Choosing Supplements – A Pharmacist’s Perspective

I don’t know about you, but I am  bombarded every day with “studies” and “breaking news” about different supplements and companies. Most of you know that I am a Pharmacist, although I no longer practice traditionally. Honestly, in Pharmacy school, we were pretty much told to steer clear of recommending supplements because you could not be sure of the purity and quality of their ingredients. I still always recommended that patients take a multi-vitamin, but I never recommended anything else because I just couldn’t be sure if it was a reputable product or not.  Then, I became a holistic health coach. I quickly learned that EVERYONE wanted to know… What is the best brand of vitamin for me to take? What about brands of protein powder?

Now, if you no me personally at all, you know that I don’t make decision off the cuff. I have to research, think, and process. The same thing happened here! I was not about to just recommend a brand that was popular with my friends. I wanted to make sure it came from a quality company that had a proven track record, had GOOD science to back it up (more on that later), that I was willing to take AND let my children take (BIG DEAL to me).


Supplements are NOT regulated by the FDA, so I DO NOT recommend going into the pharmacy, health food store or your favorite big box store and just picking up the cheapest thing. So, how should you choose? Start by asking a few questions…

How long has the supplement company been in the nutritional supplement business? What is their track record with recalled products?

The company I work with has been around for over 60 years. No products have ever been recalled.

Are the supplements synthetic, crystalline (extract) or cold-pressed?

You want natural, cold-pressed! If they are not cold-pressed, they have been heated with kills some of the enzymes needed for the vitamins to do their job.

How do you know if it’s synthetic? Check the label and avoid those that use the dl-form, for example dl-alpha tocopherol for Vitamin E or thiamine for Vitamin B.  Look for the letter d in front of Vitamin E for example – “d-alpha-tocopherol,” not the lab created kind, “dl-alpha-tocopherol,” which is cheaper to produce. It is more biologically active in its “d” form. So, look for d-alpha-tocopherol instead.

Are their supplements made by their company under the guidance of their staff or are they made by a third party with their label added to the bottle?

What are the ingredients in their products and where did they originate from?

This is especially important for things like omega-3’s. You don’t want those coming from  fish living in waters contaminated with heavy metals.

How about testing on ingredients and final products? Do they test the ingredients all along the process, at the end or rely on vendors for testing? Is each product proven to be free from pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals and lead?

The US Pharmacopeia requires over 80 tests.  The company I work with tests for up to 350 chemical contaminants, including pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, solvent residues, etc.

Are the supplements balanced?

There are certain nutrients which need to co-exist at a certain ratio in order to be absorbed properly and work most effectively. How do you know if you are getting this?  Make sure you choose a reputable company!

Are they bioavailable? By this I mean, do they dissolve? Do they reach their destination still alive? If not, you are not reaping the benefits.

Which supplements do you use? Do you have questions about them?




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