Taking supplements and vitamins is a good idea if you want to improve the balance of micronutrients in your diet, especially for those who have a hard time eating specific fruits and vegetables. Supplements can also provide you with more antioxidants, added amino acids, or even nutrients that can help boost brain function or speed up weight loss. But to be a smart consumer, here are a few things you need to know about finding the right supplements and vitamins:
Supplements and Vitamins Aren’t Regulated Carefully
Just because the label says that it’s a specific type of pill or vitamin, that doesn’t always mean it is. Supplements, unlike medications, aren’t regulated by the FDA, so there are far fewer quality control measures in place to make sure that you’re only putting healthy ingredients in your body. Be very aware of that when you go supplement shopping!
The best place to shop for supplements will usually be at the big chain stores, like Walmart, GNC, The Vitamin Shoppe, and Walgreens. These stores do typically have some sort of quality control, and they will pull recalled supplements off their shelves faster than local stores. They’re also less likely to allow low-quality supplements to end up on their shelves.
Beware of Supplements from China
Chinese supplements are utterly unregulated, which means that manufacturers can add whatever they want into the supplements and can sell them with whatever label they want. It’s also known that the manufacturing practices in China can be sub-optimal, leading to a higher risk of contamination. And when you consider that the contamination is often dangerous heavy metals—like lead—you can understand why it’s better to avoid these supplements completely.
Watch Out for Certain Supplement Types
Pretty much any supplement that falls into the weight loss and sexual enhancement categories should be treated with extreme caution. According to one study, a surprisingly high number of weight loss supplements have dangerous chemicals—and even some drugs—added in. These supplements, always produced overseas, can cause far worse health problems than just a bit of excess weight around your gut. Sexual enhancement supplements can also be very suspect, so you’re better off steering clear.
Be Wary of Bargains
High quality ingredients cost, and it’s hard to imagine that low-cost supplements can be very high quality. One investigation into herbal products found that the higher-priced supplements were more likely to actually contain the ingredients the label claimed they did, while the lower-priced options were more likely to have added ingredients or watered-down potency.
Before you buy any supplement—even something as simple as a multivitamin or mineral supplement—it’s always a good idea to research the products thoroughly. Not only should you get information on the recommended daily amount of your micronutrients, but you’ll want to make sure there have been no problems with the product in the past, such as FDA recall alerts or warnings. The non-profit US Pharmacopeia is a good place to start doing your research into the specific manufacturers of supplements you’re thinking of buying.
Talk to an Expert
In this case, an expert means either your doctor or a pharmacist. Your doctor is the best place to start, as they’ll have years of experience to rely on to help you find a good supplement that meets your health needs. If you don’t have a doctor, you can ask the pharmacist to help you find a brand that is known for good quality and delivers results. It’s always best to get help when searching for a supplement you’re not familiar with!