and veggies, but understand that they may not fill all of your nutrient needs.

5. Stress – Chronic stress rapidly diminishes your body’s stores of vitamins and minerals.

6. Environmental toxins – Every day, humans are exposed to a growing variety of environmental toxins such as xenobiotics and pesticides, which increase oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. Supplements boost antioxidant levels to support detoxification.

7. Poor diet – It can be hard to consume the USDA-recommended 3 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit daily!

8. Individuality – Despite the existing guidelines for nutrition, every person is biochemically unique. Everyone requires different amounts of vitamins and minerals based on their personal biology.

9. Gut health – If your digestive system isn’t performing optimally, proper nutrient absorption may become an issue. However, many people don’t know if their digestive system is functioning properly!

This list isn’t exhaustive, and we know that it may make it seem like achieving high-quality nutrition is impossible. It’s not. The list serves as reminders that we should give extra effort and attention to nourishing our bodies with the highest quality foods and that we should take advantage of nutritional supplements as a way to work around deficiencies.

Vitamins and minerals work together to stimulate reactions in the body. They help produce enzymes, energy, new cells and DNA, and hormones. They even turn genes on and off and contribute to metabolism. When micronutrient levels are off, it’s only natural that bodily processes will be off as well.

What’s more is that not all micronutrients are easily found in food. It’s wildly difficult to eat your way out of deficiencies in vitamin D, folate, zinc, iron, and magnesium.

Rows of lettuce in the ground at a farm.
Gardening took off during the pandemic, but did you know that certain varieties of lettuce have very little nutritional value?

Keep an Eye on Supplement Quality 

Supplements do not have to be regulated by the FDA before being sold. Rather, the FDA only takes action against products after they are already on the market.As we mentioned before, this puts the onus of responsibility for verifying quality on the customer. Here are a few things to be aware of when choosing supplements:

Grade

We recommend using pharmaceutical-grade supplements with the following characteristics:

  • Ingredients are third-party tested for purity and quality
  • Manufactured in FDA-registered facilities that adhere to Certified Good Manufacturing Processes (cGMP)
  • Ingredients are in the most bioavailable form for optimal absorption
  • Meets ≥99% pure standards (does not contain dyes, fillers, binders, etc.)
  • Free of common allergens like peanuts, eggs, wheat, gluten, etc.

Most pharmaceutical-grade supplements can be purchased without a prescription, but only through licensed professionals. 

Form

It often shocks people when they realize that the form their supplement is in isn’t actually absorbed in the body very well. When you purchase a supplement, you want your body to be able to use it, right? Vitamins and minerals found in foods typically absorb quite easily, but things aren’t always so straightforward when micronutrients become synthetic. For example, folate supplements typically take the form of folic acid, which is more difficult for the body to absorb. For people with genetic mutations like MTHFR, their bodies are even less efficient at absorbing folate. Pharmaceutical-grade supplements use the most bioavailable forms of vitamins and minerals so your body can actually benefit from supplementation. 

Delivery Method

There is more to bioavailability than just chemical compounds. And, importantly, the best delivery method varies by supplement. You’ll usually see supplements in tablet, capsule, powder, and liposomal forms. Supplements that leave a rotten taste in your mouth are best avoided in powder form despite powders being the fastest absorbing delivery method. 

Chocolate protein powder in a glass jar being spooned out.
Some powders taste better than others! Do your research before buying to see what others have to say about the taste.

Think there’s no difference between capsules and tablets? Think again. Tablets take a while to break down, so the nutrients aren’t always fully absorbed. Capsules, on the other hand, are formulated to be easily broken down during digestion. Liposomal delivery also allows for easy cell absorption as the nutrients attach directly to phospholipid molecules.

Where to Start

While a healthy diet is a good place to start, it’s pretty difficult to get everything you need from diet alone, as we’ve mentioned. When choosing supplements, select from reputable brands who:

  • Use the highest quality materials in producing pharmaceutical-grade supplements
  • Meet or exceed Certified Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) protocols
  • Maintain certification by the NSF, the most highly respected product testing group who verifies that what is on the label is what’s in the product and that the supplement is safe
  • Require routine third-party testing to meet strict quality and purity standards
  • Have distribution facilities with stringent quality controls in place to protect product quality

We recommend purchasing brands like Fullscript and WholeScripts through a verified source. Be aware – counterfeits of these products exist, which is why it’s important to trust the source you purchase from. 

Before taking any supplements, verify with your practitioner that it’s okay for you to take them. Some supplements can interact with medications, and knowing the right dose for you is crucial. Give a week or two between each new supplement you try so you can easily monitor your body for unwanted side effects or reactions.

If you’re not sure what supplements you need, a holistic practitioner can help. You can expect to go over your nutritional status to determine any possible deficiencies, to discuss the pros and cons of relevant supplements, and to learn about what supplements may be right for you. Part of the process may involve lab testing so you can get science-backed answers about what your body needs. Book a free 15-minute call to learn more about supplementation and how it can fit into your life!

For more healthy tips, join the conversation on our Facebook group, Integrative Health and Nutrition for Chronic Conditions. We post live videos, guides, and other useful information to help you elevate your health and wellness.

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