How to Make the Right Supplement Choices

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Make the Right Supplement ChoicesA little over a month ago the supplement industry was rocked when the New York state attorney general ordered some major retailers to cease and desist the sale of a number of popular herbal and dietary supplements. The supplements were being sold by Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Target, and GNC.

The attorney general arrived at this decision by conducting DNA tests on the supplements. They found ingredients not listed on the label—some potentially dangerous—and in some cases, only trace amounts of the substance listed on the label. In light of this study, it is now expected that a group of attorney generals are going to form a coalition to crack down on fraud in the industry.

But there is a lot of opposition to the accusations made by the attorney general. Some are saying that they didn’t use an accurate form of testing, therefore, the results they derived are null and void.

A Little Information About the Supplement Industry

The supplement industry is big business in America. It generates about $5.0 billion annually. Over half the American population says they take a vitamin or supplement on occasion, while 44% say they take one daily.

There’s a longstanding debate going on about the effectiveness and purity of supplements, as some studies show they are beneficial, while others show they do little to aid in people’s health. I really believe it comes down to the type of supplement, the quality of the supplement, and the individual.

The reason why supplements—and supplement safety—are so hotly contested is because they are not subjected to stringent testing and regulations under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Your “Tylenol,” for example, is tested by the FDA and manufacturer’s facilities are held to a certain standard. This is not the case for your supplements.

But even though the government doesn’t have a direct hand in the regulation and manufacturing methods of supplements, the industry itself has established standards, meaning not all supplements need to be feared, as many media outlets may have you believe.

Yes, there are some supplements that are not as good as others, in the same way that some cars, clothing, or electronics are not as good as others. A competitive marketplace will always create discrepancies.

Industry Standards for Health Supplements

Immediately following the attorney general’s announcement, the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) issued a statement calling the accusations “uninformed,” “reckless,” and “inexcusable.”

The reason why is because the attorney general used a method of testing called DNA testing, which is not the best way to test the purity and effectiveness of supplements. This is because many supplements—practically all of them—are produced by extracting specific compounds from various sources. During this process, the DNA is broken down, making it nearly impossible for a DNA test to yield accurate results in identifying herbal ingredients in botanical products.

The report by the attorney general also indicated there were potentially harmful, unlabeled ingredients, but the truth is that there are legal guidelines that allow for trace amounts of compounds in products that don’t have to be listed. These are compounds that exist in such a small concentration that they are both harmless and unnoticeable, which is why there are laws saying they don’t have to be listed.

Supplement companies must adhere to GMPs, or good manufacturing practices. This means they have onsite labs where qualified professionals administer tests on all the botanicals used and do so through each step of the manufacturing process. There are detailed records kept on tests from the time the ingredients arrive on site, to the time they are processed and the final product is shipped out. Furthermore, these tests are undertaken by individuals who are familiar with botanical testing and the most accurate ways to measure potency and purity.

Now, does that mean all supplements are created equal? Of course not. There are some manufacturers out there that find ways to circumvent regulations and put out products that might not have the correct dosages or even purity to be effective. But the industry itself should not be shunned. It will be interesting to see what the accused retailers do in this case.

How to Choose the Best Supplements

Buying supplements can be tricky, so you have to take some time and do a little research before deciding what to buy. One of the first things to do is talk to your doctor or naturopath to make sure the supplement is safe for you. Some supplements react negatively with certain medications and health conditions, so your health professional can tell you what is and isn’t safe for your particular case.

In some cases, your doctor may be able to suggest certain brands, but in other cases, the onus will be on you. If you’re setting out to find a good-quality product that will give you the most benefits for your money, there are a few things you should pay attention to:

  • Inspect the label to see if it was manufactured at a GMP-inspected facility. This means the product was inspected and tested at various stages and was created in a quality-controlled environment.
  • Another mark you can look for is from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF is the body that oversees GMPs and grants approval, so this and the above label are interchangeable.
  • Also, you can look for “third-party tested” labels that show the product has been tested by an outside party for safety and potency.

Like anything else, supplements come in various qualities. There are some bad producers who taint the industry, but overall, the number of quality products outweighs the poor-quality ones. Don’t take the headlines at face value; do a little research and make the best and most-informed choice you can when deciding if, and how, to include supplementation in your lifestyle.

Also Read :

Sources for Today’s Article:
O’Connor, A., “Safety of Herbal Supplements Pulls Prosecutors Together,” New York Times web site, March 9, 2015;
Mister, S., “CRN Criticizes New York Attorney General ‘Sting’ on Herbal Dietary Supplements As Ununiformed, Reckless and Inexcusable,” Council for Responsible Nutrition web site, February 3, 2015;
Rosenbloom, M., “Vitamin Toxicity,” Medscape web site, October 14, 2014;, last accessed March 26, 2015.