08 Jan Purchasing Supplement Guide
When you purchase a drug, you generally know exactly what you are getting. Drugs are single chemicals that can be measured and quantified down to their molecular structure. Thus a tablet of extra-strength Tylenol® contains 500 mg of acetaminophen, no matter where or when you buy it. But herbs are living organisms comprised of thousands of ingredients. The differences between one plant and another with regards to the proportions of all components may be dramatically different. Numerous influences can affect the nature of a given crop. Whether it was grown at the top or bottom of a hill, what the weather was like, what time of year it was picked, what other plants lived nearby, and what kind of soil predominated are only a few of the factors that can affect the chemical and nutritional make-up of an herb.
This presents a real problem for using herbal therapies. Since so much variation is possible, it’s difficult to know whether one brand of herb is equivalent in effectiveness to another. The old saying of-you get what you pay for plays a huge roll in buying your herbal supplements. So how can you tell what brand to buy? This could be the most common question I get when giving a seminar. The media has scared people into thinking that there is really nothing in the bottle just a label and filler. This is far from the truth. In every business there are good guys and bad guys. Sad thing is that sometimes the bad guys don’t wear black hats. For this reason, I wanted to address this issue in my first newsletter.
There are a few ways to discern what may or may not be a good herbal product. First, there are 3rd party certification programs offered by companies like NSF International and USP. These companies will certify that what is on the label is actually in the bottle and doesn’t contain anything you may not want such as contaminants (pesticides, heavy metals etc.) You can usually find the company seal of approval on the bottle or label acknowledging there certification.
So what if a manufacture doesn’t pay to have 3rd party certification what do you do now. That is the $64,000 question. My general rules of thumb are to ask these questions: Are the products easily found in high quality full service health food stores? National full service health food stores can not waste space or take a chance of ruining there reputation by selling you poor supplements. Does the company use proper labeling (not making outrageous claims like “cures cancer” or “cures diabetes”? Companies making these types of claims are breaking the law and would make me question their manufacturing practices too. Is the product too cheap? Yes, you can find discounts on nutritional supplements, but if most brands are selling for $19.95 and the one you want to buy is $5.95 you need to use some common sense and caution. You may be buying the wrong form, dose or in some cases not the same herb if the pricing is too different.
These are just guidelines and not the gospel. It is always best to ask as many questions as you can prior to buying a nutritional supplement. I buy my supplements from well respected supplement companies. I also don’t change brands too often. Once I find something that works, I will usually stick with it. Sometimes the switch to the equivalent store brand will be made to save a few dollars, but generally I stick with what works.