Are supplements safe?

Do supplements work?

Are they worth the cost?

There are many times when you may consider adding supplements to your personal health plan. While it would be optimal to get all the nutrition you need from food, there are practical reasons why this may not be possible.

Supplements can be a powerful ally in your journey to health. As part of your individualized treatment plan, they can address and solve for the underlying cause of illness – and are backed by evidence and science.


Nutrient Deficiencies

The body cannot fully function, let alone heal, in the presence of nutrient insufficiencies and deficiencies. For example, selenium is one of the minerals needed to create thyroid hormones. Plants take up selenium from the soil so if there is an insufficient intake of selenium-containing plants (or the body cannot absorb this key mineral), the thyroid eventually will experience dysfunction, resulting in hypothyroidism.

A Functional Medicine approach focuses on removing the barrier (i.e., insufficient digestion), replenishing the body (healing the deficiencies) through nutrition, and supplements (if nutrition cannot heal the body alone).


Six Reasons Why Supplements Matter To Your Health

I Stress

Stress – and we all have a lot of it – depletes your body of many vital vitamins and minerals like the vitamins B, C and E and minerals like magnesium.  These nutrients are used by the body to fight inflammation and neutralize free radicals, which are created in response to stress, poor diet, environmental toxins like pollution, pathogens, viruses and bacteria. Stress burns up magnesium and low magnesium has been associated with stressful conditions such as headaches, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, sleep disturbances, co-nutrient insufficiencies, joint and muscle pain and so on.

2 Soil Depletion

Soil that has been depleted of nutrients can’t pass them on to growing fruit and vegetables – and on your plate. Soil depletion comes from over-farming the land, and lack of crop rotation. Soil depletion affects your health whether you’re eating nutrient-depleted plants or eating meat from animals that have consumed nutrient-depleted plants. Because of soil depletion, crops grown decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals than the varieties available today. So, yes, that carrot today is different (and not in a good way) than the one your Grandmother grew!

3 Disease

Dietary supplements are widely used and offer the potential to improve health when targeted to those in need. Inadequate nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are prevalent conditions that adversely affect much of the population. Although improvements in nutrition are essential to address these issues, dietary supplements can help meet requirements for individuals at risk of deficiencies.

4 Digestion & Absorption

Digestive issues are one of the most common health concerns today. Sometimes the body cannot affectively absorb nutrients. This can be due to digestive problems like the body’s inability to break down food into its smallest components, instead, passing through the digestive tract insufficiently digested. If there is insufficient stomach acid, proteins cannot be broken down into their amino acid components. Medication also impairs absorption of food and nutrients. The focus in Functional Medicine is on correcting gut health and supporting digestion and supplements can have a significant role.

5 Food Handling

Food processing, handling and the addition of preservatives and additives  drastically reduces nutrient content. Food additives in processed food can further deplete nutrients.  Long-distance transportation of many foods diminishes their nutrition. As soon as food is harvested, the levels of certain nutrients begin to diminish. It can be weeks between when the food was picked, transported, packed, stored, and then finally eaten.

6 Lifestyle

If you drink alcohol, smoke, live in a polluted city or are pregnant, premenstrual, on the pill, or simply just in a stressful patch, your nutritional needs increase greatly.  Smoking and drinking alcohol depletes magnesium and vitamin C. Coffee cuts iron absorption.  Even excessive exercise can deplete both water and fat-soluble vitamins and minerals.

“In a perfect world, no one would need supplements. But given the stress of our modern life, the poor quality of our food supply and the high load of toxins on our brains and bodies, most of us need a basic daily supply of the key, raw materials for all our enzymes and biochemistry to run as designed.”

Dr. Mark Hyman, MD

Quality Matters

In fact, it makes all the difference

When it comes to you and your family, you want only the best. Unfortunately, you cannot trust all nutritional supplements to be of high quality.

  • Four out of five herbal supplements tested at Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens, and GNC contained none of the medicinal herb that was printed on the label and instead contained cheap fillers like rice powder, asparagus, and houseplants.
  • 46% of popular US multivitamins didn’t contain what was stated on the label. 80% of gummy vitamins failed quality tests.
  • Nutritional supplements can even be contaminated with lead, causing more harm than good.
  • If you buy probiotics or other supplements on Amazon, they could be counterfeit or expired. Supplements can be fake, laced, cut, expired, damaged, contaminated, or rancid.
  • The FDA doesn’t monitor supplements like it does pharmaceuticals. Supplement companies are not required to use third-party testing organizations that oversee supplement quality.

The lack of oversight and the booming supplement industry means that you need to protect yourself and your family when shopping for supplements.

Dos and Don’ts

Guide to High-Quality Nutritional Supplements

DO buy professional-only supplements. DON’T buy grocery store supplements unless you have researched and verified the company’s quality program.

DO buy directly from the manufacturer. Certain professional-only brands have begun selling to consumers. DON’T buy from middle-men in the supply chain; there are more chances for product damage or fraud.

DO look for products manufactured according to FDA’s current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP), which help ensure safe, clean, careful, and consistent manufacturing. DON’T buy cheap supplements. High-quality supplements cost real money to produce and test. Cheap supplements are likely fake, expired, damaged, or cut.

DO look for products that are manufactured according to U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) standards. They set purity and identity standards for drugs, food, and supplements.

DO look for supplements that have undergone 3rd party independent testing. Example labs are NSF International, UL,, International Fish Oil Standards Program, and the USP Verified Mark testing program. (Check out How to Read a Label.)

DO research the supplement company. Make sure they are a reputable company with a customer service number. Find out how they verify their purity and quality and if they use 3rd party testing.

DO buy from or through a trusted healthcare practitioner who is knowledgeable about supplement quality. DON’T buy supplements online. Supplements bought on Amazon or eBay can be counterfeit, expired, laced, or damaged.

Supplement Grades

How to have a therapeutic effect from your supplements

There are two kinds of nutritional supplements you can buy:

  • professional-only (pharmaceutical grade) supplements
  • grocery store supplements

Professional-only supplements are carefully manufactured, rigorously tested using third party labs, and known for superior quality, purity, and efficacy. They are generally regarded as the best quality supplements in the medical field.

What does pharmaceutical grade mean? Pharmaceutical grade supplements are produced in a manner to obtain the purest form of the nutrient and ensure maximum absorption. Due to the addition of various other substances, no product is 100% pure. Pharmaceutical grade products must exceed 99% purity (natural sources) and contain no binders, fillers, excipients, dyes, or unknown substances. Fewer than 3% of the products on the market are pharmaceutical grade.

Grocery store supplements, also found at the drug store or health food store, are not required to use 3rd party testing. They may not contain what the label says or they may contain unknown or even harmful ingredients. When it comes to trusting your supplements, professional-only supplements are a much safer bet. The quality of a nutritional supplement ultimately depends on the manufacturer and its commitment to quality, so do your research!

Safe and Effective Use of Supplements

Supplements can supply nutrients to support the physiological and biomechanical processes of the human body.

However, if there are pharmaceutical medications already in use, rare but potentially harmful interactions may occur. For this reason, it is important to keep all of your healthcare providers fully informed about all medications and nutritional supplements, herbs, or hormones you may be taking. It is also important to consult with a health care provider trained and knowledgeable in the use, interactions and reactions that may occur as a result of using supplements.