Nutritional Supplements – A Consumer Guide

Updated: Jan 27


Nutritional supplements are one of the hottest selling products in the market these days—their total consumption values billions of dollars in the U.S. alone. More than half of the adults in the U.S. consume nutritional supplements in different forms, such as tablets, capsules, powders, soft gels, gel caps, gummies, and liquids.


Public awareness of health issues and improved living standards in our society has likely driven the increased consumption of nutritional supplements. Many studies have shown that there is a close correlation between health and nutrition. Insufficient supply of nutrients can weaken our body defense mechanism, causing medical problems from common ailments to more severe illnesses in the long term.


There are different types of supplements: macronutrients (amino acids, proteins, essential fatty acids), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), enzymes (digestive enzymes and antioxidant enzymes), probiotics (beneficial bacteria in the gut), and herbal supplements. These supplements have unique functions in our body. They are either essential for life and good health, modulate our immune system or help with liver detoxification, digestion, mental clarity, etc.


Many people argue that there is no need to consume nutritional supplements as long as you live a healthy lifestyle and eat a balanced diet. While this may be true, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and proper diet is difficult to achieve for many people.


Over the past few decades, the green revolution has changed the farming practices over the world. We use more chemical fertilizers and more pesticides to increase harvest and shorten the growth period of food products. As a result, we deplete the soil of nutrients and beneficial soil bacteria. The produce we grow today contains fewer micronutrients than before.


A stressful lifestyle, improper eating habits, imbalanced diet, and increased exposure to environmental pollutants (such as those found in household cleaning products and industrial exhaust) and pesticides, drugs, hormones, and heavy metals in foods also gradually weaken our body.


Although nutritional supplements can be beneficial to our health, consumers should still choose the products carefully. Currently, there is little regulation on the quality of supplements. The composition of some supplements may not match the label claims, and the quality of raw materials and finished products is not guaranteed. Therefore, consumers should only buy from reputable health food manufacturers, read the labels carefully, and read their clinical study results.


Here are some general rules for buying nutritional supplements:


1) Supplements made from whole foods and natural sources are better than synthetic ones. They are more bioactive, readily absorbed, and less likely to be contaminated by chemicals such as coal tars used in chemical synthesis.


2) Protein-bonded vitamins and minerals (vitamins and minerals in organic form, binding to amino acids) are more bioactive than the inorganic forms.


3) Buy supplements using safe extraction methods, such as cold-pressed extraction or supercritical extraction. Chemical extraction methods leave harmful residues.


4) Herbal concentrates and extracts are usually more effective than raw herbs.


5) Organically grown or wild-crafted herbs are less likely to be contaminated by heavy metals, pesticides, and other chemicals.


6) Read the labels, do not consume more than the recommended dose.


7) Be careful when consuming certain herbal supplements, such as Ma Huang / ephedra, Kava Kava, comfrey, etc. Some studies have shown that these herbs may cause severe side effects to some people. Stop use if unusual signs appear after consumption.


8) Some health food supplements may interact with drugs, either by decreasing or increasing their effects. Consult your doctor if you are currently taking medications.


9) Pregnant and nursing women or people with specific medical conditions should consult with their doctors when consuming nutritional supplements.


10) When in doubt, contact the supplement manufacturers or distributors for more information about their products.


11) Nutritional supplements are available in many places, such as grocery stores, health food stores, drug stores, pharmacies, supermarkets, department stores, online stores, etc. Be a smart consumer; compare the price and service before purchase.


Supplementing your diet with nutritional supplements can have a fortifying effect on your health. Finding high-quality, bioavailable products can take a little time and research, but it can be worth it.