Learn how to choose high-quality vitamins and supplements

Learn how to choose high-quality vitamins and supplements

Learn how to choose high-quality vitamins and supplements

Dietary supplements are products that people use to add nutrients or other compounds to their bodies.


From individual vitamins and minerals to blends of nutrients and herbs, there are many supplements on the market that claim to offer specific health benefits.


However, due to limited regulation, it is not always clear which supplements are high quality, or which are a waste of money or even potentially dangerous.


This guide covers everything you need to know about what supplements are and how to choose a safe, high-quality product.


What are proprietary supplements, vitamins, minerals, and blends?

Dietary supplements are products that are taken orally and contain a "nutritional component" such as vitamins, minerals, herbs and plants, amino acids, enzymes, probiotics, antioxidants, or other nutrients (1).


Diet supplements come in many forms, including capsules, gums, tinctures, powders, and liquids. They are usually marketed as a simple and effective way to improve your physical or mental health.


Other important definitions to understand when considering supplements are (2, 3, 4):


Vitamins Vitamins are essential nutrients that your body needs to function properly and stay healthy.

Many help regulate vital metabolic functions, including growth, nerve function, and digestion.


Fat-soluble vitamins. These vitamins dissolve in fat and can be stored in your body. These include vitamins A, D, E, and K.


Water-soluble vitamins. These vitamins dissolve in water and the body does not store them. These include vitamin C and vitamin B.

Minerals Minerals are inorganic building blocks that are essential for certain body functions such as growth, bone health, and water balance.


Proprietary mix. Proprietary Blend is a unique combination of ingredients made by a manufacturer of nutritional supplements. It is often difficult to tell on the label how much of each ingredient is in the mix.


For most healthy people, it is possible to get all of the vitamins and minerals you need from food alone. However, there are certain conditions, medications, and circumstances that supplements may be required to meet nutritional needs.


However, one important point to keep in mind about supplements is that they are meant to complement, not replace, nutrients, or other compounds in your diet.


This means that it is important to have a varied and balanced diet as much as possible when you are taking a food supplement.


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Nutrients in food versus vitamin and mineral supplements


Eating a variety of foods is the best way to ensure that you are getting your vitamin and mineral needs.


After all, different foods contain different amounts and combinations of nutrients. For example, citrus fruits are known to be high in vitamin C, while leafy green vegetables are a good source of vitamin K (5, 6).


In addition to vitamins and minerals, foods contain other essential nutrients such as protein, healthy fats, and fiber, all of which are required for overall health and optimal body function (2, 7).


Additionally, plant-based foods in particular are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals, two classes of compounds that have been linked to benefits in reducing inflammation and protecting against chronic disease (8, 9, 10).


In contrast, dietary supplements do not offer the same nutritional benefits. Since they are intended to complement, not replace, a healthy diet, they generally only provide concentrated amounts of specific nutrients



An observational study of 30,899 adults in the United States found that adequate dietary intake of certain nutrients was associated with a reduced risk of death from heart disease, as well as death in all cases. or the cause (12).


However, consuming the same nutrients in the form of dietary supplements did not reduce the risk of dying from heart disease or other causes (12).


People with nutritional deficiencies or those at increased risk of inadequate consumption, such as pregnant women, may benefit from taking supplements recommended by a healthcare professional.


Who Needs Supplements?

In general, vitamin and mineral supplements for healthy adults do not need to be taken with an adequate intake of these nutrients. While it is best to get these essential nutrients through food, some may find it difficult to do so.


There are also some instances when supplements may be indicated. Some of the people who may benefit from supplements include (13, 14, 15, 16):


-pregnant or breastfeeding women

-exclusively or partially breastfed infants

-Adults or children diagnosed with nutritional deficiencies

-People with diseases that cause nutrient malabsorption

-those who have had weight loss surgery, such as gastric bypass surgery

-Adults or children with restricted access to food

-some vegans and vegetarians

Certain nutritional deficiencies are also more common, such as vitamin D (17).


Unlike other vitamins, it is difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone. Although your body can produce vitamin D from sun exposure, it is estimated that 1 billion people worldwide are low in this vitamin (18).


Frequent use of sunscreen, living far north or south of the equator, staying indoors, and darker skin are risk factors for vitamin D deficiency (19).


