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Choosing Quality Supplements: A Guide to Smart Supplementation

In the world of nutritional supplements, making informed choices is crucial for optimal health. This guide will equip you with essential knowledge on what to look for when buying supplements to ensure you make the best choices for your well-being.

Understanding Supplement Basics 

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to finding a great supplement. We highly recommend working with a professional before you start or change any supplement routine, but we also want you to be empowered with the knowledge to make wise choices about your health. The following section outlines some need-to-know supplement facts and considerations. 

  • Weight Consideration - Keep in mind that recommended dosages for adults are often based on a 150 lbs individual. Adjust accordingly based on your weight.

  • Third-Party Testing - Not all supplements undergo third-party testing, a process where an independent organization evaluates the product's quality and safety. Understanding this process is vital.

  • A clinically effective dose may not always be what’s recommended on the bottle. It's a common misconception that the recommended dosage on a supplement bottle always aligns with the clinically effective dose. The clinically effective dose (or 'therapeutic dose'), backed by scientific research, may differ from what's printed on the label. Being aware of this distinction helps you make informed choices based on evidence rather than solely relying on packaging information.

  • Inconsistent use - Supplements often require consistent use to maintain steady blood levels and achieve desired effects. Skipping doses or irregular use may diminish benefits.

  • Nutrient synergy - Nutrient synergy is the phenomenon where certain nutrients enhance each other's absorption and effectiveness. Recognizing these synergies helps you combine supplements that complement each other, leading to a more efficient absorption process.

  • Don’t ignore gut health - Gut health plays a crucial role in nutrient absorption. Digestive issues, imbalanced microbiome, or conditions like leaky gut can affect the absorption of nutrients from supplements. 

  • Consider age/lifestage - Nutrient requirements vary based on age, gender, life stage (e.g., pregnancy, lactation), and health conditions. Tailoring supplements to specific life stages is essential for optimal health. 

  • Expecting immediate results - Supplements, like any health habit, require time. Expecting immediate results might lead to disappointment. It's essential to understand that the benefits of supplements often develop over time, contributing to long-term health rather than providing instant fixes.

How to pick a high-quality supplement? 

  1. Look for a third-party tested certification. Unfortunately, supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA. In fact, supplements can contain ingredients not listed on the label and they don’t actually have to contain what they say they do. It’s easy to see how that could become slightly problematic.  That’s where third-party testing comes in. Third-party testing is when the specific supplement company pays an independent organization to assess their product's content and purity. This is a good sign for consumers because it means the supplement company trusts the quality of the products they’re creating.  It’s important to point out that just because a supplement is on the shelf in a health food store, does not mean it’s a high quality or third-party tested supplement. Always look for third-party certifications from reputable organizations like NSF, Informed-Choice, or USP. 

  2. Consider a product's sensitivity to environmental factors: Some supplements, like probiotics and certain vitamins, are sensitive to heat and light changes. Choose products from companies that ensure proper storage conditions during transportation and storage.

  3. Look for reputable brands with a history of quality products. We love and commonly recommend products from Designs for Health, Orthomolecular, Pure Encapsulations, Biotics Research, Thorne, Nordic Naturals, and Biocidin Botanicals (among others). 

  4. Check for Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certification on the label.

  5. Read the Ingredients Label. Examine the ingredient list for purity and the absence of contaminants. Double check that the supplement doesn’t contain any foods you’re sensitive to like gluten, dairy, egg or soy. 

We always recommend purchasing supplements from our online pharmacy, Fullscript because they only sell high quality, third-party tested supplements, many of which are free of common contaminants and allergens. 

Supplement Considerations 

Now that you know how to buy a high-quality supplement, let’s talk about some of the specific types of supplements and what you need to know. 

  1. Folic Acid vs. Folate: Folate is the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9 found in foods, while folic acid is its synthetic counterpart commonly used in supplements and fortified foods. Individuals with a specific genetic variation, known as MTHFR polymorphism, may have difficulty converting folic acid into its active form, methylfolate, which the body can readily utilize. We know now that supplementing with folic acid can actually cause inflammation and even ADHD type tendencies. Consequently, those with the MTHFR variant might benefit more from supplements containing folate, as it is already in the bioavailable form. Additionally, pregnant women often require sufficient folate intake to support fetal development and prevent neural tube defects, making it essential to choose a supplement containing the bioactive folate form for optimal absorption and utilization.

