Are Your Supplements Safe to Take?

This was published as my Holistic Outlook column in The Times Herald Record.

You may have seen the alarming headlines warning “it’s buyer beware” when it comes to supplements.

It’s true. The supplement industry is unregulated and often unscrupulous. Too many decisions are made for someone’s bottom line, rather than your health and safety.

Here are a couple of my own cautionary tales.

When I first started my holistic health practice, over 2 decades ago, I would tell people to go out and buy the supplements they needed, based on my knowledge and training. But they often didn’t get the results from supplements that I expected, and initially, I didn’t understand why.

My clients were buying bottles with the right labels, but they weren’t necessarily getting what I recommended. There are NO standards for either raw materials or manufacturing in the supplement industry, and I realized that I couldn’t assume anything.

Fortunately, there are companies you can trust. The companies I now work with follow what is called FDA Dietary Supplement Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), which guarantees everything involved in the process is standardized: raw materials, laboratory analysis, mixing, encapsulation, bottling, labeling, packaging, etc. Raw materials are documented and tested, with Certificates of Analysis. Analytical tests are done to assure both purity and potency. After that, the finished products are validated by third parties, for the highest standards of quality control and assurance. Facilities are evaluated every six months by the FDA to maintain this qualification.

I know the people who run these companies. I know the quality of their raw materials and the quality of their manufacturing standards. I know the products are what they say they are – and nothing else – so they will do what they are supposed to do for my clients. These are the only companies I deal with in my practice.

I wish these standards were the standard for all supplement companies, but sadly, they are the exception rather than the rule.

In addition, there is the issue of excipients. These are agents added to supplements to make them flow easily through high volume machines that form the tablets and capsules. The problem? Some of these additives have been documented to interfere with your ability to absorb the nutrients you are taking! One of the most controversial is magnesium stearate (check your bottles).  I avoid most companies that use magnesium stearate as an excipient. It’s okay to use one supplement that has it, if it’s not one you use multiple capsules or tablets daily. I occasionally make exceptions for a supplement that is not available any other way, if the other components are significantly beneficial and unavailable otherwise. But it’s best to avoid it.

Long, long ago, before the news about contamination of products from China became known, I (briefly) dated a man who purchased raw material for supplement companies, much of it from China. He snickered about knowingly buying cheap, impure stuff and selling it for huge profits to companies, from bargain basement brands to more prestigious lines. That was the end of of our relationship, and also of my buying supplements from any company that didn’t work to GMP standards.

I strongly urge you to do the same.

p.s. looking for particular supplements? I’d be glad to help

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