In the case of vitamins and supplements, I believe that you get what you pay for (or what you don’t pay for). My patients are always telling me that they got this great 2-for-1 deal on multivitamins at the big-box discount store. Buying cheap vitamins for the most part is a colossal waste of money. Inexpensive vitamins contain the cheapest forms of each vitamin and a plethora of additives, preservatives, and sweeteners. It is ironic that most people who take vitamins do so because they want to be healthier. And yet, these vitamins are the equivalent of mass-produced, unhealthy processed foods, filled with synthetic ingredients and preservatives.
There are three major factors to look at when you are evaluating a vitamin/supplement:
- What forms of vitamins they contain
- Whether they contain potentially harmful, unnecessary ingredients
- Whether the manufacturing process is monitored and the product is tested for quality
1) The vitamin form – for vitamins to be effective, it is essential that the vitamin is in a form that is recognized and utilized by the body.
A perfect example is Vitamin B12. There are 4 forms of Vitamin B12 (aka cobalamin). Which of the following would you choose as the best form to take as a supplement?
- Cyanocobalamin: a synthetic form of B12 that DOES NOT occur in nature. In order for your body to use it, you have to cleave off the cyanide and convert it to methylcobalamin or adenosylcobalamin.
- Methylcobalamin: the main form of B12 used by the human body and most commonly found in food.
- Adenosylcobalamin: also found in the human body primarily in the liver.
- Hydroxycobalamin: a natural form produced by bacteria.
I would guess that most of you would choose methylcobalamin, since it is utilized by the body and is the form in the foods that we eat. Almost all over-the-counter vitamin manufacturers use cyanocobalamin, the synthetic form, because it is cheap and has a longer shelf life. If your multivitamin lists “B12” on the label and doesn’t specify the form, it is cyanocobalamin. Most physicians when giving B12 shots use cyanocobalamin, again because it is very inexpensive, costing pennies per dose.
So does the form make a difference? I have found that patients who are taking inexpensive multivitamins often still have vitamin deficiencies but those that take a vitamin with better forms such as methylcobalamin, are not deficient. A good test to evaluate your nutritional status is the Micronutrient or FIA test which measures the nutrient levels inside your cells. This test can be used to see if your vitamins are getting to where they need to go, inside the cell.
There are many other examples where inexpensive vitamin companies use an inferior form:
Vitamin E: most companies use the synthetic dl-alpha tocopherol instead of the natural form d-alpha tocopheroland
Vitamin D: many companies use ergocalciferol (D2) instead of the more bioavailable form cholecalciferol (D3).
So how do you figure out which vitamin manufacturers are good quality? Well, just read the label. Here is the Centrum label. Notice how it does not give the form of the vitamin next to each vitamin. Now look down at the ingredient list? You will find cyanocobalamin and dl-alpha tocopherol, both synthetic forms.
Now compare Centrum with a pharmaceutical grade multivitamin such as Xymogen Active Nutrients. Each vitamin has the form listed next to it and each is the best available, best absorbed, most bio-available form. Minerals are in the more bio-avialable chelated form instead of the inorganic highly bound form.
2) Other ingredients: If you are conscientious about your health, you probably read food labels and avoid eating foods that contain additives, preservatives, trans-fats, and sweeteners. Did you notice all the additives on the Centrum ingredient list? Do your vitamins really need FD&C Yellow No. 6 Aluminum Lake (food coloring), hydrogenated palm oil (trans-fats), modified food starch (may contain MSG), talc (anti-caking agent), sucrose and maltodextrin (sugars)?
3) Quality control: Look for c-GMP to make sure they follow Good Manufacturing Practices. For over-the-counter vitamins, look for the USP verified stamp to see if the company has their vitamins tested for purity?