Snowed under by an unending avalanche of new supplements, manufacturers, scientific studies, bogus scientific studies, circumstantial evidence, and propaganda about supplements, you may be utterly confused. You want your questions answered honestly...
'How do I avoid overpaying for vitamins and minerals, herbal remedies, or food supplements that may not be what they say they are, often aren't as potent as they claim to be, and sometimes contain harmful ingredients not listed on the label?'
'Where can I conveniently buy the most pure, potent, effective, and reasonably priced supplements?'
Not All Supplement Manufacturers are Ethical
The days of vaudeville and traveling circuses are over, but the kind of snake-oil salesmen that accompanied them are still with us. They are just better-disguised. The more you search for the best supplements, especially on the internet, the more skeptical and disillusioned you may become. Whether you are looking for vitamin supplements, herbal remedies, bodybuilding supplements like amino acids, or food bars, there are essential things you need to know to find the best supplements for the best price.
Wanting to see the natural supplement manufacturers as heroes that would save us from illness and dangerous conventional medications, I initially thought they have high ethical standards. Sadly, I've learned there is a lot of competition and politics in an industry I wished to see as being above all that. Do you know, for example, that competing companies will commonly buy another brand right off the shelves of a health store in order to be allowed to place their products there? I first heard about this insider secret while working as a sales rep for a supplement company, and was shocked. If supplement companies will resort to such tactics to promote their products, and health stores allow it, is it any wonder we can't believe everything they say?
However, there are many really ethical companies out there that offer high-end, effective, reasonably priced products without resorting to hype and underhanded tactics. I can tell you where to find these companies.
If you are like most people I know, you want the best product for a reasonable price. What you don't want to do is spend $50.00 for a bottle of 30 capsules and find that this 'miracle product' is a dud. By the way, if you spend that kind of money for such a small amount of product, as Bill Cosby said of the $9.95 egg he got for breakfast at a Vegas hotel, "It better have an act. It better stand up and do a dance for me!" Those 30 pills better make you feel like a teenager, otherwise why bother?
The Facts About Pricing!
This might be shocking to you, but most supplements sold to people who aren't health food store owners or health practitioners are marked up 100%! That means if you buy a bottle of vitamins at a health store for $20.00, the store likely paid around $10.00 for it. Even folks who are distributors for multilevel marketing companies generally don't get much of a break on the retail price, unless they have a huge downline. But that's not the worst of it.
To give you an idea how much many supplements are marked up in price, consider this: When I worked as a sales rep for a supplement company years ago, I was able to buy supplements from them at a little above their production cost. I was paying considerably less than wholesale, and the company was still making some money! It gets worse.....
Recently, while researching a nutrient I was interested in trying, I found an article by a scientist saying that the nutrient could be harmful if it's not made in just the right way. The description of said consequences was scary enough to frighten anyone who is not sufficiently armed with knowledge and experience. I discovered that this scientist owns a supplement company that makes a powdered drink containing that nutrient. Considering that the nutrient is a veritable fountain of youth when used correctly, you can imagine there would be a high demand for it. Each can of powder containing 13 servings cost over $90.00!!! This formula was to be taken twice daily - $360.00 per month!!! And you have to take it for a lifetime to continue to benefit! I found the pure form of this nutrient for $18.00 per month. For 20 times less than the highly hyped powdered drink, I have a highly effective product with none of the dangers the scientist was trying to convince people it would have!
When you evaluate opinions on various supplements, be aware of the agendas of those expressing them. They may be right, but at least you are informed as to their bias.
How Do I Evaluate Quality?
The other issue is supplement quality. You are not alone if you feel overwhelmed by the dizzying array of new brands, new products, claims, testimonials, and articles on the latest, greatest newly discovered product that is going to save the world...
You are an independent thinker with an inquiring mind, but how can you know who is telling the truth and who isn't? Every company says their products are the purest, most effective, most high quality. Some of the companies that shout the loudest produce the most ineffective, impure and unreliable products.
Multilevel marketing companies are no better and no worse than others. Some sell great products and some don't. The problem with multilevel products is that most people selling them are compelled to become self-styled experts due to their huge investment in convincing you to buy. Whether or not the product helped them, they are still very biased. Without knowing the facts, they will elevate their product and talk down others, even if the other products are top quality.
Years ago, I spent some time as a Sales Rep for a small (non MLM) company that made high-quality food-based supplements. I'd had good results from the products, and felt good about selling them. However, as a Sales Rep, I was expected to believe that no other company made products that were anywhere near as good. One day, I mentioned another high-quality company that is very particular about every aspect of their production. All their supplements are pharmaceutical grade (the company is owned and run by a pharmacist), the production is done under their own roof, and the company officially qualified to meet the gold standard of Good Manufacturing Practices. My supervisor told me that didn't mean anything.
I felt limited being a Sales Rep because I was only to extoll the virtues of the company I represented. I could not tell the truth about other products equally good or better. As I found other products which were higher quality and more effective, I lost faith in the integrity of the company I was working for.
A similar, but often even more evangelistic mentality accompanies multilevel Marketing (pyramid scheme) companies. There is usually a lot of hype, and not enough cold, hard facts. Some MLM's sell very good products, but the hype usually outstrips the facts. Just about every MLM I was ever involved with touted some testimonials that stopped just short of saying that the product cured someone's cancer!
Misleading statements by the companies themselves often create an image that is deceptive. As an example, a friend of mine was selling an MLM product made from algae. The company claimed that the algae was harvested from a pristine lake in unpolluted wilderness. On a trip out west, my friend had occasion to visit the lake. He found motorboats racing back and forth on that very lake!
