Supplements: Why Quality Matters More Than Anything
The global supplement industry was reported as $133 Billion in 2016, with projected growth of 9.6% each year until 2024, which means it will exceed $200 Billion in the next few years.1
That is crazy market size and growth, which makes it a prime industry for profit-seekers. Everyone is jumping on this supplement bandwagon, and as a doctor I can’t tell you how many people I have had email, call, or come into my clinic telling me about “the next big thing” or a supplement that is “changing lives”. When you closely evaluate the supplement industry it can be scary because there are very few rules and loose regulation standards, and taking a tainted supplement could be harmful. You have to watch out for vendors selling shady products online, there are legitimate retailers (often the most popular stores) selling products that don’t contain what their labels claim, and most of the products on the shelves are loaded with added chemicals, GMO products, synthetic vitamins, food dyes and other dangerous additives.
Most people today have tried taking many different healthcare products, and if they are sick they haven’t tried one they have probably tried dozens, they have spent $1000’s of dollars and they are a little jaded on taking supplements, perhaps rightfully so. I have also seen supplements - along with the right specific lifestyle changes like diet, exercise, stress management, and chiropractic care - absolutely work magic and change lives.
YOU HAVE TO BE VERY, VERY CAREFUL PURCHASING SUPPLEMENTS!
Supplements can be a huge benefit to your health, but there are more bad products available than good, and also often more bad information than good information. Even when you buy a product that you think is good you could be doing harm. I was very upset years ago when a third-party lab ran toxicity tests on greens powder products and sure enough my greens powder that I had in my fridge was one of the highest tested in heavy metals. Some of the more popular and recognizable brands, even in the organic/health-food market, have had less-than-ideal third-party test results. When it comes to your health, nothing is more important than paying more money (very little) for high-quality supplements from a trusted supplier if you want it to do what it is supposed to do. Here are four things to watch out for in the supplement industry:
Don’t Buy Health Products on Amazon
Amazon is amazing, and I order things from Amazon all the time. We have been prime members for years, since long before it was really a big thing. With that being said, I would not buy my supplements or any health products from Amazon.
Amazon has been making headlines lately with reports of all the knockoff vendors that sell on the site, including verified vendors who look 100% legit. Forbes recently published an article titled Amazon.com: The Place Where American Dreams Are Stolen By Chinese Counterfeiters, where they uncovered that 25% of Amazon’s marketplace was occupied by Chinese knockoffs!2
Even verified vendors on Amazon have been found to be illegitimate, and it’s become a growing concern for the actual legit small businesses. My suggestion is to avoid Amazon for any health-related product.
Don’t Buy Supplements from Major Retailers
Major retailers buy and sell products based on margins, not based on the safety of ingredients or the long-term benefits. In 2015 the New York attorney General did an investigation into supplements sold at four of the largest retailers in the U.S. and the results were scary. According to the New York Times3:
The authorities said they had conducted tests on top-selling store brands of herbal supplements at four national retailers — GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart — and found that four out of five of the products did not contain any of the herbs on their labels. The tests showed that pills labeled medicinal herbs often contained little more than cheap fillers like powdered rice, asparagus and houseplants, and in some cases substances that could be dangerous to those with allergies.
So, when they tested these products labeled as herbal supplements (Ginkgo Biloba for example), they found no Ginkgo Biloba but they DID FIND a bunch of fillers that weren’t on the label at all! This was just with herbal supplements, but I would recommend being leary of all of the health products (multi-vitamins, fish oil, vitamin D3, etc) at major retailers - I wouldn’t give them to my family.
Although you may think that the label is telling you exactly what is in a given product, it could be telling you virtually nothing about the true quality. One of the probiotic manufacturers I trust (Klaire Labs) ran a third party, independent laboratory test of one of their probiotic products along with 3 anonymous companies on the market. Company A claimed 12 billion CFU on their label while the lab tests showed they actually contained only 11.4 million CFU (.10% of what they claimed); Company B claimed 15 billion CFU and tested at 25 million CFU (.17%); and Company C claimed 20 billion CFU on their label and tested at only 26.3 million CFU (.13%). Klaire Labs claimed 25 billion CFU and actually tested at 47.9 billion CFU (192%).
Don’t Follow Standard American Conventional Wisdom
This rule applies to almost everything with your health - don’t follow the masses. Ask anyone on the streets what to do for osteoporosis or bone health and I bet that 80% or more would say either “drink milk” or “take calcium”. This is thanks to fantastic marketing by the milk industry!
The research on calcium is very unclear with many large, long-term, very valid studies and reviews published in top medical journals showing that calcium supplements provided no decreased risk of fracture in the elderly, and some evidence even showing an increased risk of fracture. Not to mention, several studies have shown calcium supplements raises the risk of heart disease or atherosclerosis in the arteries, our #1 cause of death!4,5,6 My point is not to review all of the literature and give a thumbs up or thumbs down on calcium, my point is that conventional wisdom will tell you one thing, but more often than not conventional wisdom is wrong.
Standard American Conventional Wisdom will tell you to take a multivitamin every day (most are filled with junk), take calcium, give your kids Flintstone’s (from a major retailer of course!) so they get their vitamins. Marketing will tell you to take the product with the best commercial advertising. Nothing could be further from the truth! Standard American Conventional Wisdom is created and developed by marketing and sales, not by science. The standard American citizen is also obese, depressed, taking multiple medications, and dying early from chronic disease. Don’t follow the crowd!
Find a Trusted Resource
Supplements can do amazing things for your health. We have seen incredible results in our clinic with different supplement protocols supporting the body’s natural, God-given ability to heal and function properly. Just like there are many poor quality, knock-off supplement providers, there are also many highly reputable manufacturers that truly care about the quality of their products and the health of their customers. My #1 suggestion is to find a good, trusted resource to get your high-quality supplements from.
In our clinic and in our online store we try to use Physician-Grade products whenever possible. This means that the manufacturers only sell their products to physicians, so they are not available in retail stores. To me this indicates the highest level of accountability. This shows that the manufacturers are clearly not putting profits before people, because I’m sure they could sell more products if they bought their ingredients from a lower bidder to increase their margins or if they sold more products through a larger retailer. There are also many great brands who are not sold through physicians only, but whose products you can find in health food stores or on their website, or there are online health product retailers who sell trustworthy products.
We personally trust and use the following brands the most often, especially the first three:
Systemic Formulas - we use these products the most often for clinical presentations - cellular detoxification, mitochondria and cellular membrane support, thyroid, adrenal, etc
Seeking Health - we use their liposomal products (vitamin C and glutathione), prenatal support, infant probiotics, methylation support
Klaire Labs - we use many of their digestive products like stomach acid support, digestive enzymes, and many various probiotics
There are many trusted and reputable companies out there that truly do want the best outcomes and really do want to help people get well. This list is by no means comprehensive, these are just examples of brands we have found to have good transparency and good clinical application to get actual results.
4. https://doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.116.003815 Journal of the American Heart Association. 2016;5:e003815 Originally published October 11, 2016