The Top Tips For Choosing Supplements

Author: Kerryn Dingey   Date Posted:5 May 2015 

With more and more products on the market, it can be difficult choosing a quality product and a supplement that is most suitable to your individual needs. Firstly, it is important to understand what supplements are and what they can be used for. A supplement can contain a nutrient, vitamin, mineral, herbal remedy, or any combination of these. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can impair the body’s ability to heal and protect itself, and even effect the body’s ability to function properly.

Supplements may help correct nutritional deficiencies and may help the body get back on track. A herbal supplement or vitamin regimen on its own will not necessarily be the silver bullet you are looking for, but rather can complement and even enhance a balanced diet and lifestyle and give the body that little bit of an extra boost. Below are some useful tips to help you find your way through the supplement maze.

1) Quality

Not all supplements are created equal. Within Australia, look for a number on the product that begins with either AUST L or AUST R. This code means the product has been registered with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and has to comply with their strict standards. Ordering products from overseas or online, does not guarantee the same quality and safety measurements.

Supplements approved for sale in Australia must meet the Australian Code of Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) to ensure consistent standards. Products registered with the TGA and made under GMP are usually formulated based on quality research and both traditional and scientific evidence.

2) Country of Manufacturing and their regulations

In Australia, the TGA provide strict criteria for supplements, which provides a level of security for the public when choosing products. Unlike some other countries, products must list all of the active ingredients, as well as the dosage of each individual ingredient, which is essential to understanding what you are taking and its’ efficacy. Products that can be purchased online or overseas, may well be cheaper, but it is very important to check the ingredients and their strengths to see what you are actually paying for.

3) Dosages

Whilst some products may have an impressive list of ingredients, they may not always be in a therapeutic dose. When products are formulated, they are generally designed for a specific reason and to target a certain condition. The ingredients and its quantity included are generally based on a dose used in a clinical trial or of traditional and scientific evidence. Because of this, you should always take the recommended dosage on the product unless advised otherwise by a qualified healthcare professional. More or less is not necessarily better.

Further to this, when considering herbal medicine products, it is important that the correct part of the herb or plant is used. For example, the root may be the medicinal part of the plant, which has the therapeutic benefit but a product may contain dried leaf, which will not have the active constituents, may not result in any therapeutic effect. If unsure, ask for assistance when purchasing your supplements.

4) Formulations

Nutrients and herbal medicines will sometimes be combined to make a product formula that is more effective than taking an individual ingredient. This is particularly common with herbal medicine, as combining certain herbs creates a synergistic effect that results in the herbs having a more potent action and therapeutic benefit.

Sometimes a nutrient may be better utilized by the body when it is accompanied by co-factors. For examples, Vitamin C helps the absorption of Iron so they will often be seen together in formulas.

5) Expensive wee

If in doubt of what to take, seek advice from a healthcare professional. See a practitioner in a clinic, or many pharmacies and health foods stores now employee fully qualified naturopaths and nutritionists that you can see in store as well. It is always better to see a fully qualified practitioner, rather than self-prescribing. This will save you a lot of money in the long run and not have you bottling up your urine to sell on the black market!

By seeing a qualified practitioner, they will be able to perform investigations into the underlying cause of your symptoms and run tests to know exactly what you need to be supplementing with. They will be able to design a tailored dietary and supplemental regime specific to your needs and not have you wasting your money on things you don’t really need to be taking.

6) Forms

You may notice that some supplements come in different forms (Eg magnesium citrate, magnesium chelate, magnesium oxide) and may be sold in a singular form, or in a formula with a variety of forms. Some forms are more bioavailable than others, and some target a specific function ie heart, gastrointestinal tract, muscles, energy. This is where you may notice a cost difference in products, as the more bioavailable forms can cost more than the less absorbable forms.

7) Standardized extracts

Herbal medicine supplements will usually contain the part of the herb which provides a variety of active constituents and the therapeutic effect. This could be either the leaves, roots, aerial parts or the whole herb. If research has shown that a herb has one specific active constituent that provides the required therapeutic effect, and this effect occurs at a certain dosage, then the product can be standardized to ensure that each supplement contains the necessary amount of the active constituent to have the desired effect. Look at the research and see if you need to be taking a specific herb with a standardised ingredient.

8) Elemental amount

It is really important to look at a label of a product before buying it. This way you will know exactly what you are getting and making sure you are getting a bang for your buck. This is particularly important when looking at the elemental amount of a nutrient. Using magnesium as an example, first of all you need to take note of what form the magnesium is in eg. oxide, citrate, amino acid chelate, carbonate, orotate etc. then you will usually see two numbers written, Magnesium orotate 400mg equiv Magnesium 29.1mg.

You may think you are taking 400mg of magnesium but in fact you are only getting 29.1mg of elemental magnesium. So that is a significant difference. Make sure you look for the equiv, total or elemental amount, to know exactly how much of that nutrient you are getting.

9) Do your research

Know what you are looking for, don’t get caught up in the hype, do your research. Yes there may be this shiny, new, fancy, fandangled supplement that claims to be the next best thing since sliced bread, but do you really need it?

  • Does it have clinical trials to back it up?
  • Has it been used for thousands of years with a strong history of results?
  • Has the TGA approved the ingredient for use here in Australia?
  • Where is it made?
  • Is it coming from overseas?
  • Is it sustainably sourced?
  • What strength are the ingredients?
  • How many do you need to take to get the therapeutic dose?
  • Is the ingredient standardized to contain the right amount of the active ingredient?
  • What part of the plant is being used?
  • What’s the elemental amount?

Don’t automatically jump on the bandwagon for the newest and greatest product to hit the shelves. Seek professional help, have your nutrient levels assessed, know exactly what you need to be supplementing with. More is not always necessarily better. There is no one size fits all when it comes to supplements. We are all created uniquely and have unique needs.

Written by Kerryn Dingey BHSc (Naturopathy)

Kerryn holds a Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy) and is passionate about educating and empowering others to make informed choices around nutrition and lifestyle and take steps towards optimal health. Kerryn has previous experience in retail Naturopath roles where she was able to apply her knowledge and learn about customers’ needs first hand.

With a focus on moderation, Kerryn believes that preventative medicine is the key to good ongoing health.