First and foremost, I’ll recommend food as medicine in a treatment plan but often there’s the need for vitamins, minerals and herbal medicine to boost nutritional intake or for certain health conditions.  With dozens of brands on the market, how do you know which is best?  I’ll often hear that people are taking the cheapest variety they could find or something they’ve been told to try.  You might be surprised to learn that there is a huge variation in the purity, quality and strength of over-the-counter supplements.  Here are some reasons to seek the advice of a qualified Naturopath when contemplating natural medicines.

Poor bioavailability

Individual nutrients are available in different forms which vastly affect the rate at which they are absorbed.  A good example is iron, recommended by doctors and pharmacists in the ferrous sulphate form.  It’s poorly absorbed in the intestines, leading to constipation and other bowel symptoms.  Iron in the form of amino acid chelate is a superior form which will prevent the occurrence of these symptoms.  Calcium and magnesium are two further minerals that are often available in inferior forms that provide very little health benefit.  Caltrate is calcium carbonate (essentially limestone) which can settle in the kidneys and gallbladder and form stones!

Strength may in fact be weakness

I recall a patient telling me she was taking 1000mg of magnesium per day – that’s huge!  The listed ingredients revealed a mere 91mg of elemental magnesium per day – far short of the amount she required. Especially true for many of the cheaper brands, the nutrient levels are often too low to have any therapeutic effect.

Challenging the label

When you pick up a supplement you would assume that what is printed on the label is in the bottle and that the ingredients have been tested for purity and quality.  Unfortunately, this is not always so.  There have been many cases of adulteration – the practice of substituting with a cheaper ingredient to drive up profit or due to a case of misidentification of the plant due to inadequate testing.

This has occurred in the food industry with olive oil that has been adulterated with the addition of cheaper oils such as canola oil and soybean oil.  In natural medicine, this is an abhorrent practice as it shows complete lack of regard for the patient in need of a therapeutic outcome.

Golden seal (Hydrastis canadensis) is an expensive herb to source due to the difficulty in its cultivation.  Golden seal is known for its yellow colour due to the berberine content and has been known to be substituted with other berberine containing herbs that are much easier to grow.  Although these other herbs have a valuable place in herbal practice, they are missing the active ingredient hydrastine that provides antimicrobial activity.

The manufacturers I source from undertake comprehensive testing on the raw herbal material to detect adulteration and the presence of the correct active ingredients to ensure the best therapeutic outcomes.

The little things

Excipients are supposed to be non-reactive substances, included to stabilise and bulk up tablets and capsules.  Some of these excipients contain allergenic substances such as lactose and/or gluten which can be counter-productive to treatment aims.

Oils aint oils

If something appears too good to be true, then it probably is.  This is certainly the case with many fish oils on the market, like deals that offer 1000 fish oils capsules for $30 or similar.  A 2015 report concluded that a massive 92% of fish oils did not meet the Global Organisation for EPA & DHA (GOED) international standards.  Good quality fish oils are free from contaminants such as mercury and have good levels of EPA and DHA.  Reputable manufacturers will independently test for these criteria and ensure stability to avoid oxidisation that causes oils to become harmful.

The take home from this information is to make sure you consult a qualified Naturopath to ensure you are getting the most suited and best quality natural health supplements for your body.