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So Many Questions about Your Vitamin Supplements You Didn’t Know What to Ask

Are supplements nothing more than expensive urine?

How do you know if your Nutritional Supplements Brands are Useful or Effective?

Now here’s the dilemma. As an example, let’s say we’re browsing among the frenzy of items in a health food store, and we notice a flyer with this information:

The ingredients sound wonderful with an absolute total of 670 chemical activities, very reasonably priced and we ask for it at the counter. We receive a medium sized box, take it home, open it and to our utter surprise we get a banana. If you read this nutritional label on the side of a box for vitamins and minerals, would you buy it?

The Natural Medicines Comprehensive database provides objective information about any ingredient and level of effectiveness for various medical conditions. Check out

This is the crux of the debate held for decades. Mother Nature through her synergy, balance and totality makes food to best suit our body’s needs: a synchronized mixture of bioavailable vitamins, minerals, amino proteins, macro-nutrients, micro-nutrients, digestive enzymes, disease-fighting phytochemicals or anti-oxidants, probiotic factors for the GI tract, and fiber.

But the quality of food can be seriously compromised, so how can a store bought banana picked rock hard and green, shipped thousands of miles away, be the same as a yellow fruit ripened by the sun?

The global dietary supplements market size was estimated at 123 billion dollars in 2019 that is largely unregulated and expected to grow at 8% per year as people continue to search for wellness products … those products used for preventative care rather than sickness treatment. But who teaches us about their ingredients, how they are manufactured, why they work to what degree? How do we select vitamins that are effective and run away from those that might even be harmful?

As informed consumers we acknowledge 4 facts:

-natural foods with nutrients, enzymes, fiber still remain the best source of balanced cellular structure and energy

-diets do not provide all the nutrients for a number of reasons

-vitamins and minerals play a role in disease prevention

-most important decision is what supplements to trust to deliver these essential nutrients

How to determine the best value in supplements?

The supplement industry can be compared to the Wild West full of high claims and competition.

Do you put your health into “the hands of the lowest bidder?” Do you look at the price tag even though you realize that lowest price is rarely equated to best quality in any commodity? You can’t buy a Cadillac at Cavalier prices and expect a Cadillac performance. The cheapest route, as with the cheapest cars or the cheapest vitamins, can end up with all kinds of problems, but unfortunately there aren’t many spare parts to fix a human body. So education becomes an important ally.

Who are the manufacturing companies?

Who are the suppliers of what kinds of raw ingredients?What controls are used in the manufacturing process? How is the product tested for quality control?

There are thousands of manufacturing supplement companies. They are basically unregulated except by the DSHEA (Dietary Supplement Health Education Act) whose mandate is to put supplements into the same category as food. But, it can be pointed out that choosing the kind of pizza to eat is not the same as taking supplements for possible therapeutic effects.

For some manufacturers, it’s as easy as placing an order from a supplier for certain tablets and remedies that are custom made and tailored to individual needs. A label is stuck on a bottle with marketing slogans for consumers who hear “all-natural” or “cure-all” for what they want to believe. Other manufacturers abide by GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) standards to ensure their ingredients and processing are along the same lines as pharmaceutical drug-making companies.

An exemplary company should have a “stringent commitment to scientific validity … proven efficacy of its formulations … a holistic approach to cellular nutrition ... and a voluntary compliance to USP pharmaceutical standards for potency, quality, and purity… Dr. MacWilliam: Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements: MacWilliam Communications Inc.

What are the basic steps in the vitamin manufacturing process?

First, most companies have a ‘source’ for raw ingredients that comes from GMP registered and audited facilities.

How fresh are the natural ingredients because nutrients can quickly dissipate from natural sources?

Or is the industrial process based on synthetics like coal tar and acetylene?

We know that each vitamin is a chain of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms strung together as molecule. The common assumption is that vitamins are chemical compounds and are exactly the same regardless of how they are prepared, but with our modern research can we confidently say that molecules found in Nature’s factories are identical to those made in chemical laboratories. Are natural chemicals extracted from plants the same as synthetic compositions?

Everyone should read this article: Synthetics vs Natural Nutrients

Dr. Bannock notes:

“Almost every nutritional supplement in the market today does not contain biologically available substances that are useful to the cells of the body. Our bodies have evolved over time to absorb organic nutrients, that is, nutrients from plants, or from animals that have eaten plants, or from other animal by-products. Yet most supplements contain inorganic versions of those nutrients which the body cannot use.” (Dr. Bannock, ibid. page 3)

Second, from the shipment of raw ingredients, the mass production of vitamin tablets begins with high speed tableting machines combining ingredients with fillers, flavors, colorants and even lubricants. Most supplements are mixed with paddles or ribbon blenders that can allow for separation of particles based on density. The tablets are pressed and may be spray coated to help withstand the packaging and shipping process. Some tablets have an enteric coating which is a special resistance that protects the ingredients as they pass through the stomach and into the small intestine where they can be absorbed. Some have a time-release formula which some doctors don’t recommend because general absorption may also be inhibited. It is not unusual that a tablet can contain more additives than active ingredients.

When a vitamin is marked “natural,” it only has to include 10% of actual natural plant-derived ingredients. The other 90% could be synthetic. When we give the body concentrated forms of synthetic nutrients, it doesn’t always appear to have an appropriate delivery. Learn more all about vitamin supplements.

