I remember when I took my first baby steps into the world of dietary supplements. I was overwhelmed! My knowledge level was at ground zero (or less) ― and to say I had a lot to learn is at best an understatement.
Thankfully, I worked closely with a wonderful restorative doctor, Dr. Sergey Dzugan, who had the patience to explain things and answer my many questions. He is still my mentor today.
Among all that I learned about supplements, the following three lessons stand out as really important for anyone interested in exploring how vitamins and minerals can exponentially improve their health and quality of life.
How Much Is Enough?
My supplement education began with understanding that I had to let go of some erroneous preconceptions.
I had always thought that if my vitamin and mineral levels measured at the Reference Intake (RI) (or, in the U.S., the Recommended Daily Allowance, or RDA) levels, then all was well. I must be healthy!
What I learned is that those numbers are averages. They don’t apply to everyone.
But more importantly, while those levels might technically prevent a deficiency, they aren’t sufficient. It is well known in the ‘world of restorative medicine’ that they are not enough to optimize cellular function and inadequate levels mean you’re always operating at less than your best.
Moreover, sub-optimal vitamin and mineral levels that persist over a long period of time can lead to diseases like cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, depression and premature death. All those diseases we so dread. Diseases associated with old age.
These are diseases that, with optimal levels of vitamins and minerals, we can avoid.
Did you know, for example, that if you go for 30 to 40 years without enough folate for optimal function, your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease will double? It’s a great incentive for folic acid (folate) supplementation.
You can blame a lot of long-term degeneration on nutrient-poor diets ― diets high in carbs, sugar, and processed foods. But even the supposed ‘good’ food we get is all too often inadequate to meet our nutrient needs. Grocery stores are filled with GMO (genetically modified organism) foods . . . foods grown in nutrient-depleted soil . . . foods produced by plants sprayed with poisonous pesticides and other toxic chemicals.
Some foods fail to give us needed nutrients, while daily exposure to environmental toxins, as well as certain drugs, deplete our bodies of what essential nutrients we already have.
It’s up to us to restore nutrients up to our level of need.
LESSON 1: Most people today, despite test results saying they’re within ‘normal’ range, don’t get all the nutrients they need from food. Research tells us they’re likely to be deficient in one or more vitamins. Consequently, almost everyone needs to supplement in order to build a strong foundation for lifelong health.
Which Supplement to Buy?
Another important thing I learned is that you can’t assume just any supplement will provide your body with the raw materials it needs to thrive. But which ones to buy?
Confronted with a massive wall of shelved vitamins, minerals and herbs, how can you tell which ones may truly be judged excellent? How can you avoid wasting your money on supplements that don’t help you? Or worse, cause harm?
It feels like walking through a minefield! The choices are seemingly endless, and there’s almost no government regulation to ensure product quality, safety and efficacy.
In the UK, most supplements are regulated not as drugs but as foods by the Food Standards Agency and the Department of Health (FSADH). They’re regulated as a medicine only if the manufacturer makes a medical claim ― in other words, after it has caused harm. The same is true in the US.
Before a supplement company brings a product to market, it is not required to:
- Do clinical studies to verify that it does what it’s claimed to do
- Test the product to verify that it’s safe
- Meet standards of purity for ingredients
- Ensure that labels accurately reflect the product’s actual contents
When supplements randomly taken from the shelves of stores have been tested for quality and purity, many labels have proved shockingly deceptive.
In one US study, the New York State attorney general’s office tested dietary supplements from four major retailers. Around 80% of the samples tested didn’t contain so much as a trace of the herbs listed on the label. Many consisted mostly of cheap fillers ― powdered rice, vegetables and houseplants ― that weren’t even listed on the label, and one contained powdered wheat, to which many people are allergic, even though its label said the product was wheat- and gluten-free.
Charges filed included mislabeling, contamination and false advertising.
The sad thing is, this wasn’t just a one-off. Because quality and safety regulations are lax to non-existent, this kind of deception is common in both the US and the UK. In fact, studies in the UK indicate that many supplements are contaminated with banned and often dangerous substances. Unfortunately, low price often equates to low quality.
LESSON 2: Buyer beware.
How Do You Know You’re Really Getting the Goods?
This is your first step towards securing your health . . .helping yourself to perform at your peak and prevent disease.
The best advice I can share is to buy from a reputable source ― a source that has a thorough knowledge of supplements, knows the importance of adequate active ingredients and understands their role in proactively achieving optimal health.
In the meantime, bear in mind that most women need to take:
- A high-quality multivitamin
- Vitamin D3
- Omega3 fatty acids
The market is overrun with poor-quality products, so please be aware that it is important to know what you are looking for. Look for supplements supported by:
- Basic science and clinical trials
- Credible 3rd-party analysis and testing
- Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP)
- Commitment to content integrity (freedom from contaminants, preservatives and chemical agents commonly found in low-quality products)
LESSON 3: Working with an experienced restorative medicine doctor, buy supplements from companies that are backed by science and adhere to good manufacturing processes.
At Menopause Woman, we carry only products that meet the most exacting standards of purity. All our supplements observe GMP guidelines, which is your guarantee that they are consistently controlled and produced according to quality standards. They also comply with the EU Supplement Directive, adopted in 2002.
All our supplements have a long record of safety and efficacy. You can be assured that our products are made with ingredients sourced to meet the most stringent qualifications for quality, satisfy your highest expectations and deliver reliable, scientifically proven support for your health.
- Dr. Mark Hyman Takes the Guesswork Out of Vitamin Supplements. The Daniel Plan.
- How to Choose a Quality Vitamin Supplement. Black Bear Naturopathic clinic, PC.
- O’Connor, A. New York Attorney General Targets Supplements at Major Retailers. New York Times. February 3, 2015
- Safety of contaminated vitamins and nutritional supplements can’t be left to consumers. The Conversation. May 5, 2015.
- 10 surprising dangers of vitamins and supplements. Consumer Reports magazine. Sept. 2012.
- Warner, B. To Trust or Not to Trust? What’s in Your Supplements? HealthyBalanceMD.com.