How Do You Choose the Right Nutritional Supplement?
Firstly you should only ever take a supplement at the recommendation of a health care professional. Some supplements can have drug interactions or adverse effects if used irresponsibly so always act on professional advice.
Choosing a Brand
With such a wide range of brands to choose from it can sometimes feel like you are spoilt for choice, but not all manufacturers are the same. Brands that manufacture their own products are often the best; they care about and can control the quality of their products.
Look for a brand that manufactures according to current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) or that has any other accreditation such as ISO:9001.
Look for a brand that manufactures to a high standard in a clean room facility. If you are a health care professional yourself and use supplements in practice you might even like to request a visit to the manufacturing facility. Any brand that manufactures a quality product will be pleased to show you around.
Capsules vs Tablets
Nutritional food supplements can come in a range of forms; most commonly capsules, tablets, oils and liquid solutions. A liquid product can be a great way to get a child or elderly person to take a supplement, as liquid vitamin or mineral supplements are often tasteless and can be added to a glass of juice. When using liquid supplements always be very careful when using a dropper or pipette as it can be easy to lose track of the number of drops applied. This can lead to over or under dosing.
Capsules are often considered to be better than tablets for several reasons but mainly because tablets are held together with “binders”. These are glue-like ingredients that make the tablet stick together and hold its shape. Very sensitive individuals may not tolerate these additives well and many people think they detract from the quality of the product.
Capsules are often made from several materials but the main ones include fish gelatin, bovine gelatin and plant cellulose. Most people prefer a plant cellulose capsule.
When manufacturing dietary supplements it is common practice to add “flowing agents” to a powder that is to be encapsulated. These are commonly in the form of Magnesium Stearate and Silicon Dioxide.
These ingredients aren’t added for any nutritional benefit, they are simply added to enable the manufacturer to make their product more cheaply. By adding the flowing agents the powders flow more easily into the capsules when being made and production rates can be increased. Again, many people looking for a high quality product look for one that doesn’t contain any flowing agents.
It is often easy to see whether or not your product contains a flowing agent. A simple test is to find a product that is often easily water soluble such as Vitamin C. Break the capsule open and stir it into a glass of water. After allowing the water to settle, if a film is visible across the top of the water, it is likely that the product contains a flowing agent as the film is indicative of the waxy properties that give the flowing agents their use.
When choosing a supplement, look for a brand that makes responsible claims about their products. There are lots of less scrupulous brands that make unsupportable claims about their products so check the science behind the supplement.
Look for a manufacturer that focuses on “bioavailabilty”. Taking a mineral supplement for example; there are lots of different forms of minerals used in the manufacture of food supplements, however, research has shown that they are not all as bioavailble as each other. The higher the bioavailabilty of a product, the more of it you are likely to absorb into your body and benefit from once it is consumed. In some cases a lower quality, less bioavailable product may offer far less of the mineral in question then a highly bioavilable product. This can become a false economy because several of the poor quality capsules may be required in order to offer the same benefit of one capsule of the higher quality, more bioavailble product. Manufacturers often use less bioavailable materials when manufacturing nutritional food supplements because they are usually cheaper and return a higher profit.
As with all things; you get what you pay for. There are as many budget brands available as there are expensive ones but you should never pay more for something than you are comfortable with.