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How to Ensure You Get the Best Supplements

Article at-a-glance:

  • The FDA does not regulate the quality of dietary supplement ingredients or formulas.
  • This leaves consumers vulnerable to either outright fraud or to inferior products.
  • Answer the following questions so you can know if you’re getting your money’s worth.
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By Dr. John Neustadt

The FDA regulates the manufacturing of supplements, but not the quality of the ingredients or formulas. This leaves consumers vulnerable to either outright fraud or to inferior products. Answer the following questions so you can know if you’re getting your money’s worth.

Here are important questions you should ask when deciding to buy a multivitamin.

Is it a one-a-day multivitamin?

When looking at a multivitamin, there are two simple questions you can ask to make smart buying decisions.

If it’s a one-a-day multivitamin, then you’re pretty much guaranteed it’s not great. That’s because companies have to squeeze and bind all the nutrients together in a tablet. To do so they tend to use forms of minerals that are poorly absorbed, which is a good lead into the next question and why NBI’s Supreme Multivitamin requires people to take multiple capsules each day.

Companies use poorly absorbed nutrients because they are less expensive. They also know that they can get away with it because most consumers shop just on price. They don’t understand that most of what they’re buying is likely not even being absorbed.

Is there “oxide” in the product? 

If it’s a once-daily tablet then the product likely contains nutrients that can’t be absorbed. Simply look at the Supplements Facts label on the bottle. This is where each ingredient is listed in detail. Find magnesium, calcium, zinc, and copper. If calcium is calcium carbonate, or if any of the other minerals are “oxides” (e.g., magnesium oxide, copper oxide), then it’s a poor quality formula and not worth your money.

The oxide forms of these minerals are so assimilated by your body that you can only absorb about two to four percent of the oxide form. So if the bottle lists one hundred milligrams of magnesium (as magnesium oxide), then you’re actually only absorbing about two milligrams. The remaining ninety eight milligrams just pass right through you. Magnesium in an oxide form is so poorly absorbed that in higher doses it’s a laxative.

Companies use the oxide form of minerals because they’re cheap. But you’d be better off eating a few spinach leaves than wasting your money on a dietary supplement that contains minerals in their oxide forms.

Which minerals are the most absorbable?

Instead, the most absorbable form of minerals are the amino acid chelated forms. A chelate is a mineral combined with an amino acid such as citrate, malate, or aspartate. Amino acid chelated minerals are easier for the body to absorb and can increase absorption to 75%. If you really want your money’s worth, only buy products that contain all their minerals as amino acid chelates (eg, magnesium amino acid chelate).

Calcium, found in all multivitamins and calcium supplements, is a little different. It doesn’t come in an oxide form. Instead, most products contain calcium carbonate (this includes coral calcium). It’s a large molecule with a lot of elemental calcium. But its size makes it difficult to absorb and can be constipating.

Stomach acid is required to absorb calcium carbonate. But as people age they tend to produce less stomach acid. Up to twenty-one percent of people sixty to sixty-nine years old, thirty-one percent of those seventy to seventy-nine years old, and thirty-seven percent of those above the age of eighty have hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid) or achlorhydria (no stomach acid).

Just when people need the calcium most as they age and take bone support supplements to protect their bones, they’re absorbing less and less of this essential mineral.

In contrast, calcium citrate or malate is easier to absorb and doesn’t require stomach acid. The most absorbable forms of minerals are listed as an “amino acid chelate,” or as citrate, malate, or aspartate. Only buy supplements that contain these forms of minerals.

What about other supplements?

When you’re looking at other types of dietary supplements, like a fish oil product, one for blood pressure, bone health, or for memory, energy, and recall, check to see if the company is using the combination or doses of nutrients shown in clinical trials to work. They should provide research citations, or you can ask the company for them.

The dietary supplement aisle is confusing for most people, and manufacturers know this. That’s why people largely shop just on price. They buy the least expensive bottle possible. In doing so they’re flushing their money down the toilet. Be a savvy consumer. Look at your dietary supplements and ask these questions. You’ll be getting a better value for your money by buying quality.

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