If you have any interest in your health at all, you’re likely among the majority of adults who purchased supplements in one form or another over the past year.
Now let me ask you a question. Did you notice a difference when you took them?
If not, then you’re probably not getting the biggest bang for your buck either… and chances are one or more of these three common culprits are standing between you and better health.
Here’s what they are… and what you can do about them.
Culprit #1 — Wimpy supplements
Poorly manufactured supplements are perhaps the leading cause of supplement failure.
That’s usually because either a) your body can’t absorb much of the supplement itself, or b) the supplement just isn’t there in the quantity indicated in the first place.
Take your average budget multi-vitamin from Wally World, where over half of Americans buy their supplements. Just because the label says the pill has 100% or more of the daily value of 15 different vitamins and minerals doesn’t mean your body will get the benefit of them when you take the pill inside the bottle.
Truth be told, there isn’t a single multivitamin supplement that offers a true 100% absorption rate. Same with virtually every other supplement on the market.
But low-cost supplements naturally tend to be cheaply (read: poorly) manufactured. As a result, inferior ingredients with lower potency are used. Older technology used results in lower absorption rates. And more often than not, manufacturers interested more in selling millions of bottles of cheap supplements than their customers’ health don’t even bother to get behind the latest science which tells us which combination of supplements help our bodies get the maximum absorption.
The best supplements use natural forms of their ingredients. There’s sound science backing the claim that natural vitamins are absorbed more readily than synthetic ones.
Take vitamin E for example. While there are actually eight different forms of the vitamin (four tocopherols and four tocotrienols), what you want to watch out for is the first one or two letters. If you see something like d-alpha-tocopherol, that’s good. If you see something like dl-alpha-tocopherol, not so good. Notice the lowercase “L” after the d? That “L” means it’s the synthetic form of the vitamin. Or, if you think like I do, the “Liar” form of the vitamin.
Minerals are a good example of substances that are absorbed better by inclusion of other specific ingredients. Your gut should make enough stomach acid to break them down for absorption — but it might not (more on that in a minute). That’s why good mineral supplements are frequently bound to an acid base like aspartate, picolinate, citrate, or an amino acid chelate (sometimes noted with the mineral + glycinate, like magnesium glycinate).
Overall, well-manufactured supplements boast much higher absorption rates than their cheaper brethren: as much as 90% compared to as little as 10% of the vitamins and minerals found in those “value” budget supplement bottles.
Listen… if your supplement is simply passing straight through your body and into the toilet, all you’re really buying is expensive colored toilet water no matter the price.
Finally, buyer beware on supplements. What’s on the label not only may fail to get absorbed… it might not even be in the bottle!
A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that of 59 different Echinacea products purchased and analyzed by researchers, over half did not have the amount of Echinacea listed on the label. And a full 10% had no measurable quantity of Echinacea at all!
In their conclusion, the researchers stated, “Echinacea from retail stores often does not contain the labeled species. A claim of “standardization” does not mean the preparation is accurately labeled, nor does it indicate less variability in concentration of constituents of the herb.”
That’s just one study for one supplement, but you can be sure these type of quality control problems exist for other supplements as well.
Here’s a quick supplement quality checklist you can use the next time you buy a supplement:
- Manufactured using GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices)
- Natural ingredients used instead of synthetic forms
- Supplement ingredients based in real science, clinical trials, or with a long track record of use and safety (such as many herbal / homeopathic remedies)
- No unhealthy fillers — virtually every supplement has excipients (“inactive ingredients”) by necessity but watch out for additives like propylene glycol, magnesium stearate (particularly animal-based), artificial colors, artificial sweeteners, talc, gluten, yeast, lactose, and other allergens
- Higher priced (not true 100% of the time, but low-cost usually equals low effectiveness)
- Unconditionally guaranteed
Culprit #2 — Dead digestion
Do you often get gas, bloating, indigestion or heartburn after you eat? How about frequent constipation, diarrhea, or irregularity? These are all tell-tale signs of a digestion problem. And it’s bound to affect the absorption of any supplements you take, too.
The problem is almost always rooted in a deficiency of certain probiotics, or the “good bacteria” found in your stomach and intestines, which help produce the enzymes needed for proper digestion.
Fortunately, the solution to this problem is really simple: increase your levels of these probiotics. This can be done through diet changes or with probiotic supplementation.
One of the most commonly recognized strains of probiotics is Lactobacillus acidophilus. You’ve probably seen it listed on a cup of yogurt before, though the level found in yogurt probably won’t overcome a large deficiency by itself.
Lactobacillus acidophilus is an important probiotic for increasing the acidity of your small intestine. Since many minerals are absorbed through the small intestine, this acidity is critical for good absorption. Other strains of Lactobacillus have also been studied and found helpful for digestion including Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus casei.
Another probiotic, Bifidobacteria bifidus, is useful for creating an acidic environment in your large intestine helpful for fighting off food poisoning — and for improving your body’s level of the vitamin B12, which is absorbed in the large intestine. Another related probiotic is Bifidobacteria lactis.
If you’re experiencing digestive trouble, try these remedies:
- Eat more foods with probiotics like yogurt and sauerkraut
- Decrease your intake of simple carbohydrates, especially sugar
- Take a high-potency probiotic supplement (these usually have to be refrigerated)
Culprit #3 — Toxic waste
If you follow the typical Western lifestyle, you should know that your body is a toxic waste dumping ground. I find it astounding how incredibly harmful our environment has become in modern society.
How many of these simple activities have you done recently to contaminate yourself?
- Get a cavity filled and have your dentist fill your mouth with poisonous mercury
- Take a sip of water from the tap (or even some bottled waters) and ingest an unknown amount of deliberately added fluoride, not to mention other chemical and heavy metal contaminants
- Enjoy a strawberry or piece of celery and unwittingly get a mouthful of pesticides right along with it
- Take a deep breath of “fresh” air and suck in harmful pollutants at the same time
Thanks to a food supply that is generally depleted of vitamins and minerals found in our parents’ and grandparents’ diet, taking supplements is becoming increasingly important for good health.
But that’s not enough. We also need to get the pollutants that interfere with our health out of our bodies. While we may never get them all out, there are several practical steps you can take to keep your body as toxin-free as possible so that your supplements can do their job better.
- Stop smoking (seriously!)
- Eat organically grown fruits and vegetables — if nothing else, avoid the “The Dirty Dozen”
- Drink water free of fluoride, chlorine, and heavy metals; consider using a good water filter that can remove these if you don’t want to buy a trusted brand of bottled water
- Eat only meat and fish fed a natural diet (avoid grain-fed beef and farm-raised salmon)
- Only allow your dentist to use composite (white) fillings for cavities; consider having amalgam (silver) fillings replaced by a competent biologic dentist
- Remove heavy metals from your body with chelation therapy every six months
Once you’ve replaced your wimpy supplements with a reputable brand, improved your digestion, and eliminated toxins from your body you will most certainly notice a difference. Not only will your supplements be supercharged… so will your health.
Packaged Facts. Nutritional Supplements in the U.S., 4th Edition. 2010 Sep 1.
Gilroy C, et al. Echinacea and Truth in Labeling. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2003;163:699-704.
EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides. Environmental Working Group. 2010.