How Do Your Supplements Measure Up?

Not all supplements are created equal. Take for example, Echinacea. There truly is a difference between the Echinacea you can purchase from a large department store and the Echinacea made by a reputable manufacturer who tests each batch for levels of active ingredients and impurities. The form of nutrient or part of the plant used, the process of extracting compounds from plants or oil from fish, and the fillers, binders, and other stabilizers used are just some of the factors that determine how well your body may utilize or tolerate your supplements. These key issues distinguish "physiciangrade" supplements from others. Here are some questions you should ask to help determine variation between products.


Where did the raw material originate? If it's an herb, is it organic or does the company test for pesticide and herbicide residues? Is the plant harvested when the active ingredients are at their peak? Is the material screened for dirt or other residue?

If it's a fish oil product, what is the source of the oil? How were the fish raised: farmed or wild? Is testing or purification performed to make sure the oil is free of pesticides, PCBs, dioxins, heavy metals, and other pollutants?

If it's a nutritional supplement, are the nutrients made or derived according to United States Pharmacopoeia (USP) standards? Are the nutrients in a form easily used by the body? For instance, it is easier for your body to use the calcium from calcium citrate than from calcium carbonate. Also, magnesium oxide, while great for constipation relief, is poorly broken down and absorbed across the intestines.


What part of the herb is used? Is it the same part shown in studies to contain the active ingredient? Is the final product tested for potency? Some less-than-ethical companies actually buy the "straw" left over from an extraction process to make tinctures, then encapsulate the spent herb, label it, and sell it as a regular herbal supplement.

Some nutrients and herbal compounds are best rendered with solvents. Is the final product tested for solvent residue? If present, these residues must be detoxified by the body—not always easily accomplished. Also, does the company test the final product for microbial contamination, such as bacteria or mold?

Several nutrients are derived from substances such as corn, wheat, soy, or dairy, to which some may be sensitive. Many can tolerate small amounts of these substances, others require an ultra-clean product that is either highly purified or extracted from a more expensive agent.

If you take fish oil, how is it prepared? Is it extracted and packaged in an oxygen-poor environment to help prevent rancidity? Most quality fish oil manufacturers will test their final products for rancidity.

If probotics such as Acidophilus and Bifidus are part of your regimen, does the company who makes them guarantee that there are live, viable organisms in their product? How long will they be stable and at what temperature? What was the growth media for the probotics? If a person is sensitive to dairy, it may be best to use a probotic grown on beets or chicory, for instance.


Finally, what are the physical characteristics of the tablet or capsule? Are the binders, fillers, flowing agents, colorings, etc., nutritive or benign? Can they result in negative side-effects? Yellow Dye #5 and Red Dye #1, for instance, have been associated with Attention Deficit Disorder and migraines, as well as many other conditions. Tablet or capsule, dissolution rates are also of paramount importance; both must dissolve at the precise time in order for your body to use the nutrients.

As you can see, there are a wide variety of supplement ingredients and qualities available. If you have adequate stomach acid or assimilate nutrients well, you may be fine taking a medium-grade supplement. On the other hand, if you do have certain health conditions or sensitivities, you will want to use physician-grade supplements.

Because we've established a credentialed, qualified Wellness Team, N.E.E.D.S. is able to offer these outstanding products, while providing the education and information to support their use. Take the time to learn about the quality of herbs, vitamins, or supplements you're taking. Determining which grade of product you take is often as important as determining which type of product you take.