Four critical questions to ask before buying another vitamin
Selecting the perfect vitamin for your needs can be complicated. There are thousands of choices. Each one claims to be good. And yet, some of them are literally flushing your money down the toilet. How do you know what vitamin to buy? Here are four critical questions I use to separate the good from the rest.
My story in a nutshell
I am Esther. I grew up with allergies. I believed that every person loaded up their pockets with kleenex each morning and changed them out throughout the day. I couldn’t eat certain foods because of my allergies.
Then, one day, I heard a doctor state that allergies and asthma were some of the first signs of a nutrient deficiency.
Now, as an RN, let me tell you, I was highly skeptical of his statement. After all, I’d been taking a generic one-a-day vitamin for years and hadn’t seen my allergies change. So, I dove into the research and came out with a more informed perspective and was able to get my health back.
Do you need to supplement?
This is the first thing we should discuss. You’ve heard it before, I’m sure, if you eat a balanced, healthy diet, you don’t need to supplement. In fact, you’ve probably studied the nutrition facts on the side of a box of cereal or other fortified food and proudly recognized that you are getting most of your micro-nutrients needed for the day.
Not so fast. There are two problems with this train of thought.
#1: The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) was developed to keep you from getting life-threatening diseases like scurvy and rickets. It was designed to keep you from failing. In that case, it has succeeded. You don’t run into people with those problems anymore. But as we know from our years in school, all you need to avoid an F is a D. That’s right. The RDA is designed to get you that D. It was not developed to help you get an A—or even a B!
(Unfortunately, studies tell us that over 90% of the population doesn’t even meet the recommended dietary intake for vitamin E, over 40% for vitamin A, 30% for vitamin C, and 50% for magnesium. And the evidence is accumulating that most people in the U.S. are vitamin D deficient.)
#2: The current stressors we face increase our body’s need for micro-nutrients. It is a fact that when you are under any stress (physical, emotional, spiritual, environmental, etc) your body needs more nutrients than if you were in an idyllic situation. Unfortunately, we are all under stress. Even if we don’t feel stressed, we are probably eating foods that are processed (which stresses the body) or exposed to stressors through our environment filled with chemicals and toxins.
The experts weigh in
I know that over the years, the magazines and newspapers have told you contradicting headlines. One minute they are saying that everyone needs a specific vitamin and the next minute they are saying it’s bad, right? Well, those are just click-bait. The real research and answers are summed up below. There is a statement from a research facility, a leading doctor, and the Journal that influences many of the medical doctors in this nation. They all believe you need to be taking a multivitamin every day.
Many studies have shown that use of dietary supplements results in improved micronutrient intake and thus decreased prevalence of micronutrient inadequacy in the population. However, supplements should not replace a healthful eating pattern; on the contrary, by definition “supplements” should be used to complement healthy eating to ensure nutrient adequacy for optimal health.
Dr. Mark Hyman (a leading expert in functional medicine) says:
Even with a perfect diet, the combination of many things –including our depleted soils, the storage and transportation of our food, genetic alterations of traditional heirloom species, and the increased stress and nutritional demands resulting from a toxic environment – make it impossible for us to get the vitamins and minerals we need solely from the foods we eat.
It appears prudent for all adults to take vitamin supplements.
How do I find the best supplement?
The grocery aisles, Amazon, and your friend all have vitamin suggestions and choices for you, right? There are thousands of choices when you make that one decision to purchase a multivitamin. Now you have to decide which supplement is the best one for you.
Vitamins and supplements are not regulated the same as medications in the United States. As an RN, I know I can tell my patient in the Emergency Department to go buy some ibuprofen. He can elect to buy the expensive name brands like Advil® or Motrin® or he can go with the store-brand, generic ibuprofen. All of the choices will be virtually the same and work well.
Not so with vitamins and other supplements. How well they work can vary widely and neither price nor brand-name are always helpful in determining this. I have a few general criteria I look for that will help you out.
If you already have a specific brand in mind, continue reading this next section. If you just want basic recommendations, skip down a few paragraphs.
Quality, Purity, Third Party Testing
Does it dissolve?
I have taken care of patients who had blockages in their bowels caused by a dam of supplements that were still in their solid pill form. They literally did not even dissolve in the body!
Obviously, if a pill doesn’t even break down in the body, it cannot help at all.
You can test your current vitamins if you want. According to ConsumerLab.com, you place your supplement into a cup of warm (98.6ºF) water and stir for 30 minutes. Don’t hit the pill while you’re stirring, though. It should break down completely. (Chewable and enteric coated products probably won’t—they aren’t designed to.)
Do you know if this product is USP Verified or NSF’s GMP Certified?
