There are more bottles than you can count on your shelves, or in your medicine cabinet.
Heck, entire stores are devoted just to selling supplements.
It can be overwhelming.
That’s why we've created the NorthStar Nutritionals’ Guide to Buying Supplements – to help you figure out what you need, what you don’t, and how to navigate all the options to find the best choices for you and your health.
This Guide to Buying Supplements has 2 major sections, to better fit your needs.
If you've never bought a supplement before, but want to, start with Section 1. In this section, you’ll learn the basics of buying a supplement from identifying what supplement you should be taking, to learning how to test if you’re actually getting anything from your morning pill.
If you are only looking for specific ingredients for some of the most popular conditions, you might want to consider jumping to Section 2. We discuss 5 of the top reasons people take supplements, and what ingredients you should be looking for in order to address them.
Section 1: How to Get Started with Supplements
Whenever you start something new, it’s important to do your research. Taking supplements is no different. Knowing where to start can provide clarity and guidance, so you aren't just guessing blindly.
1. Who Should Take a Supplement?
Well, just about everybody. In an ideal world, very few of people would need supplements. They would get all the nutrients their bodies require from their diets. In reality, it rarely – if ever – works that way.
People eat on the run, people eat too much, or too little, at a time. Only 33% of adults get the recommended servings of fruit per day, and only 27% get the proper amounts of vegetables. The discrepancy between the ideal world and the real one is the biggest reason for taking supplements.
Remember, though, that supplements should be just that – supplemental to your diet. So, check your diet first. Figure out how many servings of fruits and vegetables you are getting. Check your lean proteins and calcium.
Work with your diet, then fill in the gaps with the right supplements.
At the same time, not everyone needs to take every supplement. In other words, there are certain supplements which work best for your specific needs – but you don’t necessarily need to try everything at your local health food store.
For a person with anemia, an iron supplement could make a huge difference. However, for someone without anemia, an iron supplement could make them sick.
Simply because a supplement, or ingredient, has become popular doesn't necessarily mean you should jump on the bandwagon.
Evaluate your diet, pay attention to your energy levels, your aches and pains, and then pick a supplement based on your needs – not just on what’s popular
2. Should You Take a Single Ingredient, or a Formula?
Next time you’re at the grocery store, look closely at the rows of vitamins, minerals, and supplements.
Most of them are single ingredient products. Some may include 2 ingredients that are needed in combination to be effective. But, generally, you’re looking at bottles of a single vitamin, or a single mineral. Like glucosamine, CoQ10, and your daily vitamins – like vitamins C and D.
Yet boutique stores and specialty shops tend to sell formulas – supplements that have more than one ingredient that all address the same, or a related, concern. Combining ingredients into a formula is a way to amplify the benefits of your single ingredient products.
Each ingredient brings something important to the table, and sometimes will even enhance the efficacy of the other ingredients.
Which you choose depends on why you’re taking a supplement. If you or your doctor have identified a single nutritional deficiency – iron, or vitamin D, for example – then a single ingredient supplement should be fine.
If, however, you want a supplement to deal with a bigger issue – relieving your stiff, achy joints, increasing your energy, or keeping healthy blood sugar – then a formula that includes several, targeted ingredients is probably your better bet.
Not only is your issue addressed on multiple levels, but buying a formula is usually less expensive than buying all of the ingredients in the formula separately.
3. How Do You Find a Quality Supplement?
Again, in an ideal world, every nutritional supplement on the shelf would be of the highest quality, and 100% effective. But you live in the real world, so knowing a supplement is worth your money is important. Luckily, it’s also relatively easy.
First, be a little skeptical about the supplements you find at the grocery store – and any supplements you find in general. Ask questions. Read the labels.
Some of them are fine, high quality with strong levels of efficacy. Others, though, just aren't. And it’s hard to know the difference by simply standing in the aisle, reading the label.
When possible, purchase supplements from a boutique store instead. These stores – such as BestHealth Nutritionals, Dr. Mercola, Dr. Whitaker, Real Advantage Nutrients, and of course, right here at NorthStar Nutritionals – sell nothing but nutritional supplements. So our focus can be on making the best supplements possible.
These boutique supplement shops tend to be smaller, as well, which means they don’t have huge reputations to coast on.
And they typically don’t have retail stores, which means you need to shop their supplements online.
But many specialty companies offer auto-delivery or overnight shipping, which can make buying supplements from them just as easy and convenient as getting to the grocery store.
Second, test your supplements yourself. It doesn’t matter how powerful a formula is if your body isn’t absorbing it.
All you need is some vinegar, a microwave, a kitchen thermometer, and a coffee maker or hot plate.
Here’s how to test your own supplements:
Warm a cup of vinegar in the microwave for about 30 seconds, or until it reaches a temperature of 98*F. Keep the temperature steady by putting the cup on the coffee maker or hot plate. Drop your supplement into the vinegar and stir vigorously, every 5 minutes until it dissolves. Don’t crush the pill or capsule.
The pill should be at least 75% dissolved in an hour. If it isn’t, or if sediment has risen to the top of the mug, or sunk to the bottom, you don’t have a high quality supplement. A supplement that can’t dissolve in an hour can’t be absorbed by your body before it gets processed and eliminated. And any sediment that doesn’t dissolve, but rises or sinks, is filler you probably don’t want in your body.
But a supplement that is 75%, or more, dissolved in an hour is a quality supplement your body will be able to absorb and use the way you need.
