Wellness Wednesday: What’s Really In Your Supplements?

Many people understand the need for a healthier lifestyle. Many of us are trying to eat better, exercise and take vitamins to fill in the nutritional gaps in our diets. Unfortunately, you may not realize what you are really buying, unless you are reading every label. The fact is most vitamins sold in department and grocery stores are vitamins in synthetic forms with a long list of unhealthy and toxic ingredients. Some ingredients are healthy-sounding and may seem harmless, but do you really know what it is, or how it was manufactured?

For example vitamin E in its natural form is effective against aging, oxidative stress, restless leg syndrome, diabetes, cataracts and a host of other ills. Vitamin E in its synthetic form is petro-chemically derived and is capable of causing endocrine disruption. Magnesium stearate has been shown to cause kidney stones and liver abnormalities. An additional issue with magnesium stearate is that it is often found as a combined product of stearic acid. Since it is made by hydrogenating cottonseed or palm oil, you risk consuming pesticide residue, since cottonseed oil has the highest content of pesticide residue of all commercially produced oils.

Common fillers in supplements:

BHT – This fat-soluble compound is used in jet fuels, rubber, petroleum products and embalming fluid. Research has linked BHT to bladder cancer, DNA damage, gastric and lung cancer.

Boric acid – This chemical is used as an antiseptic, insecticide and flame retardant. It is also connected to DNA damage.

Synthetic vitamin A – Petro-chemically derived product capable of causing birth defects.

Cupric sulfate – This is used as an herbicide, fungicide and pesticide. Very irritating if ingested.

Stearic acid – Is a white, waxy, natural fatty acid found in some vegetables and animal fats. It is a major ingredient in soaps and lubricants. If prepared synthetically by hydrogenation of cottonseed and other oils, it contains pesticide residue. It is added as a lubricant and to hold tablets together.

Maltodextrin – This sugar is obtained by hydrolysis of starch. Used to add texture and as a flavor enhancer.

Modified maize starch – This filler is a derivative of corn that has been chemically altered to dissolve quickly and serves as a thickener. Most corn is GMO.

Sodium benzoate – Synthetic chemical used as a preservative. According to Peter Piper, professor of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology of Sheffield University, sodium benzoate can damage mitochondrial DNA.

Hydrogenated palm oil – Hydrogenation is the process of adding hydrogen gas to liquid oils. Hydrogenation leads to trans fats which contribute to fat clogged arteries.

Potassium chloride – Colorless, odorless powder, used to improve fermentation. Small intestinal ulcers may occur with oral administration. Larger doses can cause gastrointestinal irritation, weakness and circulatory collapse.

Simple Things You Can Do to Buy a Better Vitamin

There is an enormous difference between whole food supplements and synthetics. Ultimately you want to avoid synthetics and fillers. Look for high quality whole food organic supplements whenever possible. Consider boosting your health with superfoods and juicing whole, organic vegetables and fruits. Here’s some tips on how to find the best vitamin for you:

Tip 1: Test your vitamin at home.

The best vitamin in the world won’t do you much good if it doesn’t release its ingredients. Pills that don’t disintegrate properly may not release all of their ingredients for absorption, and ingredients may go unused. Although only one measure of quality, you can check at home whether your vitamins are breaking apart properly with a test similar to what we do in the lab. Place the pill in a cup of water heated to body temperature (about 99 degrees) and stir it for about 30 minutes while keeping the water warm. During that time, the pill should completely break apart, with its contents either turning to a powder or dissolving in the water. Please note that this test is not meant to work for chewable, enteric-coated or timed-release pills.

Tip 2: Look for third-party certification.

Look for certification seals on supplements, such as ConsumerLab’s Approved Quality Seal or the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) seal. These seals ensure that the products you’re buying have passed important tests for quality and contain their key ingredients. ConsumerLab.com provides this certification testing in addition to the reviews of products it selects for testing. In the certification program, companies pay a fee for the testing. ConsumerLab.com does not accept product samples and purchases all supplements on the market, as a consumer would. If a company’s product passes all of our certification tests, it may carry the ConsumerLab.com quality seal for a limited amount of time.

Tip 3: Be wary of “proprietary” formulas or blends.

These are “wiggle words” which allow companies to put in ingredients without promising how much there is of each. If an ingredient is important to you, be sure it and its amount are separately listed.

Tip 4: Know your needs – labels can mislead!

The Supplement Facts panel, typically on the back label of a vitamin bottle, lists the amounts of vitamins and essential minerals per serving. It also shows the percent of the Daily Value (DV) for each nutrient is provided. Unfortunately (and incredibly!), the amounts on which the DV numbers are based have not been updated by the FDA since 1968. The best guidelines for nutrient intake are the newer Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) which are not listed on supplement labels. The RDAs often call for different amounts than the Daily Values. For instance, when a label lists 100% DV of vitamin A, this is actually much more than you need. On the other hand, if you see 100% DV for vitamin C and vitamin D, these are actually less than the currently RDAs. Figure out what you really need based on your age, gender, diet, and general health and make sure a supplement provides what you want and not too much (i.e., above the upper limit) of any vitamin or mineral. You can check up-to-date Recommended Daily Allowances and upper limits of vitamins and minerals at ConsumerLab.com/RDAs.


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