There are a good number of world-class companies whose products are never seen on health store shelves. However, they can often be found at the offices of top holistic MD's. Why? Because they contain the ingredients and potency they say they do, and people get good results from taking them. You will generally pay top dollar, but it can be worth it to know that you are getting a high-end product. Under the care of some excellent holistic MD's for a few years, I always took note of which brands and products they kept on their shelves.
Could Your Vitamins be Making You Sick?
Your vitamins may contain some ingredients not listed on the label. Some supplements, particularly minerals such as calcium and magnesium derived from dubious sources are loaded with dangerous contaminants such as lead. Lead can trigger nervous system problems, high blood pressure, and joint and muscle pain. Other contaminants that are all too common are mercury and other heavy metals, mold, and bacteria. Fish oil products are an example of a supplement that can contain mercury and other toxins. Many 'good-tasting' supplements contain sugar and artificial flavors that are bad for us.
Are Your Supplements Potent and Effective?
You may be shocked to learn that dozens of popular brands contain as little as 10% of the listed ingredients. In order to increase profits, many companies substitute synthetic hard-to-absorb ingredients for more expensive natural ones, or simply make a lower potency product and claim it has more potency.
Some brands contain ingredients in an inactive form that gives you no benefit. For example, the glucosamine and chondroitin in many supplements intended to benefit joint health is not in a readily absorbable form. In this case, you want to look for Glucosamine HCL, an easy-to absorb form of glucosamine, which can be found in a product called 'Cosamin.'
'Ferrous sulfate' and 'ferric citrate' are the forms of iron found in cheaply made multiple vitamins. Intestinal side effects such as nausea, constipation and bloating are often found in those who take iron in the above forms. You can get an iron supplement that's almost as good by applying a rotary sanding machine to an iron railing! You are best off getting your iron in the natural form of 'heme iron' found in organic grass-fed beef or lamb. Forms of iron supplements that are easily absorbed are 'heme iron concentrate,' 'iron glycine amino acid chelate,' 'ferrous fumarate,' and 'ferrous gluconate.'
Another example is selenium, a trace mineral. The cheaper, most common form of selenium is 'sodium selenite,' which is hard to absorb and more toxic than selenium in the form of selenomethionine (selenium bound to the amino acid methionine for easy absorption). Even when you find a product that claims to contain selenomethionine, you need to know the reputation of the company, or you may be getting ripped off. The actual potency may not match what's on the label.
If you rely on getting supplements in health stores, you really have to look carefully and know which are the quality products. Health stores carry some cheaply made products of dubious quality. The reason for this is that they have to cater to the demands of their customers. Most people are more interested in price, and don't know what vast differences there are in quality and effectiveness between products purporting to be the same supplement. So the blame cannot be placed only on the stores, though they could do more toward educating their clientele about quality.
Since you care about quality and effectiveness of the supplements you take, you want to know the facts. But how do you know which products to buy if you don't know the real truth? What if some of the products you depend on to help you be healthier really aren't as good as company claims would have you believe?
You are Paying one or more Middlemen:
Another thing most people don't know is that the company named on the label as the vitamin manufacturer often distributes pills that are made and packaged somewhere else by a 'middleman' company. The company that is the middleman generally buys the cheapest raw materials, (often from dubious sources overseas), to put into the product so they can make maximum profit on the price the 'vitamin manufacturer' pays them. They win, you lose.
For example, your mineral supplement may be contaminated by toxic metals such as lead or aluminum. Your food-based supplement powder could be harboring bacteria or fungi. Your flax oil, fish oil, or vitamin E may be rancid and consequently full of free radicals - creating the exact opposite result in your body from that intended by the product. Having sampled many supplements over the years, I can assure you this happens much more often than you'd like to imagine.
Here's One Way to Check the Quality of Your Supplements:
I am in the habit of tasting and/or smelling a lot of the supplements I buy that come in capsules. I open or puncture the capsule and taste the oil or powder inside. If you have an idea what the fresh, pure, potent supplement is supposed to taste like, you can do your own test.
For example, flax oil or natural vitamin E should taste rich, mildly sweet and nutty with no objectionable aftertaste. If I experience an acrid, rancid, bitter taste of the contents of a flax oil or vitamin E capsule, you can bet that company immediately goes on my 'do not buy' list!
If a powder that is supposed to have a strong flavor and aroma has none, ditto for that company. For example, selenium is supposed to have a sulfurous smell, since it is a sulfur-based trace mineral. If I open a bottle of selenium and it doesn't smell like sulfur, I have serious doubts about its potency and purity. When I was taking the inorganic form of selenium (sodium selenite) it did smell sulfurous - it was potent. I just got up from writing this to check out the selenium supplement I take now (selenomethionine) and it has a sulfurous smell that is richer, more mellow and complex than the inorganic form.
The last bit of advice I can offer is to be wary if a supplement company seems too dramatic in their statements about their product's effectiveness. While there are a few products out there that can have dramatic effects on certain conditions, there is no assurance that they will do that for everyone, and they should not be presented as such. A reputable company doesn't generally over dramatize product results. They usually state product benefits in a calm, straightforward way, and have some reputable research to back up their claims.
Following these suggestions can give you the edge in finding quality supplements for a reasonable price.
Ellen Landauer is a Health Seminar Leader and Coach with 3 decades experience, and a Certified Advanced Rolfer with a practice for over 25 years. Her mission is to empower people to achieve optimal health as a gateway to the joy of higher human functioning. Ms. Landauer has initiated a wholesale supplement program for a limited number of selected applicants. Health Seminar Leader, Coach, and Certified Advanced Rolfer wwwfibromyalgiachronicfatiguecom.blogspot.com