In a Congressional investigation of supplements back in the spring of 2010, sixteen out of forty contained pesticide residues that exceeded legal limits. Dr. Todd Cooperman, president of ConsumerLab.com, a company that has tested over 2,000 dietary supplements made by more than 300 manufacturers, played a role in the hearing. He and his team found that one in four supplements had quality problems, the most common including supplements lacking adequate quantities of the indicated ingredients and those contaminated with heavy metals.
When it comes to your favorite supplements have you ever thought about how safe they really are? This is not written to alarm you, but simply to educate you on how to choose your supplements and why it's important.
When I looked at the tiny print on the label of one of my favorite supplements and noted that it had a warning for lead it surprised me. Possible lead in a green powder that should have organic fruits and vegetables in it? How on earth could lead leach into those? How about other contaminants? Do supplement companies mislead us? That is what led me to do some research. Knowledge is definitely power in the world of supplements.
Common Ingredients You Need to Know About
Maltodextrin (from GM corn)
Monsanto's genetically modified (GM) corn makes up almost all of the maltodextrin found in food and supplements. This is a huge "no no" for supplements and if a company chooses to use this ingredient they do not have your health in mind. The only time it's acceptable is if the label states "certified USDA organic". Tapioca maltodextrin is a safer alternative at least until Monsanto decides to tamper with tapioca.
Vitamin C / acorbic acid
Going to Whole Foods, shopping on Amazon or at your local grocery store and grabbing any form of vitamin C when you are fighting your first cold of the season may not be the best idea. Here's why: ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is synthetic and has been made from GM corn if it was manufactured in the US. Synthetic vitamin C also destroys some of the good bacteria. we work so hard to build and maintain in the gut. However, if you can get your hands on ascorbic acid not derived from GM corn you are moving in the right direction. Another option would be to take whole food vitamin C that can come from many sources including the camu camu berry, acerola cherries, amla (Indian gooseberry) etc. A study on the absorption of ascorbic acid with or without citrus extract (whole food form of vitamin C) demonstrates that taking ascorbic acid with a whole food extract allows the body to:
1. Absorb more vitamin C
2. Excrete far less vitamin C; in other words the body can utilize more of the water soluble vitamin C.
So if you do choose to take ascorbic acid, make sure that it is coupled with some kind of whole food form of vitamin C like citrus extract. You also could grab some fresh fruit or vegetables when you take your synthetic vitamin.
Lead, arsenic and other heavy metals in herbs from contaminated soil
Since it is virtually impossible to determine the sources of all of the ingredients from your supplements unless the companies own their own fields like Gaia Herbs for example, you will most likely need to understand your supplement company adheres to standards that ensure purity that will be discussed below.
Understanding what high levels of lead can do to the human body will motivate you to confirm your supplements come from a trusted company. When giving a child supplements it is critical to confirm they are not contaminated with heavy metals since the developing brain and nervous system are highly sensitive to such toxins. Although most supplements have trace amounts of heavy metals, knowing the amounts do not exceed safe levels is important.
Make sure that the form of mineral you are taking is bioavailable so that you are not wasting your money and subjecting your body to a mineral that can't even be well absorbed. One example can be seen with calcium. A popular form of calcium is calcium carbonate. It's found in rocks, limestone, shells of marine animals, eggshells, snails and pearls. At 35-40%, it has a higher concentration of elemental calcium, however it requires a significant amount of stomach acid to be absorbed and is not as bioavailable as other forms of calcium. Bioavailability refers to the mineral's ability to be absorbed for use by cells leading to health benefits. A more absorbable form would be calcium citrate. It is a bit more expensive, however according to Andrew Weil, MD ". . .it is more easily absorbed, especially by older people who may have less stomach acid. And it is more than twice as bioavailable as calcium carbonate."
Tablets, Capsules, Powder, Gummies or Liquid?
Vegetable capsules, powder and liquid tend to be better than tablets. If your child is a picky supplement taker, then gummies may be your only alternative.
Supplements in a vegetable-based capsule, powder or liquid form do not require binder materials and are far less likely to contain toxic additives. Of course in order to taste better powders and liquids tend to have some kind of sweetener and other additives to make them palatable. Tablets, time release tablets and gelatin capsules should be your last choice and here's why:
Tablets need glues and binders to hold them together. More processing is involved with manufacturing a tablet leading to less bioavailability and a harder to digest end product.
