Living healthy starts with making sure you consume a healthy diet and incorporate healthy lifestyle practices. This includes consuming nutrient dense foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals and other compounds that have antioxidant activity such as those found in fruits and vegetables. It also means eating as close to nature as possible, ensuring your fruits, vegetables, and meats are clean and as unprocessed as possible. In addition, drinking, clean, pure water is essential to healthy living.
From a lifestyle perspective, this means adopting regular exercise practices and ensuring the air you breathe is as pollutant-free as possible. It also entails adopting meditation practices that serve to reduce and relieve stress. Clean living is all about living in harmony with nature and ensuring what your body is exposed to is as close to nature as possible.
Despite our best efforts to eat and live healthy, however, there are bound to be gaps in our nutritional needs. While we can aim to consume a diet rich in vitamins, minerals and other key nutrients, agricultural practices over the last several decades have meant that our soils continue to be depleted of these essential health-giving compounds. Plus, there are situations dependent on our health status where we have increased needs for certain nutrients that are impractical to fulfill through dietary intake alone. This is where dietary supplements can fill the gaps by providing us key nutrients that are missing from our diet.
Dietary supplements are often a key pillar to a healthy lifestyle. However, just as we strive to live as clean as possible when it comes to our dietary and lifestyle practices, we often compromise when it comes to dietary supplements. This doesn’t have to be the case. Let’s discuss what you should look for when it comes to ensuring you are taking high quality vitamins that provide what you need and avoid what you don’t, like excess fillers and excipients.
Quality Supplement Manufacturing Process
When deciding on a brand of supplements, it’s important to understand the manufacturing and quality process the company uses as well as any other attributes about the particular product being considered. While the FDA has set forth certain quality principles for dietary supplement manufacturing known as the GMP guidelines, a fact remains that some companies do a better job of following them than others.
There are some key elements of supplement quality that you should keep in mind. These are highlighted below:
- Raw Material Sourcing: Look for companies that are meticulous when it comes to sourcing ingredients that are of high quality. These companies will set stringent specifications for their ingredients that take into account things like ingredient standardization (certain ingredients are standardized to marker compounds or actives that make all the difference in effectiveness), ingredient potency, whether the supplier uses good agricultural practices that minimize any harm to the environment. They will also take the time and effort to develop relationships with suppliers and perform audits of their quality practices and ensure that only the purest forms of ingredients are used in their products.
- Reviewing Research to Ensure Safety and Efficacy: Beyond best practices when it comes to raw material sourcing, the expertise a company puts into formulations is also essential. When it comes to supplements, standardization of raw materials as well as their dosing is critical to ensuring effective products. Companies will review science and safety data to ensure ingredient doses match the standardizations used in clinical studies. This is the only way you can be confident that the product will have the benefits stated. Companies that provide pixie dust quantities of ingredients are being deceptive and sell you short. Avoid products that do this and stick to the ones that have research-based quantities of key active. How can you recognize this? Be prepared and do your own research!
- Testing and Verification or Raw Materials and In-Process Specifications: Once a company has decided that an ingredient they are sourcing matches the specifications they have set, that’s only the beginning. The next step is to verify this through testing. This is to make sure that what’s listed on paper is actually true for the ingredient. The principle here is “Trust but verify”. What’s printed on paper is worthless if the ingredient isn’t what it claims to be. All dietary supplement companies should be doing this, but many don’t. Beyond this, during the manufacturing process itself, there are critical steps requiring verification. To ensure these are done correctly, companies perform in-process testing. By doing this, you ensure Quality is built into the process, throughout the process.
- Finished Product Testing and Release: In addition to specifications for raw materials and in-process specifications, companies must set specifications for the finished product. This includes testing and other elements that the product must meet before it is released to the end customer. This ensures that the finished product conforms to what the label says should be in it.
If a company cuts corners on any of these steps, it’s as if they’re cutting corners on all of them. These are the products you won’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole since you most certainly can’t trust their quality.
Synthetic vs. Natural Vitamins
There has long been a debate about the use of synthetic versus natural forms of vitamins. Many supplement manufacturers offer natural supplements, but really what most mean by “natural” is not well-defined. Some companies offer vitamins derived from “whole food” sources. The challenge that is often found with these is that they fail to meet our body’s needs since they tend to be sub-potent. Others use synthetic vitamins but use cheaper, non-preferred forms of nutrients.
An example of this is with vitamin D, for example. It is known that the preferred form of vitamin D is vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol, which is also considered high quality vitamin D. That is the more natural vitamin D that is better utilized by the body. However, companies will often substitute vitamin D2 in place of vitamin D3. While vitamin D2 has some activity in the body, it must be converted to the more active form before it is utilized. This conversion is often not efficient in some people, leading to decreased effectiveness.
Synthetic vitamins and natural vitamins have identical chemical structures and are indistinguishable by the body. The main thing to consider with supplements is the use of preferred forms of vitamins and minerals that are already in the active form the body needs. Vitamins in their food states may have certain advantages over vitamins that are isolated because of the other nutrients that travel with them, like fiber, fats, proteins, minerals, and other compounds. However, as discussed, it isn’t always possible to get a clinically meaningful amount from foods and so supplementation becomes necessary.
There are steps you can take to ensure you are getting the most out of your supplements. Some vitamins are fat soluble (A, D, E, K) while others are water soluble (C, and the B vitamin family). Consuming them with a meal can be advantageous since the fat in a meal can help with absorption and ensure optimal utilization. This will help ensure you get your money’s worth.
Steps You Can Take to Ensure Quality Supplements
- Learn how to Read Labels: Supplement Labels contain critical pieces of information including what’s in the “Supplement Facts” panel as well as what’s listed below in the “Ingredient” section. The Supplement Facts panel discloses the amounts of the nutrients in the product per a specified serving size. The “Ingredient” section will let you know what fillers or excipients were used in the manufacturing process. You can also determine what forms of a specific nutrient were chosen and decipher if they are preferred forms. Learning to read supplement labels is critical for determining supplement quality.
- Ensure the Brand uses Third-Party GMP-Certified Manufacturers: While all supplement manufacturers are required to follow FDA’s GMP regulations, asking about third-party verification can go a long way in ensuring the manufacturer is being audited against GMP requirements by an independent entity. Some of the more trustworthy certifiers include NSF and UL.
Supplement quality is often difficult to ascertain. However, by educating yourself on some simple criteria, you can determine if the supplements you are considering are what you want to be putting into your body. By learning how to read a supplement label and becoming familiar with the ingredients and forms, you can ensure the products you are taking will give you the desired results. Companies that employ solid quality practices will also welcome consumer inquiries, so do not be afraid to ask! A core principle of quality supplement manufacturing is “Trust but verify”. As a consumer, you should do the same. After all, when it comes to your diet, as well as when it comes to supplements, you are what you eat.