As with anything else, usually quality varies widely.  With supplements it is essential to know the details for each.  There are many versions of some nutrients. Some versions cannot be absorbed well by the body and a few may actually have detrimental effects to certain individuals or populations.

In general, with all supplements, be sure to choose products that are free of maltodextrin as a binding agent or filler. This is common in many powder supplement capsules and there just isn’t a good reason to choose these.   Also, look out for gelatin capsules. In speaking with glyphosate (aka RoundUp®) experts/researchers that are investigating the herbicide’s effect on animals/human health, 100 out of 100 gelatin capsules, from a wide variety of supplement manufacturers, tested positive for the chemical.

Lastly, just because a supplement is popular doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a good fit for you. Fish oil for example is an incredibly common choice for people seeking its reported anti-inflammatory effects. However, research in Canada led by Sanjoy Ghosh, PhD at UBC has shown that it can cause problems when it reaches the GI. Most importantly fish oil disrupts the microbiome and can cause inflammation that originates in the gut.

Here are the top supplements purchased last year and what you should consider with each:

  1. Multivitamin.  The research on multivitamins is not that supportive of their use. Maybe that is because there are so many poor choices for this catch-all. In general, individuals have widely varying biochemistry with respect to what nutrients they need more than others.  We don’t buy clothing that is one-size-fits-all, but we are ok buying a multivitamin that is probably an even worse fit.

    Multivitamins with the folic acid version of folate are to be avoided, as are those multivitamins that contain the cyanocobalamine variety of vitamin B12. Also, choose only vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol NOT vitamin D2 or ergocalciferol.

    Be sure to avoid multivitamins with large amounts of calcium. This mineral is important but when part of a multivitamin it generally disrupts our ability to absorb the smaller amounts of trace minerals present.

  2. Vitamin C.  Most people take this prophylactically against colds and flus.  It is best to choose vitamin C that contains both ascorbic acid and the bioflavonoids that work with vitamin C synergistically. Products such as Ester-C® are good examples of this.

  3. Calcium. Avoid taking too much! Limit yourself to 500mg or less if you do take calcium. Choose those supplements that are mostly made up of calcium citrate or calcium gluconate, not chalk which is listed as calcium carbonate. It is an antacid and will disrupt your ability to digest protein as well as to absorb other essential micronutrients.

  4. Vitamin D. Be sure to take vitamin D3 and not D2. Additionally, it is best to take a vitamin D3 that is suspended as an oil such as in a liquid drop form where it is mixed with medium chain triglycerides or olive oil. Generally these forms provide 1000IUs per drop.

  5. Fish oil.  I would choose krill oil ahead of fish oil. Krill oil has better supporting research, is lower on the food chain, and contains the powerful antioxidant/red pigment known as astaxanthin.  If you do choose to use fish oil, be sure that it contains a balanced mix of DHA to EPA. Many cheaper varieties are mostly EPA with very little DHA.

  6. Vitamin B12. It is important to select a B12 supplement that contains only methylcobalamin and NOT cyanocobalamin. Many people have a very difficult time metabolizing the cyano version.

  7. Magnesium.  Quite possibly the most beneficial supplement listed yet, and also maybe the safest. Still it is best to choose magnesium glycinate nor citrate and not magnesium oxide. Magnesium oxide is a powerful laxative and the point of taking it is to actually absorb the nutrient!

  8. Probiotics.  A probiotic should contain at least a few beneficial flora species as opposed to just lactobacillus acidophilus.  While the research supports a positive effect on our GI, at least a transient one, it is a function of how viable the bacteria populations are after storage and handling. Probiotics in general should be refrigerated and should have a clear expiration date that is way out ahead of your date of purchase. Also, try and find those that offer at least 25 billion CFUs per dose with 5 different strains of bacteria being well represented.

  9. Glucosamine/Chondroitin.  Many osteoarthritis sufferers use this daily with mixed results.  Better results are generally reported from more glucosamine and less chondroitin.  Of significant importance is the source of each.  I recommend choosing plant/sea vegetable sources for the glucosamine content and only grass-fed, organic cows for the chondroitin content.  Glyphosate is ending up everywhere and cow cartilage is a highly concentrated source these days.

~ John Bagnulo MPH, PhD.