What to Look for When Choosing a Supplement

Choosing supplementsDietary supplements and vitamins could be the answer when you need to meet certain nutrients in particular. Very often labeled safe and natural, but one sad fact of the supplement world is that not all supplements are created equal. Many of them even contain artificial additives, synthetic agents, chemical coloring, and they can even have imitation vitamin compounds that the body is unable to process because it can’t recognize them.

The good news is that it’s easy to tell which vitamins and supplements can really work for you. The following tips discuss the six ingredients that you should consider in particular (avoid if necessary) when choosing a supplement.

Synthetic Vitamins

There is a massive difference between all natural vitamins that you find in food and the synthetic vitamins that you can find in many supplements. Vitamins from whole-foods are completely bio-available and can be found naturally in foods, plants, and herbs. Synthetic vitamins are created in a laboratory and they might even be made from harmful or even poisonous sources like coal tar and petroleum.

Telling the difference between the two is quite easy. Just check the ingredients list as synthetic vitamins are often listed using their isolated names. Common synthetic vitamins you see in supplements include ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), riboflavin (Vitamin B2) and dl-alpha tocopherol acetate (Vitamin E). These synthetic vitamins also find their way into multivitamins. It’s important that you stick to whole food-based vitamins and supplements and buy ones where they are clearly labelled as being derived from natural sources including plants.

The Organic Consumers Association explains that, as well as being synthetic, these isolated vitamins lack the natural transporters and synergistic co-factors that they need to be absorbed and work properly. While a synthetic vitamin is able to stimulate the metabolism of a cell it can’t replace the components of the cell with the better quality elements like a natural vitamin can. The end result is that you have degraded cells.

Titanium Dioxide

Titanium Dioxide is another additive found in supplements that it doesn’t belong in. This additive is often used as a pigment and it comes with health risks all of its own. Titanium dioxide is an untested nano-particle powder made using titanium bits and it’s been linked to a number of health issues including autoimmune disorders, cancer, and several other diseases. There is also no therapeutic benefit to titanium dioxide. All it does is damage your cells without giving you anything in return and it has no place at all in a health supplement.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety explain on their website that titanium dioxide has recently been classed as an IARC Group 2B carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. This means that it may be “possibly carcinogen[ic] to humans”. They found evidence that a high concentration of pigment-grade and ultrafine titanium dioxide contributed to rats getting respiratory tract cancer after inhalation and intratracheal instillation.

Artificial Colors

While artificial colors are not as prevalent in some reputable vitamin and supplement brands they still find their way into many mainstream supplement. Centrum supplements, owned by Pfizer, contain several toxic coloring agents including FD&C Blue, No. 2 Aluminium Lake and FD&C Red No. 40 Aluminium Lake, both of which could be neurotoxins. As sad as it is these toxic coloring agents can even be found in vitamins for kids including Flinstones Complete.

Magnesium Stearate

It’s a little hard to believe but many supplements, including ones from the most reputable brands, contain a flow agent additive that can actually degrade the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. This is magnesium stearate and it’s been linked to the creation and development of “bio-film”, a harmful substance that builds up in the intestines and causes digestive issues.

Even though magnesium stearate contains the word magnesium it is not actually a source of important nutritive magnesium. A little magnesium is added to the supplement because it makes it easier to process through manufacturing equipment. It’s good for the equipment but it’s bad for your body and so it’s not worth it.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOS)

There’s a good chance that any supplement containing ingredients such as maltodextrin, citric acid, dextrose, vegetable fillers, sugars, or synthetic vitamin C (ascorbic acid) also contains GMOS. If your supplement isn’t made using whole foods and it doesn’t specifically state that it contains no GMOs then it almost definitely contains GMO or ingredients that are derived from them.

One of the most common fillers in gelcap-based supplements is soybean oil; a common source of GMOS. Another common GMO additive you’re likely to find is vitamin E, which is also usually derived from soy. Almost 90% of the soy in the United States comes from GMO. Some of the other common GMO ingredients include soy lecithin, inositol, choline, vegetable oil and vegetable cellulose.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States currently forbids using irradiation to sterilize dietary supplements. This doesn’t mean that all the ingredients in a supplement will be free of irradiation however as several suppliers have been caught trying to trade irradiated raw materials illegally. It was discovered by the European Commission in 2002 that almost half of the dietary supplements tested in the continent contained illegally irradiated ingredients.

As many supplement manufacturers will insist that their productions are free or irradiation for legal reasons you should ask the company directly if they test to make sure that their raw ingredients are free or irradiation. If they don’t then you should urge them to do so and then ask to see the results after the tests are done.

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