The People's Perspective on Medicine

How Can You Choose a Good Supplement?

How can you find a good supplement to provide the nutrients you need? We offer some resources to help with the search.
Two hands holding a variety of pills supplements

The topic of supplements has long been controversial, with some health care professionals claiming that people who eat a well-balanced diet need no additional vitamins or minerals. Others, in contrast, are enthusiastic about the healing power of some particular nutrient added to the diet. For most people, a multivitamin may provide a bit of nutritional insurance. Some individuals need supplements because they are taking drugs that deplete the body of nutrients. But how do you find a good supplement?

Choosing a Good Supplement:

Q. With the wide variety and brands of supplements available and, as far as I am aware, no FDA regulations, how does one choose a quality product? I need to take vitamin D, calcium and magnesium.

Sometimes when I think I have chosen a good product labeled “all natural” and I read the label, I find other added ingredients (such as mannitol and sorbitol) that I am not supposed to consume for my gut health. Where can I turn for advice?

A. There is no substitute for reading labels when you need to avoid certain ingredients such as mannitol, sorbitol or other so-called sugar alcohols. But it is very difficult to tell which supplements meet quality standards. You won’t find that on the label.

Check is a good resource even though there is an annual subscription fee for its reports. It recently reviewed multivitamins and found that 46 percent fell short. Gummy multivitamins were especially problematic. This information can be crucial for finding a good supplement.

Do You Need a Supplement?

One of our favorite sources for determining which vitamins and minerals might be needed, above and beyond a diet rich in veggies and fruit, is Dr. Tieraona Low Dog’s book, Fortify Your Life. In it, you’ll find an explanation of the main vitamins and minerals along with details on which medications may be leading to nutritional inadequacy.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Although we are often told to get our nutrients from a well-balanced diet, the drugs we take and the way we eat may mean we need supplements.

Show 1022: How to Pick Dietary Supplements That Make Sense for You
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When I think about buying nutritional supplements, I see images of snake oil salesmen of days past selling tonics to unwary customers. It can be difficult to have a reliable source for the quality of these products as well as the amount of the supplement actually present in the product. I recently came across a website,, which gives ratings that compare the amount of the advertised supplement that is in products from most of the well known companies. Another excellent site is USP ratings. It verifies the quality of products that are submitted to them and their list is easy to download and print for future use. Apparently, the only companies that meet USP standards are Nature Made and some Costco products. The sale of nutritional supplements is a huge and unregulated source of products for the consumer. These 2 resources will help us as consumers spend our money wisely.

I find that the best multi-vitamin-mineral supplements are composed of whole foods, and the B12 is methylcobalamin rather than cyanocobalamin. Methylcobalamin is utilized by the body more efficiently.

My holistic physician prescribed masses doses of Vitamin B. I only took one per day but, they were very excessive re: RDA. After a while, I was getting unexplained hot and cold flashes and muscle pain. My B12 Lab work showed it to be very high. I stopped taking these vitamins and the hot and cold flashes went away. I would like to take B vitamins with lower amounts but, I cannot find any that have B12 with the type I want to take which does not have cyanide in it. Any suggestions? Also, is it dangerous to have too much B12? My doctor wanted me to take four caps per day and the amounts were in the thousands rather than 100%. This is very confusing.

Many of us older adults have been told to take AREDS2 for example. The doctor nor the container state that it should not be taken with dairy products yet online many sources state that. Is there a source that describes how to take supplements for their best benefit?

Excellent point. As a manufacturer of the Green Lipped Mussel oil supplement, GLX3 we have learned some interesting facts on ingredient monitoring in the USA. We took extreme care in sourcing our ingredients and in vetting the actual facility that produces GLX3. We were also interested in being transparent as to our ingredients, listing everything on the label.

What was interesting is that the FDA treats “made in USA” product, especially if coming from small producers with a completely different (and inferior) level of oversight versus much imported product. We produce EVERYTHING in New Zealand from all New Zealand grown and processed ingredients. That led to inspection and approval of the NZ factory, and even inspection of our product and storage facility by the FDA once the product lands in the US.

If you are a small producer (under $200k in revenues) and get the product within the US, then there is no inspection, not even a requirement that you list ANY of the ingredients on your label. Even large producers don’t have the same requirements to tell you what is actually in the product if they encapsulate and bottle in the USA.

Isn’t this just totally backwards of what the consumer should expect?
You should certainly do as much research into the sourcing of any supplement as you can. We invite consumers to talk with us directly. We are a small company that works diligently to provide the consumer with all the information they need to feel confident they are getting what they pay for….but the consumer has to go beyond searching for the lowest price, and actively check out the providor.

I take supplements but not before I research them. You need to know what form of certain vitamins to take to make sure they are truly bioavailable and you need to know a safe dosage. More is not better. You also need to understand why you are taking them. I don’t take multivitamins because I don’t need a lot of what is in them. Also, there is a tendency by manufacturers to provide way more than you need. I eat lots of veggies but don’t eat a lot of grains so I opt to take B vitamins. As people get older they have more absorption issues so it is important to be tested for the important things like folate and B-12 and vitamin D. These are important to your brain and we are all concerned about that. I recommend that everyone research basic nutrition; find out what the vitamins and minerals do for you and where you find them in food. Then make a decision about what YOU need based on your diet. As you age please note that your ability to absorb vitamins from food alone may have changed. Low doses of certain vitamins is the way to go unless you test positive for deficiencies.

I just added a brief question re Dr Dale Bredesen’s supplements recommended in his new book The End of Alzheimer’s. It’s lengthy list surprised me, but he would seem to be an outstanding MD who knows much about such patients and may well have reason to recommend such a lengthy list of supplements for such patients.

I hope you get this message. I just sent one a minute ago, but when I hit share my thoughts–it looks like my comments disappear.

Hi Listening to Dr. Bredesen’s interview on your program several weeks ago, I was surprised at the lengthy supplements he recommended for those endeavoring to prevent or reverse cognitive decline. Do you know how he came to conclude all those supplements positively impacting on someone fighting dementia?

Another thing to consider. Are you comfortable with your supplement containing ingredients sourced from China? Many companies do this. If your company refuses to answer that question, then you know they are using Chinese ingredients. It was a trust issue for me after learning about Chinese baby milk companies poisoning their product because it was more profitable that way.

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