Not all supplements are created equal. Knowing how to choose the best supplement can help you achieve the best therapeutic value and save money.
Understanding concepts such as the grade, form, purity, bioavailability and third party verification of supplements helps you choose the best product within your budget. Nutritional supplements are typically available in four different categories: pharmaceutical grade, medical grade, cosmetic or nutritional grade, and feed or agricultural grade.
Pharmaceutical grade is the highest quality grade of vitamins. This means the purity, dissolution and absorption will meet the highest regulatory standard and will be verified by an outside party. Pharmaceutical grade vitamins may be available without a prescription, but they are typically only sold by licensed healthcare practitioners. The manufacturers of pharmaceutical grade supplements know their high quality products can have a profound effect on an individual’s health. Therefore, they want a licensed healthcare practitioner monitoring their use.
Medical grade vitamins are also a high-grade vitamin, although they may not meet all of the standards of pharmaceutical grade vitamins. Prenatal vitamins typically fall into this category.
Cosmetic or nutritional grade supplements are typically sold in health food stores. These supplements might not always be tested for absorption, dissolution or purity. Additionally, these supplements do not always have the same concentrations of active ingredients as what is listed on the label.
Feed or agricultural grade supplements are produced for veterinary use, and patients should not use this grade of supplement.
You may be asking, “Why are things such as form, purity and bioavailability so important?” Your vitamin’s ability to work properly can vary greatly depending on the form used. An example of this is the difference between natural or synthetic vitamin E. Natural vitamin E is absorbed better by the GI tract and is more active than its synthetic counterpart. Magnesium glycinate chelate is better absorbed, and therefore more bioavailable, than magnesium oxide. But, some manufacturers of lower grade supplements use the oxide form because it takes up less room in the capsule or tablet and is less expensive. Purity is another important quality. All vitamins should be screened for impurities such as lead, mercury, pesticides, insecticides or other toxic ingredients.
Here are some guidelines for finding quality supplements:
- A company that carries pharmaceutical grade vitamins is preferred. If the supplements you are purchasing are not pharmaceutical grade, make sure the company is Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certified, and find out by whom they are certified.
- It is best if the store is high volume and product is rotated regularly. They should not have a large warehouse of product sitting, and any storage space should be temperature controlled to ensure freshness of the product.
- The staff should maintain a quality rotation policy.
- Highly knowledgeable staff is a good indicator that the company is serious about providing a quality product. It is even better if they are board certified or have a medical background.
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