In addition, the elderly may not be able to synthesize vitamin D as well because of the biological changes in the skin that naturally occur with age (20).


Therefore, vitamin D supplements are generally recommended.


If you want to get the right vitamins and minerals from food only, contact your doctor for personalized recommendations on what type of supplement you might need and what dosage you might need.


Although prenatal vitamins are recommended during pregnancy and sometimes while breastfeeding, these populations should avoid herbal supplements unless directed by a doctor (21). 

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Supplements for children

Healthy children can usually only meet their nutritional needs with a varied diet (22).


However, there are certain age groups and circumstances under which supplements may be recommended.


For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that partially and exclusively breastfed infants receive approximately 400 IU of vitamin D per day in supplement form until the child begins taking vitamin D-fortified milk (15).


In addition, plant-based children or adolescents are at increased risk of being deficient in several essential nutrients, including vitamin B12, calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin D (23).


While children on a plant-based diet can get enough of these nutrients from food alone, careful planning is required. Accordingly, supplements may be indicated depending on the types of foods the child is eating (23).


Because children and teenagers have different nutritional needs than adults, it is important to speak with a pediatrician for recommendations on what types of supplements (and dosages) are safe.


Regulation of supplements

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not evaluate the effectiveness, safety, or quality of dietary supplements or their ingredients before they hit the market (1).


This is important to know as there is no guarantee that the product will contain what it says it will.

In addition, a product can even contain different amounts of the ingredients from batch to batch.


While the FDA requires dietary supplement manufacturers to follow current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP) to ensure the quality and safety of these products, compliance does not always apply (24).


The best way to ensure the quality of a product is to look for a product that has been certified by an outside company.


Third-party testing

Tests performed by third parties are not a legal requirement.


However, some supplement manufacturers voluntarily choose to test to demonstrate their commitment to making high-quality products.


An objective indicator of product quality is a Certificate of Analysis (COA) issued by an independent third party such as NSF, USP, the Banned Substances Control Group (BSCG), or ConsumerLab.


Most products certified by one of these third-party companies have been tested for one or more of the following properties (25):


-The supplement contains the information on the label and in the specified quantities.

-The products are standardized from batch to batch.

-The supplement is free of harmful levels of contaminants or other potential drug contaminants.

-The product does not contain any undeclared ingredients.

Additionally, if you're an athlete, it may be worth looking for NSF certified sports products. This certification guarantees that the product is free of more than 270 substances that are banned or banned by most major sports organizations (26).


Possible problems with taking supplements

Although dietary supplements contain ingredients found in foods, potential safety concerns should be considered prior to ingest concentrated amounts of these ingredients in supplement form.


Possible interactions

In addition to talking to your doctor about the type of supplement you would like to take, it is important that you read up on the possible interactions.


The ingredients of dietary supplements, including vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other herbal ingredients, when combined with certain drugs, other dietary supplements, foods, and alcohol, can cause unintended adverse effects (27).


For example, vitamin E supplements can increase the risk of bleeding in people who take anticoagulants, while calcium supplements can limit the effectiveness of antibiotics and reduce iron absorption from foods and supplements (28, 29).


Some supplements can also affect the accuracy of laboratory results.


For example, the FDA has issued a warning that supplements containing biotin (vitamin B7) can falsely lower laboratory results based on troponin, a key biomarker for diagnosing heart attacks (30).


Supplements that contain herbs and herbal remedies can be of particular concern as many of them have been shown to interact with various medications. Additionally, many herbs don't have enough human research to confirm possible interactions and side effects (31, 32).


Ingredients that can become toxic over time or in high doses.

One of the problems with consuming vitamins and minerals through dietary supplements instead of food is the increased risk of overeating or becoming toxic over time.


In addition to the recommended amounts, many vitamins and minerals have what is known as a tolerable upper intake level (UL). UL is the highest intake of the nutrient that is unlikely to cause negative side effects in the general population (33).


The UL for vitamins and minerals varies by age and gender. There are also separate UL recommendations for pregnant or breastfeeding women (34, 35).


Fat-soluble vitamins are of particular concern in terms of toxicity risk as excessive amounts can build up and be stored in your body.


