Vitamins-What Works

What kind of supplements really work?

by Brandy Siegler

Wellness Specialist

Did you ever wonder if the supplements you currently take to stay healthy are really helping you?  Your supplements may not only be ineffective, but in some cases they may even be harmful to your health! In 1998 the USDA randomly selected ginseng products from the shelves of retail stores and found that 39 out of 43 products tested had no ginseng at all. A CTV (Canadian Television) report on a study of ginkgo products completed in 1999 found that 25% had no active ingredients.  In the same CTV report it was stated that 70% of St John’s Wort had less active ingredient than industry standard, and 10% had no active ingredient at all.  In addition, recent research has found that St. John’s Wort can decrease the effectiveness of many kinds of medications.

Many of us take vitamins to complement our diets.  In general, there are three types of vitamins. One type of vitamin is synthetic or the drug store variety. These vitamins are man-made, contain artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners, and may have a coating which is partly or completely resistant to the penetration of stomach fluids.

Another type of vitamin is the natural extract, or health food store variety. These vitamins usually contain juice on the inside with artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners.  Some are as low as 15% “natural”, and again, many have that hard coating that our bodies can’t even digest.

Then there are the natural or unaltered vitamins. This type of vitamin has no harmful chemical processing and is made of the highest quality raw materials to optimally feed and improve cell health.

All supplements should have an expiration date to ensure freshness of the product. Over time some nutrients can lose potency, while others can last for years. A major problem for consumers is that the FDA doesn’t require expiration dates on supplements; therefore many manufacturers don’t include one on their label. If the product doesn’t have an expiration date on the label it may be ineffective by the time you buy it or else be loaded with preservatives.

The following are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a supplement.  First and foremost, it is important to read the label.  For example, when buying a vitamin and mineral supplement you should look for the following:

1)   a daily value (reference standard developed by the FDA) for each nutrient

  • a balanced B complex. Some B vitamins are expensive and many companies cut corners
  • folic acid and biotin. These are important nutrients but are expensive, so some companies omit them
  • zinc and copper in the proper ratio, which are daily values of15 mg zinc and 2 mg copper for those over 4 years of age
  • calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. These are important minerals but are bulky and difficult to put in a tablet. Again, some companies omit them.

In addition to reading the label, it is important to consider the product’s bioavailability.  Bioavailability refers to the ability of the supplement to be broken down and absorbed within the gastrointestinal tract and then assimilated by the body.  A first step in determining bioavailability is to know that the product will dissolve once you swallow it.  Many supplements on the market do not dissolve readily and find their way intact into the sewer system!   One simple test you can do is put your supplement in water and observe.  If it dissolves in less than 10-15 minutes, you can be confident that it will dissolve easily in your gastrointestinal tract.

It is also important to check the company for credibility.  See how long they have been in business.  Companies that have been around for 15 years or more have some kind of track record.  Also ask for scientific proof to back any claims that are made.  This type of information can be obtained by calling the company or checking the web.

Although these steps take time and effort, they are well worth it.  Once you find a supplement that meets these high standards, you can rest assured that your money will be well-spent and your body well-nourished.

For more information on quality supplements contact Brandy Siegler at 814-643-3768 or on the web at

The Huntingdon Health and Wellness Association makes no medical claims or recommendations.  Check with your doctor about your specific health care needs.  For more information on the Huntingdon Health and Wellness Association contact Jennifer Micija, president, at 814-667-2097 or