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How to Shop for Health Supplements

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Personally, I love supplements. They can help to optimize your health, or diminish symptoms of illnesses which bother you repeatedly. Supplements do this by adding nutrients, or other extracts in addition to your diet, which can have a range of impacts such as improved sleep, reducing acne or improving cardiovascular health. However, not all supplements are created equally due to a lack of meaningful regulation, and they also may interact with preexisting health conditions or medication you take. For this reason it’s always advised to speak to a health care professional before beginning to take supplements. 

How to shop for Health Supplements

When shopping for health supplements it’s important to identify why you want, or need them. There are thousands of types of supplements, so if you want results it’s best to spend a little time identifying exactly which ones will fit your needs. I’ve outlined some common reasons for wanting to supplement your diet, and the types of supplements which may be a fit. Again, it;’s important to note this isn’t a diagnostic tool and any supplements should be cleared by a medical professional.

Tiredness and fatigue :  you may be lacking in B vitamins, so a B vitamin complex could help. This may also be caused by iron-deficiency anemia – in which an iron based supplement may help. You can read all about the role B vitamins and iron have in preventing fatigue here.

Insomnia and disturbed sleep : Magnesium is a personal favorite for me. I use magnesium glycinate daily, alongside magnesium sleep spray on the back of my calves to prevent cramping. There are many forms of magnesium as a supplement, so it’s important to read up about each type. This link outlines the types of magnesium and what it helps to support.

Bone health : This is especially important and searched for within older women who are approaching menopause, as menopause causes levels of estrogen to plummet – making the bone structure more fragile and prone to breaking. The importance of calcium for bones has been emphasized since we were young, so a calcium and vitamin D supplement complex may be the best way to treat this!

Cardiovascular health : Unfortunately this is an area often neglected, and it isn’t taken seriously until a cardiovascular event (e.g. a heart attack) happens to yourself, or a loved one. For protection of the heart and blood vessels omega 3 6 9 fatty acids are brilliant, as they enable mechanisms which reduce inflammation within the body and are essential for processes within the immune and endocrine systems. 

Shopping for supplements Based on Your Diet

As the range of lifestyles and diets increase, so does the potential for deficiencies – and hence the importance of supplements. It is fairly common for vegetarians and vegans to be lacking in a number of nutrients such as vitamin B12 and D, alongside calcium, zinc and iron.

Supplements for improving these nutrient insufficiencies need to be carefully checked, as sources may not be vegetarian or vegan. A common example of this is omega fatty acids, as they usually come from fish oil (as this is a cheaper way to manufacture it!) If you are shopping in store make sure to look for the vegan or vegetarian symbols (usually a green V) or online simply adding the search terms ‘vegan’ to the search will help bring up more appropriate results for your dietary requirements. 

Another diet which impacts the supplements chosen include gluten free (often people who are gluten free have digestive issues, meaning it’s harder to get nutrients via the diet.) It’s important for the regulations of gluten free supplements to be tighter than that of other diets, as many people who are gluten-free have coeliac disease – where even a small amount of gluten may make them unwell. It is important that within the manufacturing center there is no chance of cross-contamination. Again, research is key for choosing the right supplement – and brand, for you.  

How to Tell if a Brand is Legit 

If a brand has been around for a while, it usually means they’re a reputable brand. Brands which go bust fairly quickly are usually due to the ingredient quality being low and hence not giving the desired results, or lawsuits being filed against them. However, this doesn’t mean that all new brands will be bad – so the length of brand trading should only be one factor when considering which brand to go for. 

Legit brands often will have undergone testing, and might have certifications from organizations like ConsumerLabs or NSF International. The FDA doesn’t actually need to test the supplements themselves before they go for sale, but the FDA will step in if there have been reports of harmful side effects. 

A tip I like to use when buying supplements, or anything from an unknown-to-me brand, is to use a search engine. I would type in the brand name and keywords like scam, side effects or legit, as this will bring any articles which link to the less favorable side of the product quickly. Of course it’s important to note these reviews, but if you find 1 bad review within 1000 good ones it’s worth weighing up if this is a biased review, or it may have been a rare occurrence. 

Natural vs Synthetic ingredients

Natural ingredients are when the nutrients are found within our diet, without supplementation – for example a source of natural vitamin C is kale. The synthetic form of this would be a processed form of the kale (e.g. a powder which is often a blend of many other foods with added minerals and vitamins) or it may be made within a lab. A way to distinguish between something being natural and synthetic is the natural form will often be food names, whereas the synthetic will have the nutrients listed out individually.

So, does it matter if you get your nutrients from a natural or synthetic source? This is a highly debated question with no clear answer. Eating the natural source from food also includes all the additional vitamins, sugars, proteins and fiber which will be important for the body to function correctly. The way the synthetic version is absorbed is less well known, but often supplements will contain ingredients which are known to boost the absorption of the desired nutrient, for example black pepper is added to turmeric supplements for this reason. 

Potential Side Effects

As with anything we ingest, there is the potential for side effects. These side effects increase greatly if too much of the supplement is taken, if it’s taken incorrectly or it interacts with medication you already take. Some supplements increase the prevalence of acne breakouts, and many prenatal vitamins are included in this. Information about acne and prenatal vitamins can be found here.  There are other supplements which can trigger acne include high doses of vitamins B6 and B12, or anything increasing androgens like testosterone, or whey powders as they trigger IGF-1. 

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