What about the dissolution standard or how the vitamin pill dissolves in the stomach?

Part of this valuable “recipe” is to make sure that vitamins and minerals are bioavailable with a certain biochemical make-up in order for the cells to absorb the nutrient. “It has been shown that HVP chelates (hydrolyzed vegetable protein) are more readily absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract than are the cheaper mineral salts or colloidal minerals used by the majority of brands.” (Dr. MacWilliam, ibid. page 10.)

It is also important that mixtures are synergistic because many vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants work better together than alone. For example, beta-carotene is more effective when combined with vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium. “Other nutrient combinations are crucial in providing the necessary enzymes and co-factors needed for important metabolic processes such glutathione, n-acetyl cysteine, riboflavin, selenium and niacin.” (Dr. MacWilliams, ibid. page 11). All major, trace and ultra trace minerals are also essential.

Dr. Strand notes a 1997 study from the University of Maryland that discovered that only 3 out of 9 prescribed prenatal vitamins actually dissolved. (Dr. Strand, ibid. page 141).

So, finally, the pills are in the bottle and labeled. There should be a full disclosure of ingredients with an expiration date so that age will not reduce the efficacy of tablets or capsules. In Canada it is important to look for the DIN (drug identification number) to show the Health Board has certified the product. Note the expiry date and a mailing address.

What about Recommended Daily Allowances?

Vitamin and mineral requirements are called RDA (Recommended Daily Allowances or RDI’s in Canada). These are standards established by the government at a normal level for healthy, normal people to meet their nutritional and developmental needs and originally designed to prevent acute deficiencies. They are not designed as optimal intakes based on nutritional data and not adequate enough to prevent degenerative diseases. This is why advocates want a change in FDA levels. For example, the RDA for Vitamin E is 10 to 15 IU, yet studies show benefits at 100 to 400 IU’s.

It is irrational to think that all of us can meet our needs through a simple number because we are different. Sometimes it is better to err on the side of more than not enough. Nature seems to have figured out the right formula.

It is possible to overdose on nutritional supplements when taken in larger doses or even smaller doses over time, particularly with some kinds. Doctors pose cautionary notes with Vitamin A (retinol) and Vitamin D (calciferol) and iron (ferrous or ferric forms).

Why Clinical Trials Are Needed for Vitamin Supplements vs Drugs?

Consumers must demand more peer-reviewed, double blind reference points and clinical trials to show the potential for their nutritional products to reduce the risk of chronic disease. Perhaps the industry can start with a simple biochemical diagnosis of vitamin deficiencies. Then perhaps the current disclaimer by the FDA that vitamins cannot make “structure/function” claims and “are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease” may need to be revamped. After all, a preponderance of evidence shows the amazing health benefits of nutritional supplements and testimonials can become quantitative parts of clinical reviews.

This would be a timely effort now because the drug companies are lobbying more and more to use a safety net of drugs to address health challenges. If I live to be a 125 years old, a normal expectancy based on healthy rats, I will never comprehend how the FDA can approve the proliferation of drugs through clinical review cycles usually sponsored by host companies that still costs 178,000 deaths a year due to side effects.

Yet they will not encourage or fund vitamin companies to do their own studies.

A landmark decision was recently announced by the FDA. For the first time it has approved a plant food, WALNUTS. ‘There is supportive but not conclusive research that shows eating 1.5 oz of walnuts per day…may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”

Ulrike Leone from Pixabay

It is excellent nutrition with plant based alpha-linolenic acid (a precursor to omega 3 fatty acids), vitamin B-6 (folate), minerals, protein, melatonin which provides clear cardiovascular benefits by improving the elasticity of the arteries as well as lowering the levels of LDL (bad cholesterol). For the first time ever, walnut farmers can put the claim of health benefits on the labels of packaged walnuts.” Quoted from Nutrition and Healing e-Tip newsletter June 14, 2004. Health Benefits of Walnuts: Lower Cholesterol, Inflammation, and More

Biggest Question of all!

Can’t we all reasonably assume that other food plants have equally spectacular nutrient profiles that do not need some sanction other than Nature’s efficiency and synergy?

This brings us to the first dilemma, full circle, where we started: what other simple, natural foods can be so beneficial? It is our responsibility to keep informed, communicative, selective with our diets, intelligent and visionary in our choice of supplements, and ultimately appreciative of the divine mastery of Nature and our body.

It should be mentioned that general diet principles of eliminating sugar and grains, eating unprocessed, high quality food as close to raw as possible is still the best source of health and supplements should not be taken to replace a faulty diet.

Comments are always welcome. What are your questions about supplements?

Annemarie Berukoff

For Preface and Disclaimer read this.

Here are a few links for more information:

How to Pick the Right Vitamins and Supplements for You

Surprisingly, about 95% vitamins available to us are synthetically prepared.

To figure out if your supplement is synthetic or natural, check the label. Natural supplements usually list food sources or are labeled as 100% plant or animal-based.

Supplements that list nutrients individually, such as vitamin C, or use chemical names like ascorbic acid, are almost certainly synthetic.

Labels on natural vitamin supplement bottles may have a great deal of information about a complex product squeezed into a tiny space. Here’s a guide to sorting it all out:

Retired teacher — wisdom of Timely Tools for Changes: self-franchise internet marketing, social media attacks, ecology

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