Let’s face it. When it comes to choosing a quality supplement, it can be extremely difficult and outright confusing. Having formulated over 500 products, and patented over thirty novel ingredients myself, I know that walking down the supplement aisle can leave you feeling frustrated, anxious and totally overwhelmed! You want to put your hard-earned money to work, confidently knowing that you are buying a product made with quality ingredients, and one that is going to give you the results that you deserve. But if you just don’t know where to start, or who’s advice to actually believe, then I have some tips to help you choose your supplement brands.
My aim is that after reading this article, you will have the insight and knowledge to make better decisions in regard to your supplementation choices, helping you in turn to better optimize your health. Because at the end of the day, what is Lifespan, without Healthspan!
I truly believe that the best place to start when it comes to choosing quality supplements, is to stick to the brands that have stood the test of time, with both consumers and third-party testing. These companies have built their names by producing quality supplements over the years, based on consistency and solid values, both which are extremely important. Brands such as NOW, Jarrow, Doctor’s Best, Nordic Naturals, Thorne, Life Extension, Pure Encapsulations, and Designs for Health are some of the brands that I know I can trust, and by sticking to these quality brands, it will ensure that you get only the best ingredients.
I can safely say that I am not a fan of any type of proprietary blends. The companies that produce these products often say the reason they don’t list the ingredients on their labels is because they are protecting their ideas, but the real truth is this is a way for them to avoid expensive testing costs, as well as quality raw ingredient costs. At the end of the day, it is far more expensive to be fully transparent. When you buy these proprietary blends, there is no way for you to know the exact amounts that are being used. A product might have 20 different ingredients listed within a 500mg capsule, but without knowing the exact amounts, one single ingredient can make up 481mg of the product, with the other 19 ingredients contributing only 1mg each respectively (a practice known as “fairy dusting”). This is an ideal way for these companies to list numerous ingredients but have very few of them at any consequential level in terms of effect for you, or cost for them. If you are one of those people who believes supplements don’t work, this is probably the biggest reason why. As a rule of thumb, make sure to not buy any products with proprietary blends.
As with proprietary blends, be extremely skeptical of “kitchen sink formulas” which generally contain far too many ingredients. A good rule of thumb is to look for formulas that typically have between 3-6 ingredients. They should have complementary mechanisms of action at the right dose and in the right forms. Less definitely means more when it comes to choosing supplements and it should make sense as to why each ingredient is within the formula. Pick the best ingredient with the best data, and then pick another ingredient that synergizes well with it, and so on.
When reading a supplement label, you should be able to see the genus and species, the part of the plant used, the standardization percentage and compound standardized for, as well as its level in the product. An example would be, Rhodiola Rosea (root) standardized for 3 percent rosavins and 1 percent salidroside, at a 500mg dose. With this specific information, you are able to do a literature search to confirm if that is an efficacious dose that has been backed up by research. Examine.com is a fantastic resource where they have exhaustive scientific summaries on ingredients, so make sure to check it out when looking into buying a specific ingredient.
Various plants, such as ginseng and rhodiola, are studied for their efficacy from the actual root. Because of this, the root is generally more expensive than the rest of the plant (whole plant, stem, leaf, or flower), and these parts may be discarded or sold at a far cheaper price. Disreputable companies often use these cheaper parts to falsify that the correct herb is present in a product, but not the right part nor the correct standardized compound. This can massively affect the efficacy of the product being sold and can mean wasting your money on something that does not work.
When you see unbelievable claims such as, “This product will increase your testosterone by 550%”, the golden rule is to not believe them, and not to get sucked into buying these products. Generally speaking, claims must be based on the entire product, and the products needs to have gone through a placebo-controlled, double-blind trial with healthy individuals. The claims must be based on statistically significant findings from the study, and they must be publicly available. Claims around a single ingredient are still valid, but they need to ensure that is it explicitly clear they are NOT referring to the entire formula. An example of this would be, “An active ingredient in formula Y has been shown to increase overall performance by 23 percent when taken for 12 weeks”. The overarching point around functions claims is that if it sounds too good to be true, it more than likely is.
The shelf life or “best by” date of a good quality supplement should generally be between 12 to 24 months after manufacturing. Make sure to read this date on the bottle to make sure the supplement is not out of date, or won’t expire by the time you use it. Companies, by law, need to do stability testing and put in overages in order for the product to meet the label claims for the stated shelf life of the product, both at the time of actual manufacturing as well as 24 months out. The last thing you want to do is buy an expensive supplement, only to find out that it has expired.
By law, you have a right to call a company and get the testing results for a specific product’s manufacturing lot that you have recently purchased. If this information cannot be obtained, chances are they either keep poor record and document control, they are hiding something, or they do not have quality control testing in place at all. These are all massive issues with the FDA and this should be a big red flag. Make sure not to use products from companies that cannot provide you with the answers you are looking for.
Attention to detail definitely matters. I find that companies who do the small things well, generally get the bigger things right. Decent quality packaging that keeps the light out, a tight seal to keep air out, a desiccant packet or barrel to keep air down even after opening and cotton to keep the capsules from moving around, are all things that make the difference. These small things add extra cost, but it shows a company that really cares about its end consumer.
I hope this information helps you make far more informed decisions around your supplement choices. It is important however to remember that there is no magic bullet ingredient or ingredients when it comes to achieving vibrant health. Yes, supplements do play a very important role and they can help us to get those final percentage points of improvement, but real health and real energy are far more foundational than having the perfect supplemental protocol. The goal is to use them as part of a holistic health approach, that combines a quality diet, a focused exercise regime, a tribe that you can rely on, and most importantly building a strong spirit, resiliency and the mental fortitude to take on life and live it fully. Having more energy isn’t ultimately about having better supplements, it’s about becoming a better person in the process.