Finding a Quality Nutritional Supplement

Spoon full of colorful pills

Written by Lyle MacWilliam MSc, FP

Sponsored by USANA Health Sciences

Have you ever watched shoppers as they try to choose a nutritional supplement? As part of my job to constantly scour health food and other retail stores for the latest brands of nutritional supplements, I have had plenty of opportunities to observe consumer behavior.

Some shoppers use the à la carte approach, choosing a little of this, a smidgen of that, and a whole lot of those because they’re on sale. They rarely have a specific health goal they’re trying to address and they figure everything’s probably helpful. Simply put, it’s very difficult to create a balanced intake of the required nutrients using this method and, besides, it’s generally far more frustrating and often expensive to do so.

Others will pick a particular supplement and scan its label. Then, they’ll choose another and repeat the procedure, comparing one supplement to the other. And often they’ll ask: “What’s a milligram compared to a microgram? What the heck is an international unit? Why does one brand have twice as much vitamin D as the other? Which supplement is best for me? How do I make sense out of all of this?”

Confusing? You bet. After a while they’ll often just scratch their heads and walk away, or they’ll look at the price and choose the least expensive one, which is rarely a good way to go about picking a supplement.

There is no argument here: choosing a worthy supplement is not for the faint of heart. That’s why I recommend choosing a broad spectrum nutritional supplement that has been formulated by a knowledgeable and trusted scientific team. This approach ensures that you receive the full range of nutritional components the body needs on a daily basis. It also assures that you select for quality.

Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other plant-based micronutrients are required for the normal functions of our body. They do not work in isolation. Together, they participate in complex metabolic processes in our cells and interact with other nutrients in reactions and processes that are essential to the function of our cells, organs, and body as a whole.

Supplementing with a large dose of any single nutrient can unintentionally interfere with the actions or worsen a deficiency of others, and the use of random combinations of nutrients may, with time, create metabolic imbalances in the body. For these reasons, it is preferable to supplement with a balanced formulation, rather than choosing individual nutrients off the shelf. The best course of action when choosing a supplement is to speak with your doctor about your diet and health conditions to determine which vitamins and minerals are useful to reach your specific health goal.

Also understand that what is on the label is only half the battle. It is equally important to know how that product was manufactured. In the United States and several other jurisdictions, rather than manufacture to pharmaceutical manufacturing practices (GMP), products need only comply with modified food-grade standards. This leaves a lot of room to cut corners and it leaves a lot of room for error. The last thing anyone needs when purchasing a supplement to improve their health is to find that the one they’ve chosen doesn’t pass muster or is contaminated with harmful levels of ingredients or contaminants—an event far more common that you would expect. This is precisely why I wrote the NutriSearch Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements™. It’s an educational and consumer-based tool to help consumers choose a supplement. There is also a program that allows manufacturers to “put their money where their mouth is” concerning the questions of quality and safety. The NutriSearch Medals of Achievement Program™ allows leading manufacturers to submit their product for evaluation of the company’s manufacturing practices (GMP) and to have the product laboratory tested for adherence to quality, safety, and label claim. These assessments can be helpful in checking that the product is likely to be safe and effective.

Finally, it’s important to discuss using supplements of any kind with your doctor before starting one. Your doctor can help you to determine whether a supplement would be useful or beneficial and can help guide you further when it comes to making a decision about which supplement and what dose, if any, would work for you. This step is also essential to ensure your supplements won’t interfere with any medications you may be taking or worsen conditions you may have.

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Lyle MacWilliam MSc, FP

Author, educator and biochemist Lyle MacWilliam is founder of NutriSearch, a Canadian research house serving the needs of the natural health products industry in the global marketplace. His popular NutriSearch Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements™ series has set the gold standard for evaluating and comparing broad spectrum nutritional products for the benefit of informed consumers.