Supplementation is vital for our health, but it is hard to know how to choose the best supplement. With hundreds of companies selling thousands of products, it can be difficult and overwhelming to choose the right company when shopping for supplements.
Choosing the right supplement from an honest company is not difficult when shoppers are informed and have the right tools to make purchases. Here are our 12 tips on how to choose the best supplement:
Tip 1: Choose supplements that are made from scratch
Most companies just get their products from a contract manufacturer and do not formulate their products in house. Look for the supplement that is formulated from scratch and made in pharmaceutical grade labs in the USA—and not obtained turnkey and white labeled from a CMO.
Tip 2: Choose supplements made by companies with a scientific team behind it
A lot of times supplement companies will have one doctor on the website and that doctor will be the face that is attempting to give credibility to the company. 99% of the time, that doctor has nothing to do with the development, design, and manufacturing of the product. They are getting paid by the company to be the face of the supplement. And you want to avoid companies like that. It is wise to choose supplements made by companies with a scientific team behind it. When companies have a scientific team and you can see that team and their credentials on the website, it gives you a lot of confidence that these people know what they are doing.
Tip 3: Choose a supplement backed by clinical studies
Obviously, if we want the supplement to have a beneficial effect on human health, we need to have clinical studies behind that product to show that result. When most supplements say that they have clinical studies, what they really have is a clinical study of an ingredient that they are using in the formulation, but not on the entire product itself. All bets are off if the actual formulated supplement is not doing what it should. So always look for clinical studies on the supplement, not just on the ingredient.
Tip 4: Look for patents and intellectual property
Patents ensure customers that the products are legitimate and are backed by professional opinion. When choosing a supplement, you want to look at the labels that say, "Protected by patents" or "Patent pending." It means that there is specific novel science behind the formulation. When you are looking at a formula that claims to have patent pending or patented, you want to make sure that that patent is exclusive to the supplement, and not just an ingredient that they are using, that a bunch of other companies are using as well.
Tip 5: Certifications
There are certifying bodies in the supplement industry like NSF, certified therapeutic grade (CTG), Consumer Labs, Informed Choice, WADA etc. If the companies say it is an organic supplement, then you want to see the certified organic seal. You want to see things like ‘kosher’ and ‘halal’ to show that these ingredients as well as this formulation are effective for people from all walks of life. So, certification is particularly important.
Tip 6: The ingredients of supplements need to be easy to find
A lot of times, you go to find the ingredients of a supplement and you cannot find it. When you shop online for a supplement, there is a lot of great marketing, but you cannot find the ingredients. A lot of times the ingredients are buried in the Q&A section, five or six layers down. You cannot make informed purchasing decisions without accurate ingredient information on labels. Companies that make science-based supplements are loud and proud about their ingredients. Look for the companies that say what the ingredients are and are straightforward about it.
Tip 7: Transparency
When a supplement is made, a certificate of analysis will be issued to the company and the manufacturer who makes it, where they show the specifications that need to be in the supplements are there. So, companies need to be transparent and actually post this certificate of analysis or (CoA) on their website. They also need to show the test results that prove that the product really has the bioactive ingredients that they claim to have. These ingredients and supplements we take into our body are a big deal. We need to be careful about what we take into our body, and we cannot make great choices, unless we know what ingredients are there. So, this is super important.
Tip 8: Use the supplements that have standardized ingredients in them
All plant materials have bioactive compounds called phytonutrients, and these bioactive compounds are the medicinal, health promoting component of plants. Some botanical materials can be packed with phytonutrients and there are other botanical materials that are devoid of these health promoting compounds. So how do we know what works? Well, one way is to look at the label, where it says that it is standardized to compounds. Take gingko, for example. The active components in ginkgo are called ginkgolides. And to know if this ginkgo material is going to be effective for you, you want to see the label that says, "Standardized to ginkgolides," and shows you the exact amount of ginkgolides, so that you know for sure that you are getting the bioactive compounds that are inherent in this plant into your body needed to do its job.
Tip 9: Proprietary blends
Avoid any supplement that has proprietary blends in them. It is a trick used by many supplement makers. It is not allowed in most countries, but the FDA does allow proprietary blends. When you see "Proprietary blend one gram" in a label, it may have 40 different ingredients. The problem with that is, we have no idea about the amount of each of these ingredients. For an ingredient to be effective, it needs to be in a certain amount. For instance, ginkgo needs to have at least 180 milligrams of ginkgo standardized to ginkgolides, to be efficacious. But when a brand uses a proprietary blend, they are hiding the amount of ingredients present. Often, they do not have the efficacious amount of ginkgo. And as a result, the product is not going to be effective, but they do not want you to know that. A lot of times they throw in a bunch of different, hot, popular ingredients that the consumers have little knowledge about. So, they throw those in, just for marketing. But there is no efficacy.
Tip 10: One exception to proprietary blends
As an exception, if there is a proprietary blend that has just four or five ingredients and the product is patent pending, then a lot of times, that proprietary blend is part of the patent and there is some intellectual property behind that. We do that. We have no proprietary blends in our products, except for Brilliant Defend. It is because that proprietary blend is our secret sauce for our quorum sensing patent that we hold. So, there are some exceptions, but in general, watch out for proprietary blends.
Tip 11: FDA or FTC warning letters
Never, ever take a supplement from a company that has received an FDA or FTC warning letters. When you search for the company's name and FDA warning letter online, you will be able to see if they have received one. FDA warning letter shows that those companies cannot make a good product, do not know how to ensure quality, and do not know how to market the product. So that is a big warning sign, obviously.
Tip 12: Avoid supplements that are making crazy medical claims
A supplement company cannot make medical claims and the FDA does not allow that. On every supplement, you can find the claim "This product is not intended to cure, diagnose, or treat any disease." So, when companies make disease claims, like cancer, Alzheimer's, type 2 diabetes, chronic pain etc., that means that they have no idea how to make a supplement, and how to market it. Really, they are hacks. They do not know what they are doing. And these are obviously not supplements that we want to take to help our bodies. If we cannot trust the claims that they are making, then we cannot trust the ingredients that they are using and how they are formulated. It all depends on how it is formulated. Companies that do not really know what they are doing can include ingredients and combinations that might be harmful.
A quality supplement does not always have the loudest advertising and the brightest colors on the packaging. What really matters in the supplement realm is what is inside the bottle. Some of the key identifiers of a quality supplement are the ingredients, the team backing the science, brand transparency, clinical studies, and certifications. When a brand makes their process and their ingredients fully transparent, it shows that they are proud of their methods and the means by which they came to a conclusive product.