Gelatin Capsules - Due to the fact gelatin may contain chemicals, hormones, antibiotics and preservatives that have been fed to the animals the gelatin is sourced from, it is wise to choose the vegetable capsule alternative. If you see soy in the ingredients list, assume it is genetically modified unless the package states USDA certified organic.
Time release tablets - This is not your best option due to many reasons. Prolonged use of time-release niacin may lead to liver damage. Time-release iron supplements are ineffective due to the point of release in the intestinal tract dramatically reducing the body's ability to effectively absorb the iron. Coatings used on some time release supplements altogether prevent the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Some companies use oil to lengthen the time of absorption. Be sure to look at the ingredients list since hydrogenated oil defeats the health benefits of the supplements.
Vcaps (vegetable capsules) - If you make sure that the supplement states non-GMO and preferably organic, you are making the optimal choice in delivery method. Vcaps are easier to digest, help you get in a little fiber and do not create any issues with digestion or an upset stomach.
How to Choose a Supplement:
Non-synthetic, whole food ingredient supplements that are contained in vegetable capsules tend to be the best supplements to purchase. If you can find non-GMO or organic on the label you are even better off. Look for a supplement that is free of additives and possible allergens too. The best manufacturers are ISO 9000, ISO 9001, NSF certified or USP verified. This means that they will voluntarily submit to auditing of their processes to ensure they are following the highest standards in the supplement manufacturing/processing industry.
The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act
This 1994 federal law protects supplement companies more than consumers. Companies can attach general health claims not backed by scientific research. This law allows companies to operate on the honor code which can lead to problems with purity, questionable amounts of ingredients and other quality issues you don't want to face with a supplement company.
Going a step further you can look for the following seals of approval on your supplements
An independent, nonprofit organization of scientists standing behind high standards for medicine, food ingredients and dietary supplements. The USP offers a voluntary program through which supplement companies can have their products and facilities tested and reviewed.
USP standards include purity, identity and potency. Companies that carry an official “USP Verified” seal on their labels are required to adhere to the high standards set by the USP. Their website has an ongoing list of USP verified supplement companies.
Some manufacturers will mislead the customer by printing USP on their label without the actual USP seal demonstrating they have not actually received the USP seal of approval.
This non profit certifies fish oil and multivitamins. Something that sets this group apart is that is offers a “NSF Certified for Sport” program that caters to athletes who use sports supplements including protein powders, amino acids and creatine. Due to the history of steroids and prescription drugs being discovered in athletic supplements, NSF Certified for Sport designation gives athletes the peace of mind they need when routinely taking specialty supplements.
When you see the above blue and white NSF seal you can rest assured that the product has been independently vetted to ensure that it is not adulterated and that it contains the exact ingredients as labeled.
Two independent laboratories publish full reports of their finding after routinely testing a range of dietary supplements. Both charge a fee for their services. ConsumerLab.com, is known for its frequent testing of products with an archive of reports on its website. LabDoor is the other company that provides detailed reports and rankings of protein powders, fish oil, probiotics and multivitamins.
More Ways to Make Sure You Are Making the Right Choice
The government's Office of Dietary Supplements provides a free fact sheets on supplements. This detailed information confirms how well testing backs up what supplements companies claims are for various ingredients. If you still question the source and safety of your supplement, you can really dig deep by asking for a certificate of analysis from your supplement company. This may need to come from their manufacturer if they place their label on a supplement manufactured by another company. This provides the date of the sample taken of the raw ingredients that make up the components of the supplement. It presents the data from tests performed evaluating the raw materials for various heavy metals, yeast and mold, and even salmonella and staphylococcus. A good example of one can be found here.
Be sure to inform your doctor if you choose starting a new supplement regimen. Your doctor or health practitioner can play an important role in recommending what supplements will be best for your individual health needs. Diagnostic blood labs and other evaluations are available from physicians and medical providers that can determine if your body needs more or less of a micronutrient like vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes.
At Purely Integrative we strive to offer only the highest quality supplement companies that adhere to strict guidelines of manufacturing. Before we make our final decision regarding whether or not to carry a supplement, Dr. Carine and her medical team evaluates both the manufacturing company and the product itself to ensure the product is pure, effective, safe and worth your investment.