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Are Your Supplements Dangerous?

Does the brand of supplements you choose really matter? Is there value in brand names?

Let’s just say that there’s a reason a part of me cringes when clients bring in brands synonymous with low quality. I know that sadly, many supplements are packed with junk and use inferior ingredients or synthetic versions that don’t do your body any good.

I know you’re trying to make the right decisions for your health and the last thing you’d expect when you’re trying your best to live a healthy lifestyle is that you need to be concerned of vitamins packed with unnecessary junk and cheap AND synthetic versions of nutrients. Besides flat out not providing benefit, these inferior products can exacerbate allergies, are often from genetically modified sources, and can contain pesticide residue.

Why would a vitamin contain additives?

There are many reasons for additives, most of the time manufacturer’s add ingredients that make the vitamin easier to swallow, to help your body process, or to bulk the capsule. Mostly, your body doesn’t benefit or even need any of these things:

  • Coatings – Promote ease of swallowing
  • Fillers – Add volume to tablets and capsules
  • Preservatives – Preserve ingredients
  • Binders – Bind ingredients together in a tablet
  • Sweeteners – to make flavor more palatable, again, even for tablets
  • Anti-caking agents – Prevent ingredients from clogging
  • Carriers – Help create the powder like consistency
  • Emulsifiers – Bind water to fats
  • Colors – Create more appealing look for consumer
  • Flavors – Alter the taste, even in pills that are swallowed whole
  • Bulking agents – Top up the content of the pills or capsules

What should you be on the look out for?

Magnesium Silicate (aka Talc) – This powder that serves dual purpose as a deodorant is also used in supplements as a filler and anti-caking agent. Magnesium silicate is similar to asbestos in composition and can cause stomach and lung problems when inhaled or ingested. The FDA has not approved Talc for food grade consumption, but they still allow it in supplements, pretty gross!

Magnesium stearate and stearic acid – You may have heard of magnesium stearate. Currently, it’s one of the most talked about additives and is used in about 90% of nutritional supplements. The reason – it can speed up manufacturing by preventing machinery from clogging. Experts disagree on where this additive, which can be derived from both animal or vegetable, is safe or not. I feel that is has zero nutritional benefit and I feel that the evidence that it could potentially damage the immune system is enough to keep me away from it. Plus, there are no long term studies of it to prove safety.

Food colorings – Why would there be artificial colors, approved by the FDA, in your vitamins? It’s purely for superficial reasons, mainly to offset color loss due to environmental factors. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, among others, wants the FDA to ban artificial food colors. Do we really care about the shades of our vitamins? All I care about is the quality and the benefit – even worse, I don’t want to know that the manufacturer has used fake coloring to cover up active ingredients that may have suffered color loss due to exposure to air, heat, light, moisture (poor storage conditions).

Hydrogenated Oils – I avoid margarine (and other hydrogenated oil products) like the plague, now I have to worry about it showing up in my vitamins?! So, why does the FDA allow this dangerous ingredient in your supplements? It’s a cheap filler, that’s why! People still have this idea that bigger is better. Until we realize that smaller can be just as good, manufacturers will use cheap nasty fillers to give us bigger horse sized pills.

Mercury, Lead, and PCB’s – High levels of PCB’s in omega fish oils let to a lawsuit in California, and a test by Consumer Reports in 2011 shows that 1/3 of all the fish oils tested had high PCB levels. Of course, it’s because fish are higher on the food chain in the ocean and easily accumulate mercury, lead, and other toxins. These make their way into your fish oil supplements! You have to be careful of what brand of Omega-3. This is not the time to choose the cheap option—make sure that you choose a variety that has been meticulously tested for lead or mercury contaminants. Your best choices should state that they are “Molecularly distilled and 3rd party tested to ensure PCBs, dioxins, mercury, lead and other contaminants are below acceptable limits set by the Council for Responsible Nutrition and other advisory agencies”.

An even better option: Supplement with food, like wild salmon, pasture raised eggs, and leafy greens.

Dicalcium phosphate – A cheap and inorganic form of calcium, which helps to bulk out tablets. It is not well absorbed and used by the body.

Titanium dioxide – A color additive that makes tablets and capsules bright white. It is not an ingredient found in any natural food and is completely unnecessary and causes many health issues. In production, it has been shown to cause lung inflammation on workers and in studies, has been shown to marginally damage DNA. Mice studies show that this additive causes intestine inflammation and kidney damage…all for a whiter, brighter supplement, I don’t think the risk is worth it!

Sodium selenite and selenite – Toxic and inorganic chemical sources of selenium.

Gelatin – Is not vegan-friendly and in many cases is likely to be sourced from low quality, factory farmed animals fed a GMO diet.

Lactose – A sugar from milk, in most cases sourced from cows treated with medications and fed a GMO diet. It is also a common allergen.

Only choose products that are ADDITIVE FREE. Follow these five steps to vet your supplements:

  1. Select products that are natural and from food sources first. Eat organic whole foods and food-based supplements as your first line of defense! A great resource for supplement research and testing online is: https://www.consumerlab.com
  1. Read your labels – If you spot ANY of the ingredients above, return it and get your money back. Spread the word to friends and family to ensure they avoid inferior quality products!
  1. Ensure they are tested for contaminants – each batch should be tested at the source, but also again in the manufacturer’s country.
  1. Look at the level of care that goes into the produce, choose a producer with high ethical and moral standards, from the high quality to the customer experience.
  1. Read the labels and look up any suspicious ingredients – pure and simple is always best, the ingredient list should take you all of a second to read.
  1. If you want to go a step further and practice due diligence…write to the FDA and demand that they follow the same cautions as Europe, such as their warning labels on foods containing artificial coloring and banning many toxic additives.

Because each individual’s needs are different and I recommend a variety of different brands depending on the individual and their health goals, I don’t make supplement suggestions across the board.  If you’re interested in learning more about the supplements I recommend and are tried and tested by me personally, please email info@elissagoodman.com to set up a consult or ask your questions! 

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