The world of supplements can often be a confusing one to maneuver. One week we hear that we cannot possibly exist without a daily dose of Vitamin XYZ, then in the next week Vitamin 123 emerges as the new health fad. With such an excess in products, brands, and essential nutrients to choose from, how do we know which one is the best for us? Where do we even start?
In order to narrow down your search it's important to figure out exactly what your body needs. Not the supplement a brand tells you you need or the supplement that sounds/looks the most fashionable. Various factors such as age, gender, illness history, and additional medications affect which supplements may be right for you.
This article will help you determine how to weed through the surplus in options to find the best supplement for you, as well as how to best use supplements to improve your overall health.
First things first: What to consider
There are many personal factors to consider when deciding what supplement is right for you, including:
Do you have any dietary restrictions? Or a condition that affects the way you absorb nutrients? Many supplements contain nutrients that the body needs to function properly, but these nutrients can also be found in healthy foods. Eating a well-balanced, healthy diet, full of plenty of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and proteins, can help eliminate vitamin deficiencies and therefore the need for any dietary supplement. If supplements were meant to replace certain nutrients or other necessary parts of your diet, they would not be called supplements.
Some children and infants struggle to get enough nutrients in their diet for optimal development and may need help from supplements. Additionally, adults over the age of 50 are more likely to have difficulty absorbing certain nutrients and may benefit from added support.
Are you pregnant or breastfeeding? Do you experience debilitating symptoms while on your period? Or are you menopausal? Conditions relating to your sex and/or gender may affect which supplements are best for you. For example, pregnant women need to be extremely careful about what they allow in their body, but they also have significant vitamin requirements like folic acid and iron that support better health during the pregnancy.
Do you have any chronic health conditions? If yes, you should speak with your doctor before taking any new supplement.
Related to the previous factor, if you have any health conditions you likely take medication for them. You may also take other supplements, over-the-counter or prescription medications. Some supplements can interact poorly with other medications/supplements, causing negative and sometimes even serious side effects. In order to avoid this, talk to your doctor about any risks that may arise by taking a new supplement. Websites like MedWatch have information on potential side effects and risks for various supplements.
General Health Habits:
How often do you exercise? What are your typical stress levels and mood? How many hours of sleep do you get each night? All of these lifestyle factors can affect your health needs.
Finally, ask yourself what exactly you are looking to improve. Be as specific as possible. Increase energy? Digestion? Skin health? Mood? The more you narrow down your search, the better a supplement can fit your needs.
So, you have gone over what you need based on your personal health history and information. Now it is time to do some research. The Internet features a multitude of resources designed to help you make informed decisions, but unfortunately there is also a lot of false information out there. Media literacy is critical to getting the most out of what the Internet has to offer.
Let’s say you are looking for a supplement that will help improve your energy levels. You do a quick Google search and find an article with a list of supplements that might benefit you. Take a look at the website itself--who does it look to serve? What is its purpose?
If the site is run by doctors or scientists with the purpose of making medical information largely accessible, it is likely to be a good source. Websites that are mainly used to promote products can sometimes have good information but are certainly biased and are less likely to point out any negatives or risks.
It is better to be skeptical than immediately trustful when it comes to information on the Internet. Even if you think you have found an excellent source, back it up with at least two or three other articles from different, reputable websites. Your health is a serious thing, and it is important to be absolutely sure of what you are taking.
What You Need to Look For: Regulations
Products should be regulated and approved by third parties, such as GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice), which will look to make sure the brand passes on four main points:
- Positive Identification: Are the ingredients on the label the same as the ingredients in the product? Is the featured vitamin the first ingredient?
- Performance: Can the supplement be absorbed? Can the daily serving fit into one pill, or do you need to take more than one?
- Potency: Is there enough of the featured ingredient for it to be effective? Is there too much of the featured ingredient?
- Purity: Does the supplement contain any unwanted toxins?
Popular Assumptions to Avoid
With all the misinformation available online, certain assumptions have gained popular following despite being false. Here are some key things to remember:
Just because a product says it is natural, does not mean it is healthy and safe. Natural ingredients can still have negative side effects and can interact poorly with other medications you may be taking. Better to be safe and check that a supplement is safe for you specifically, rather than assuming so.
As fashionable as some health fads may be, true science moves slowly and most assertions take years to be proven true, at the very least. Pay attention to current developments in science and health but understand that the studies needed to back these advancements take a long time to complete.
It is not true that a supplement will not hurt you, even if it does not help you. Getting too much of certain vitamins and minerals can have unwanted side effects, just as a deficiency can.
Stay smart about your supplement usage and do not fall for these common traps.
The Right Supplement For You
Let’s walk through an example using MitoQ to show you how this process might play out in real time.
Consider you are a 55-year-old woman, relatively healthy and looking for a supplement that will help with the effects of aging. You find a few articles on the Internet that claim that the antioxidant CoQ10 is a helpful anti-aging supplement. After doing some more research and consulting with your doctor about any potential side effects, you decide you want to try it.
Now it is time to find the best brand. You go through your top options and decide you like the sound of MitoQ. Its website highlights the enhanced, groundbreaking formula of CoQ10 that is present in MitoQ, allowing it to be absorbed hundreds of times better inside the mitochondria than other CoQ10 supplements. Given how crucial absorption is to the effectiveness of a supplement, you find this information particularly riveting.
However, you know you should use more than just the brand’s website to inform your decision, so you look for further evidence that MitoQ is effective. You notice that MitoQ has been featured in over 400 peer-reviewed papers from leading universities and research institutions, is made in GMP-certified facilities and you find several articles online that bolster your interest.
Finally, you decide that MitoQ is the right supplement for your needs, and the most effective option you have. You order your first bottle of MitoQ and start to see results soon after (though you may need up to three months).
Supplements are long-term solutions, especially when it comes to making up for nutrients you’re not getting through diet alone, so it makes sense that you should take your time before making your decision. Just like you would not buy a car without doing any research, you should not ingest something daily without thoroughly researching its effects.
In conclusion, you are more likely to need a supplement if you are pregnant, older than 50, a child/infant, have any dietary restrictions or limitations, or have any genetic/health conditions, especially those relating to digestive health and malabsorption.
The quest for the perfect supplement can be very arduous, but using the tips outlined above can help you find the best option for your body and overall health.
Whether you want a supplement to help improve a vitamin deficiency, or to help with the effects of aging, do not wait another day to give your body the boost it deserves!