Section 2: Choosing the Right Supplements
You’re comfortable in the knowledge that you want to take a supplement.
You know what you’re looking for, and how to test if you've chosen a quality brand or not.
But there’s so much conflicting information out there, when all you really need to know is which ingredients actually work for which conditions.
Obviously, this Guide to Buying Supplements can’t list every single condition that can be addressed by nutritional supplements.
We can, however, address 5 of the top reasons people take supplements, and explain which ingredients are really helpful.
And if you want a supplement for another condition, be sure to check out the NorthStar Nutritionals blog for information on even more issues that can be addressed with supplements.
1. Pain Relief
3 of the most common pain relievers in supplements are menthol, capsaicin, and methyl salicylate. All three have been approved as active ingredients in topical pain relievers.
If you don’t know about the advantages to using a topical versus a pill to relieve pain, check out this short article for an explanation.
Menthol comes from the mint family, and provides cooling relief. It is considered a “counterirritant” because it “distracts” the body from the other pain.
Capsaicin is a derivative of hot pepper oil, so provides warming relief. It is a “counterirritant” as well, but also “communicates” with nerve endings, soothing the nerves and relieving your pain.
Methyl salicylate is similar to, and is considered a topical form of, aspirin – the same aspirin your parents and grandparents took in pill form – and works the same way as aspirin does.
When searching for something to relieve your pain, look for a topical pain reliever with at least one of these soothing ingredients.
2. Joint Support
Supporting your joint health from inside may be even more important than relieving joint pain from the outside. To help keep joints healthy, take a close look at these 4 joint support supplements...
Glucosamine is probably the first ingredient you think of when talking about joint support, and for good reason. It’s been around a while and scores of people have found joint support using it. Glucosamine helps protect the cartilage in your joints from wear and tear caused by overuse, and plain old aging.
Chondroitin is found naturally in healthy joints, and is often offered as a supplement in conjunction with glucosamine. Like glucosamine, it is used to help protect the cartilage in joints.
Hyaluronic Acid is a joint support supplement you may not be familiar with, but should be. Where glucosamine and chondroitin help protect the cartilage of a joint, hyaluronic acid helps the body create synovial fluid – or the “lubrication” in your joints. As you age, your body stops making synovial fluid as efficiently. Hyaluronic acid helps with the production of synovial fluid, keeping your joints moving smoothly and feeling strong.
Boron is another little known joint support supplement, but is recognized as important to overall joint health. In studies, the use of boron has improved symptoms in the categories of pain, stiffness, and overall joint function.
Each of our supplements includes one, or more, of these joint supporting ingredients as the centerpiece. And, like we mentioned earlier, each of our formulas combines the powers of multiple ingredients, to cover all of your joint aches.
3. Sexual Health
When you’re younger, you don’t think much about sexual health, but that changes as you age. If it’s time to start looking for a little extra help in the bedroom, you don’t have to turn to embarrassing late-night offers. Instead, look for ingredients that help boost blood flow for strong erections, like L-Arginine, niacin, and potassium.
Since stress can be as detrimental to your sex life as any physical condition, consider supplements that help reduce and manage stress: vitamin B12 and Malaysian Ginseng.
Malaysian Ginseng is also good for increasing a man’s libido – as are Panax Ginseng, maca root, and shilajit. In fact, each one of these powerful sexual enhancers is known for its traditional use as an aphrodisiac – in some cases, causing men to travel for miles or risk their lives for a one-night supply.
Given all the levels that come into play with sexual health, this is definitely a time to consider a formula over a single ingredient supplement.
Perhaps the most common supplement of all, the multivitamin is the most comprehensive of all nutritional supplements. It can also be the most confusing.
At a minimum, a multivitamin should include: vitamin C, thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), vitamin B6, folic acid (vitamin B9), vitamin B12, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), iron, biotin, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin D2 or D3 (cholecalciferol), vitamin K, potassium, iodine, selenium, borate, zinc, calcium, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, and betacarotene.
Be sure to check that the multivitamin you’re considering has proper amounts of each individual ingredient as well.
Avoid products with “fairy dust” – an insignificant amount of a vitamin or mineral included for the sole purpose of being able to say the ingredient is in the formula. And always make sure you’re getting what you’ve paid for by performing the vinegar test on a new multivitamin.
Attempts to hold back the hands of time are as old as time itself. If this is your goal, there are more supplements today than ever before.
The single most important step you can take to fight back against aging is to get enough antioxidants. Antioxidants fight free radicals, which in turn, keeps you looking and feeling younger inside and out. Getting the right amount of antioxidants can help keep your mind sharp, your energy levels high, and your skin smooth.
But they also help keep your cardiovascular and neurological systems strong, as well as supporting the health of every organ in your body.
However, antioxidants aren’t the only anti-aging supplements available. In fact, there are many other natural options.
Milk thistle helps the body purge the toxins that can cause premature aging.
Lactium can help you get the rest you need to combat stress that can show up in the lines and wrinkles on your face.
L-hydroxyproline helps keep your skin smooth and supple.
And glutathione has been shown to actually reduce age spots and skin discoloration.
Once again, due to the sheer number of available supplements, it’s probably best to look for a comprehensive formula that covers all your anti-aging needs.
Easing Your Worries – And Making You Healthier at the Same Time
Buying supplements doesn’t have to be overwhelming or intimidating. Not any longer. If you’re just starting to look at your options, or you've been taking supplements for years and are looking to address a new issue, this Guide to Buying Supplements will help you shop with confidence and ease.