  2. Methylated B Vitamins: Methylated B vitamins, such as methylcobalamin (B12) and 5-MTHF (methylfolate), are already in a form that the body can readily use without requiring additional conversion. Like with folate/folic acid, this is particularly crucial for people with certain genetic variations, like the MTHFR polymorphism, who struggle with the conversion of non-methylated B vitamins. Those with conditions affecting methylation processes or anyone simply seeking enhanced bioavailability can benefit from supplements containing methylated B vitamins, as they bypass conversion challenges and support overall well-being more effectively. 

  3. P5P for Vitamin B6: P5P is the bioactive coenzyme form of Vitamin B6 that the body can directly use without requiring conversion, making it a good choice for anyone with conversion problems and/or those wishing to maximize absorption. People with compromised liver function would also benefit from a P5P supplement, rather than vitamin B6. P5P plays a crucial role in various physiological processes, including neurotransmitter synthesis and amino acid metabolism. 

  4. Natural Sources of Vitamin C: When considering vitamin C supplementation, we prefer sticking to natural sources like rosehips, camu berry, orange, and acerola cherry extract, rather than synthetic forms like ascorbic acid. Not only do natural sources provide vitamin C, but they also contain bioflavonoids and co-factors that enhance its absorption and utilization. This is particularly important for those who experience digestive discomfort or sensitivity to pure ascorbic acid.  

  5. Triglyceride Form for Fish Oil: Fish oil is one of our favorite supplements, especially for anyone seeking cardiovascular, cognitive, or anti-inflammatory support. Those with a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil in the triglyceride (TG) form is the easiest for the body to absorb, while ethyl ester (EE) forms are less bioavailable and should be avoided. 

  6. Vitamin D and K: If you’re taking vitamin D (vitamin D3), you should be taking it with vitamin K (vitamin K2) because they work synergistically. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and vitamin K helps your body transport it to your bones and teeth, rather than letting it sit in your arteries and tissues (where we don’t want it). Some emerging research suggests that the interplay between vitamin D and K may extend beyond bone health to include cardiovascular and immune system support, too!

  7. Magnesium: Although magnesium is a hugely important mineral, playing a role in over 300 enzymatic processes in the body, it’s often consumed inappropriately. There are many forms of magnesium and they all have different effects. Here’s a quick look at the various types of magnesium and their most appropriate uses: 

  • Magnesium malate: headaches, constipation, heartburn, cardiovascular health, healthy carb tolerance, blood pressure, bone health and to boost overall magnesium status (best form to start with).

  • Magnesium citrate: short-term constipation relief. 

  • Magnesium glycinate: insomnia, headaches, anxiety, depression, menstrual cramps, sore muscles.

  • Magnesium bisglycinate: metabolism and energy production, bone health, muscle function, physical and mental relaxation, neurological health, glucose metabolism, kidney function, heart health, blood vessel function, headaches, constipation.

  • Magnesium threonate: brain health, depression, age related memory loss, sleep.

  • Magnesium chloride: topically to relieve muscle soreness.

  • Magnesium sulfate: epsom salts to soothe sore muscles and relieve stress.  8. Probiotics: The right probiotic for you will depend on a variety of factors (which is why working with a qualified practitioner is so important). There are so many probiotics out there and they serve different purposes. We like spore-based strains, such as Bacillus coagulans because they have a resilient outer layer that enhances their survival through the harsh conditions of the digestive tract, allowing them to reach the intestines intact for improved efficacy. We also like Saccharomyces boulardii (S. boulardii), a non-bacterial yeast, for its ability to support immune function and balance gut flora. Diversity in bacterial strains is also crucial for gut health, so opt for a probiotic with a spectrum of strains, including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species. Consider factors like colony-forming units (CFUs) and the presence of prebiotics, which nourish probiotics, promoting their growth and effectiveness. Lastly, choose a product with a reputable brand that ensures quality, transparency, and viable strains through the expiration date.  9. Iron and Vitamin C: Taking vitamin C with iron enhances the absorption of nonheme iron, the form found in plant-based foods and supplements. Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, facilitates the conversion of non-heme iron into a more absorbable form, increasing its bioavailability in the body. Vitamin C not only improves iron absorption but also helps mitigate potential side effects like constipation that can be associated with iron supplements.  

