A Buyer’s Guide: Choosing Supplements that are Right for You!

If you'’re like most folks, you probably spend a lot of time researching your next vacation to get the best price. But the best price may just get you a one-way ticket to the Sahara Desert in mid-July— -- not most people’s idea of paradise.

Just as the best price may not get you your dream vacation, choosing cheap supplements may not give you the health benefits you'’re looking for. And by the time you take enough just to be effective, they can actually be more expensive than other supplements.

Sure, price IS important. Anyone watching the news of soaring health care costs can tell you that. But other factors come into play as well— --your health is one very important factor.

You don'’t need a degree in biochemistry to choose quality supplements with the best value. We’'re giving you information so you can choose supplements wisely. After all, getting healthy and feeling better helps you enjoy that vacation in paradise even more.

Make a conscious decision to feel better -- —no matter what. Supplements aren'’t for everyone. And taking supplements to instantly fix or cure something won’'t work.

Unlike over-the-counter or prescription medications, which mostly contain synthetic substances NOT found in the body, dietary supplements replenish natural substances your body needs. These natural substances— -- vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, etc. -- —should come from diet.

Unfortunately, the typical American diet contains fewer and fewer of these critical nutrients, and depleting your body of them can lead to poor health and chronic conditions.

Think of supplements as part of a conscious decision to improve your lifestyle over the long-term in much the same way that you would change your diet and commit to an exercise program. Are you really ready to take that step to feeling better?

Talk to your healthcare professional. If you’'re committed to using supplements to meet your body’s nutritional needs, involve your team of healthcare professionals in your decision. They'’re your best source for knowing how supplements can fit into your overall health plan.

Ask them questions— -- the same ones you’'d ask about any over-the-counter or prescription medicines— -- like:1

  • What benefits will I get from this supplement and how long should I take it?
  • How much should I take and are there any upper limits I need to consider?
  • Are there any known side effects and do they apply to me?
  • Does this supplement interact with any foods, over-the-counter or prescription medications, or other supplements?
  • Will taking this supplement impact any upcoming surgeries I have?1

Knowing what to expect from your supplements can help you decide where you want to take your health and wellness.

Use functional tests to pinpoint nutritional deficiencies. Don’t accept not feeling your best as a lifelong sentence. Be diligent in finding out what ails you and where you may have a deficiency. Research functional tests and involve your healthcare professional in helping you order and interpret your results. Testing not only helps you spot nutritional and metabolic issues, it can serve as a baseline to show you what'’s working and what’'s not. 

Look for quality dietary supplements. Many supplement buyers chase headlines. They turn on the TV, hear the latest quick fix, and use their hard-earned money in the hope of finding a cure-all. “Miracle” products are often sold for eight times their cost (or more!) based almost exclusively on hype. What these buyers often end up with is a collection of half-consumed supplements or, worse, a nutritionally- and financially-debilitating habit.

Do the same research you would before taking any prescribed and over-the-counter medications. Check ingredients, interactions, dosages, and expiration dates. Make sure that the supplements you'’re considering fit into the overall health plan you’'ve developed with your healthcare professional. Read more about how to determine the quality of dietary supplements.

Now…...check prices! Now that you’'ve identified the supplements you need, you can easily compare and find the best price on the Internet. If Product A costs $6.95 and Product B costs $34.95, you might be inclined to buy Product A.

But you also need to consider other factors like quality of raw materials, serving size, servings per container, ingredient levels, reputation of the manufacturing lab. For example:

  • Serving size/Servings per container: Make sure you compare apples to apples. If both Product A and B have 100 capsules but it takes 10 capsules of Product A to match the serving size/effectiveness of 1 capsule of Product B, a bottle of Product B will last you much longer and be much less expensive.
  • Ingredient levels: If you need 50 mg of a particular ingredient every day and Product A contains only 10 mg while Product B contains 50 mg, then consider the cost of taking five capsules of Product A versus one of Product B.

Finally, once you'’ve done all your homework and purchased a supplement, give it time to work. Your body requires specific amounts of nutrients. Many products take several weeks -- —and sometimes months -- —to restore and maintain your optimum nutrient levels. “Listen” to your body and use trial and error to find the best supplement levels for your body.

If the supplement does not help you feel better and you'’ve determined— -- by re-testing— -- that it’s not having an impact, then find another supplement. You'’ll not only save yourself some money, you'’ll have supplements that can help you feel better, too.

Feeling better takes work. But it’s work with a tangible reward -- —better health and wellness.

  1. Adapted from “Tips for Older Dietary Supplement Users,” Dec. 2003, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, U.S. Food and Drug Administration.