In my previous article, I addressed some of the safety concerns that come with supplements. I hope that doesn’t scare you off from using them. I take supplements and give them to my children every day. They are making a positive difference in my family’s health. Supplements can be powerful. But if you’re going to use them safely, you need to vet your supplements.
Would you like to learn to vet your supplements? Are you ready to ensure that your supplements are not doing more harm than good?
That's what we'll be talking about in this article. There are several things to know about sourcing supplements so that you can trust what you’re taking.
These are the steps I recommend when purchasing supplements:
1. Know Your Source
Purchase supplements directly from the manufacturer or from a trusted source.
It’s important to be able to rely on the manufacturer, so that you know what the container says is in the bottle is what is actually in the bottle.
Knockoffs are common online. If your product has the name of your favorite manufacturer on it, how do you know that it’s coming from that company? How do you know that your Designs for Health, Thorne, Orthomolecular, etc. supplement is actually made and tested by that trusted company?
In my previous article, we talked about mislabeled supplements on Amazon and eBay. While you might think you're getting your supplement from a trusted manufacturer, it could be mislabeled and not from that company at all.
Pro Tip: Verify the Lot Number
One way to ensure that a supplement is from the company on the label is to verify the lot number. Simply call the company with the lot number on the bottle and ask them. You can verify that the lot number is valid. Some manufacturers even have a feature on their website, which allows you to search for the lot number. They may even provide the safety data for that lot number as well.
Using the lot number is a reliable way to ensure the container's authenticity.
2. Ensure GMP
Make sure the company follows Good Manufacturing Processes (GMP).
It is important to know that the company makes its supplements in a standard way so that the products are consistent. Knowing that the company is GMP certified gives assurance that they are sourcing their raw materials in a uniform way: when they formulate the product, they’re using the same process; when they prepare and package the supplements, they’re using consistent practices.
GMP does not guarantee that the end product is not tainted with lead, mercury, or chemicals. It just ensures that the process is going the way that it should.
Pro Tip: Ensure GMP Certification
The manufacturer should state that they are GMP certified either on the bottle or on their website.
3. Verify Quality Testing
Ensure that the company does quality testing before and after manufacturing.
How does the company perform testing throughout the manufacturing process to ensure a safe, clean, effective, and consistent product?
Their testing process should include:
- Third party testing
- Testing of raw materials for heavy metals and pesticides
- Batch testing
There have been cases of supplements containing pieces of aluminum, metal, and other shards that are introduced during the manufacturing process. Testing after manufacturing is important to prevent this from happening.
Batch testing is something that happens after a product is made and shipped out. The supplement manufacturer sets aside some of the product and tests it over time for potency and purity. They also check for bacteria and fungi growth, etc.
Testing is a vital part of the manufacturing process to ensure a product is safe and effective. The company should clearly spell out its testing process on its website.
Pro Tip: Request a Certificate of Analysis (COA)
One of the ways I verify the quality and purity of products I use is to request a certificate of analysis or COA. Manufacturers should be able to provide a COA. This certificate gives me assurance that the labeled ingredients are accurate and testing has been done. It shows me that the manufacturer is testing for heavy metals, microbes, bacterial contamination, etc., and has determined that it's clean.
I do not recommend taking any supplement that you cannot verify with a COA. I used to take certain nationally known brands of supplements that I no longer use because they refused to provide a COA.
As a physician, I can’t recommend a supplement to you unless I can verify what’s in it.
Learning about the company’s testing process and reading a certificate of analysis will give you assurance that the label is accurate and that the contents are clean.
4. Know the Age of Your Supplement
Check that your supplement has not been stored for an extended period of time.
Knowing the age of your supplement is important to ensure you’re getting what you paid for. You could do all of your homework, buy the right supplement from the right manufacturer, and get the COA, but if the product sits in a warehouse for six months or a year, it may be worthless.
This is especially important for probiotics. Your probiotic might start with 50 billion CFUs, but by the time you get it a year later, it might be less than 1 billion. We want to look not just at the expiration date, which is important to check, but also at how long it is stored and where it’s being stored.
If you order directly from the manufacturer, this isn’t an issue … but that comes at a higher price. If you’re shopping for value, then you are probably sourcing your supplements through a third party discount retailer of some sort. However, if it’s sourced through a third party, you want to know how long the product is stored before it is shipped out.
We use specific companies that we have vetted because they rotate through their inventory regularly. They tend to not have inventory for more than one to two months at any one site — balancing value and freshness.
Pro Tip: For the Best Value and Freshness, Source Your Supplements through Your Practitioner’s Store
The best prices are available through companies that specialize in providing quality products to practitioners. By using your practitioner’s supplement store, you get better pricing along with the assurance of a quality product.
5. Do Your Homework
Research supplements through trusted third-party information sources.
In my previous article, I noted that supplements aren’t regulated and therefore, different brands may actually be lying to you. Unfortunately, you can follow a good vetting process, but if the company is willing to lie to you in what they print on their labels or what they tell you over the phone, it’s difficult to know what you can trust.
However, there are trusted third-party sources of information that work to hold the industry accountable. Here are the top three sources of information that I rely on to research the supplements I recommend:
1. Consumer Labs
The first source I use is Consumer Labs, the consumer reports of the supplement world. They go out and find supplements, perform tests to confirm their contents and ingredients, and ensure no extra substances are present beyond what's on the label.
2. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)
I also refer to information provided by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While the FDA seems like a reasonable source to check, they typically only evaluate medications. This is not a great source of information for most supplements. When the FDA does publish information on supplements, I take note, because it's typically a significant matter to take into account.
The research database, PubMed, is also a great source of reliable data. I rely on PubMed for conducting research, and it serves as a primary resource for physicians and scientists when seeking articles and studies.
Consumer Labs, the FDA, and PubMed are just a few of the resources I use to make sure that the products I recommend are safe for my patients.
A Simpler Way
Does This Seem Like A Lot of Work? … It Is!
It’s my job to ensure the supplements I recommend do no harm. I take the Hippocratic Oath seriously: First and foremost, do no harm. In this article, I’ve shared some of the steps I take to make sure I’m honoring that oath. As a benefit for our patients and readers, we provide access to personally vetted supplements in our store.
We have trusted brands like Designs for Health, Thorne, Metagenics, Biotics Research, and Klaire Labs, which are all high-quality, pharmaceutical-grade supplements all in one place for your convenience. Our online store provides that critical balance in financial value and security — being able to trust the brands, warehousing, and delivery of supplements you depend on to optimize your health.
But there is a catch, in order to see all the products in our catalog, and the best pricing, you have to create an account with the store. It’s actually a requirement of some of the supplement brands. We are able to negotiate rates below wholesale prices, but only “behind” a login access. So, if you want to take advantage of the best prices within a framework you can trust, I want to encourage you to take a few moments to create an account with our online store.
Let’s Get Started
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I’m often asked, “If you had to pick only 3 supplements to recommend to me, what would they be?” Here is my answer. You need a quality multi-vitamin, a good source of Vitamin D, and you need to boost your Omega 3 fatty acids. If you can invest further in your health, I also recommend a strong source of probiotics and a detox formula. If you are new to supplements and looking for a safe, reliable way to boost your overall health, here are the must-haves to get started:
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