  • 10.Provitamins vs Active Forms: Provitamins, also known as precursor compounds, are inactive forms of vitamins that the body can convert into their active, functional states through metabolic processes. The distinction between provitamins and their active forms lies in the body's ability to convert them into the bioavailable state. The choice between using provitamins or active forms depends on individual factors such as overall health, dietary preferences, and specific health conditions. In certain instances, utilizing provitamins can be advantageous, as the body regulates the conversion based on its requirements. However, some individuals may benefit from direct supplementation with active forms, particularly if they have difficulty converting provitamins efficiently or if they have a known deficiency or malabsorption issue.  Examples of provitamins and their active forms include: 

  • Beta-carotene (Provitamin A) → Retinol (Active vitamin A) 

  • Ergocalciferol (Provitamin D2) → Cholecalciferol (Active vitamin D3) 

  • Folate (Provitamin B9) → Folic Acid (Synthetic active vitamin B9) 

What should you avoid in supplements?

In addition to ensuring that your supplement choices contain what you want, we also want to make sure they don’t contain unnecessary or harmful additives. Be on the lookout for the following ingredients on supplement labels. 

  1. Fillers: Check for unnecessary additives and fillers in the ingredient list. Common fillers include carrageenan, titanium dioxide, and potassium sorbate. 

  2. Sugars: Avoid supplements with added sugars, as they may negate the health benefits. 

  3. Gummy Vitamins: While tasty, gummy supplements almost always contain added sugars and artificial colors.  

  4. Artificial colors: These are added to enhance the look of supplements, but they’re an unnecessary ingredient that adds no health benefit. The jury is still out on how they affect the body, but it’s best to avoid them when possible.  

  5. Synthetic forms vs natural forms: In most cases, it’s best to take a natural form of a nutrient rather than a synthetic form.  

  6. Allergens: Double check that your supplement does not contain any or your known allergies or food sensitivities such as gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, or nuts. 

  7. GMO: Supplements labels Certified Organic do not contain GMOs and are better for your health.  

Work with a Professional! 

Embarking on a new supplement routine without professional guidance can be a risky and expensive endeavor. Rather than spending your hard earned money on a piece-meal supplement plan that doesn’t generate results, invest in a professional who can create a tailored regimen that considers your existing health conditions, medications, potential nutrient interactions, and goals. 

Plus, professional guidance helps you navigate the complex landscape of supplement options, ensuring safety, efficacy, and the avoidance of unnecessary or potentially harmful ingredients. Not only does this keep you safe, but it ensures your money is well spent and you reap the results you’re looking for. 

Supplements are not a replacement for whole foods!

While supplements can play a valuable role in meeting nutritional needs, they should never be considered a wholesale substitute for whole foods. Whole foods offer a wealth of essential nutrients in their natural state that supplements can’t replicate. The synergistic effect of food provides not only vitamins and minerals but also fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, contributing to overall health and disease prevention. Relying solely on supplements may lead to the exclusion of these vital components, missing out on the diverse array of nutrients that whole foods provide. 

Whole foods also offer a sensory and cultural experience that fosters a healthy relationship with food, something supplements simply can’t replicate. It's crucial to view supplements as complementary to a well-rounded, nutrient-dense diet rather than a replacement for the myriad benefits offered by whole foods. 

Final Thoughts 

When it comes to choosing supplements, knowledge is your most powerful tool. By understanding the nuances of third-party testing, quality indicators, and the importance of specific forms of nutrients, you can make informed decisions that support your overall health and well-being. 

Remember, your health is an investment, and choosing high-quality supplements is a step toward a healthier, more vibrant life.

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