USP verified indicates that a product has been verified by the USP (an independent standards-setting authority for the drug and dietary supplement industries) for purity, strength, safety, dissolvability, and manufacturing quality. You can view a list of USP Verified products here: http://www.quality-supplements.org/verified-products/verified-products-listings
NSF International’s certified products have compliance against the toughest testing standard in existence today and have been tested for identity, the right quantity as listed on the label, and free of contaminants. You can look products up right here: http://info.nsf.org/Certified/dietary/
If there is no USP or NSF guarantee, there really is no point in looking further at this brand. If they cannot guarantee that each tablet/capsule actually contains what it says on the bottle and that it will actually dissolve in my body, then I don’t need to know any other claims they make, right?
Do you know if this company manufactures its products following *pharmaceutical* degree of GMP?
All supplement manufacturers must follow a certain level of Good Manufacturing Practices or GMPs. These are the bare minimum. When I’m looking for a vitamin supplement to fill the gaps left by my diet, I want one that will be better than the bare minimum. So I look for one that follows the GMPs for the pharmaceutical industry. Or I look to see if they are sold in other countries that have very strict quality requirements for their supplement industry. (Australia and New Zealand are two.)
Are there any third party tests that verify the quality?
Thankfully, in this information age, we can find ratings and reviews everywhere. Now, when I’m talking about supplements, I don’t want consumer reviews. I want reviews and ratings done by the experts. In addition to looking for either the USP verification or NSF certification (as listed above) I will look at ConsumerLab.com reports.
Did you know that 80% of the gummy vitamins they tested failed?
After these questions are answered, I look the brand up in The Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements which rates over 1,600 different products on 16 different criteria. You can find this book on Amazon or maybe your local library. I buy every edition of the book because the first half is crammed full of the newest research on vitamins and supplements.
Grades: Do you need an A or C?
When I was a student, I was happy with Bs. While As were fine, Bs would get me a diploma and a job. But I did not want to settle for anything lower than a B. When it comes down to my health and the health of my family, however, I have a different mindset. I want straight As. If I’m going to buy supplements, I want to invest in one that earns an A.
Remember I said that I’d been taking a generic one-a-day for years? Well, I switched to a good quality multivitamin. Do you know what happened? Within 12-months, enough of my cells had been bathed in the micro-nutrients they needed that I saw big changes in my health. My body finally had the resources and tools it needed to work right. My body did what it was designed to do.
Here are the top 5 multivitamins as listed in the 6th edition of The Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements
- USANA Health Sciences CellSentials
- I told you, I wanted straight “A”s for my family, right? You guessed it, I chose this one. It’s #1.
- By clicking my affiliate link, you don’t pay more (in fact you save 10%) but I make a small commission if you purchase.
- Blueberry Health Sciences Essentials Premium
- Blueberry Health Sciences Essentials Premium II
- Rejuvenation Science Maximum Vitality
- AOR Multi Basics 3
Something else to consider:
Many brands of multivitamins are actually manufactured by the same plant. This means that although the bottle might be different, the inside is very, very similar to others. If you know how to find out what products would be included in this, let me know and I’ll update this post. Because while I want A-level supplements, some people are happy with Cs or Ds as long as they are getting a passing grade. So I’ll let you know which ones are comparable to each other so you can make the most budget-friendly decision.
Here is what my family takes:
My husband and I each take the CellSentials and BiOmega as our foundation; we both add other products to customize our current needs at the time. For example, I take Proflavanol (grapeseed extract) during allergy season to give my body extra resources.
My two little kids take the chewable Usanimals and the BiOmega Jr gel (which they squeeze right into their mouths and love.) They chew up some calcium/magnesium when they have growing pains and add probiotics and extra C as needed.
My older two kids take the teen BodyRox and the adult BiOmega since they can swallow pills and prefer that over the squeeze fish-oil. It does not have as much vitamin D as the BiOmega Jr, so we add more D in the winter. They also chew up some calcium/magnesium when they have growing pains and add probiotics and extra C as needed.
Summary: The 4 questions to ask of any multivitamin/multimineral supplement:
Are your friends on social media posting questions like, “has anyone heard of xyz supplements? Are they any good?” I give you permission to copy and paste the following summary provided that you do not edit it in any way; it must contain the link to this post.
Here are the four criteria Holistic Health Coach, Esther Yunkin RN, uses to evaluate supplements. Read the whole blog post here: http://www.thewholeyou.care/2018/08/how-to-choose-a-vitamin
1. Is this product is USP Verified or NSF’s GMP Certified?
USP Verified products: http://www.quality-supplements.org/verified-products/verified-products-listings
NSF Certified: http://info.nsf.org/Certified/dietary/
2. Are there any third party tests that verify the quality?
One good review company is ConsumerLab https://www.consumerlab.com/results/brands_vitamins_supplements_list.asp
3. Does this company manufacture its products following *pharmaceutical* degree of GMP?
4. How does this product rank in The Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements? (This book rates over 1,600 different products on 16 different criteria.)