In particular, overconsuming vitamins A, D, and E can be toxic, leading to side effects like irregular heartbeat, organ damage, hemorrhages, hemorrhagic stroke, and in extreme cases, even coma and death (36, 37, 38, 39).


As water-soluble vitamins are not stored in your body, they’re less likely to cause toxicity from an overdose.


That said, consistently taking very large doses of water-soluble vitamins may still cause digestive upset, liver damage, and even potentially irreversible neurological damage (40, 41).


Unless under the supervision of a medical professional, it’s important not to exceed the UL of vitamins or minerals. While some side effects may be mild, others can be more serious.


Additionally, as the UL for kids is often much lower than for adults, kids are particularly at an increased risk of overdose and toxicity (34).


For safety purposes, make sure to always store supplements out of reach of children. This is especially important for gummy vitamins, as their sweet flavor may appeal to kids (42, 43). 

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May have negative side effects

Dietary supplements may cause negative side effects, even when taken at the recommended doses.


Reported side effects are often mild, such as nausea, diarrhea, or headaches. In particular, iron supplements are known for causing digestive distress (44).


However, some ingredients in supplements, especially herbs, may have more serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, increased blood pressure, and elevated or irregular heartbeat (45, 46).


May not be effective

As dietary supplements are subject to fairly limited regulation, there’s also the risk that the product contains less of an ingredient than it claims to.


In addition to not getting your money’s worth, this can be potentially dangerous in individuals who are relying on the supplement to help meet their essential nutrient needs.


It’s also important to be cautious of claims on the product. Due to FDA regulations, manufacturers cannot claim that their product cures, treats, or reduces the risk of a specific disease or condition unless it has been proven by research to do so (47).


However, they can include structural or functional claims, which describe how the ingredients in the product may affect systems or organs in your body (47).


For example, a supplement can say that it supports energy levels. Yet, this claim does not require that the product was scientifically proven to help improve energy levels. As a result, there’s no guarantee that taking the supplement will result in this desired benefit.


Precautions about multi-level marketing companies that sell supplements

The demand for health and wellness products continues to grow, and one of the results of this demand has been an increase in multi-level marketing (MLM) supplement companies.


While there are variations in the exact structure, MLMs operate using a business model in which independent, non-salaried representatives earn affiliate income by selling a specific company’s products.


Some companies also use a pyramid-shaped commission system in which the representative makes additional money by recruiting and selling to new representatives.


Due to the popularity of vitamins, minerals, and other supplements, many MLM companies offer a variety of supplement products, many of which are often advertised as ways to boost various aspects of health or support weight loss.


Some common MLM companies you’re likely to come across include Herbalife, Shaklee, Amway, and Plexus.


While some products may be perfectly safe, many products sold by MLMs are not third-party tested for safety or accuracy. As a result, you could end up spending a lot of money on an ineffective or low-quality product (48).


Additionally, these products often contain a mix of herbs and other botanicals, many of which haven’t been proven to be safe for long-term use. These supplements can also contain potentially dangerous levels of vitamins and minerals (48).


Finally, the ingredients used in these products are not always of high quality and may include artificial colors, flavors, and additives.


Overall, when buying supplements from an MLM company, it’s still important to look for indicators of safety and quality, including the ingredient list, dosage, and certification from third-party testing.



Safety and quality are the most important factors when buying vitamins and nutritional supplements. However, there are other things to think about as well.


For example, some coatings and ingredients added to supplements may be derived from animal products. Therefore, if you are vegan, you should look for products that are vegan certified.


Complementary products can also contain gluten or other common allergens such as soy or dairy products.


According to the Law on the Labeling and Consumer Protection of Food Allergens, foods and dietary supplements must explicitly indicate the presence of one of the eight main allergens (49).


People with celiac disease or gluten intolerance should choose a product that is certified gluten-free.


Read this guide to learn more about what to look for with supplement labels.


You should also consider how often to remember to take it and what form you prefer, e.g. B. liquid, tablet, powder, or gum.


While it is a high-quality product, it is important to buy it from a reliable source. Most supplements should be kept in a cool, dry place, and some should even be refrigerated.


It is for this reason that you should choose a distributor that you trust to handle the products properly.

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