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 Nutritional Medicine: Practical Guidelines: Buying and Taking Supplements 
When I recommend supplements, I often hear questions about where to get them and what brands to buy. How do you avoid being misled by unscrupulous manufacturers or overzealous sales pitches? Antagonists to dietary supplements sometimes leave you with the false impression that all manufacturers are disreputable. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my experience, most supplement manufacturers are reliable and honest, and they depend on good results from their products to generate repeat sales.

Manufacturers and Retailers
Most manufacturers follow Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), and you should make sure they do before purchasing their products. The purpose of GMPs is to assure that what is on the label is in the product; that the product disintegrates and is bioavailable and unadulterated. Ask your retailer to find out from their manufacturers or suppliers. You can usually find retail products at health food stores, through mail-order channels and in professional offices. I have a lot of experience with supplements sold through professional offices. They are usually of high quality and are designed by the practitoners for their own method of practice. Practitioners sometimes have their own brand label, but most of the products will be similar to those of other practitioners and comparable to retail products. It is true that practitioners sometimes will charge higher prices for their products than retail store prices, assuming that they are more convenient for their clients, but they should not be markedly different from the products you can buy through other channels. Sometimes professional products are less expensive than those from other sources.

There are also good name brands available at health food stores, and some of the larger stores have their own in-house brand labels. Several mail-order sources supply brand names similar to the ones in health food stores, and some of the larger mail-order companies also have their own labels. Like the manufacturers, they also are dependent on good results to generate repeat business. What you need to know is that virtually all of the raw materials for dietary supplements are made in bulk by a few manufacturers. They are then purchased by supplement "manufacturers" who only tablet, encapsulate and affix their own label to the products before sending them to distributors or retail outlets.

Be Wary of Claims
What this means most of the time is that the hyperbolic claims for particular brands are exaggerated, even though the ingredients are what they claim to be and do what they are supposed to. Some companies claim that their brand of "vitamin Z" is superior because of the form, or because it is "all natural," or it is combined with "synergistic nutrients" or herbs. Most of the time the additional dietary factors that are present are there in such small quantities that they have only a token presenceÑnot enough to be therapeutic.

Some companies will say that their product is highly researched and tested, but when you look at the research papers that they provide, the studies refer to the basic nutrient ingredient (such as folic acid or beta-carotene) not to their particular brand. In these cases, I agree that their beta-carotene is probably healthy and of great benefit, but so are many others on the market that are just as good and usually much less expensive.

Multilevel Marketing
In my experience, most of the time the exaggerated claims are made by multilevel marketing companies. These are companies that market through a pyramid of distributors, each of whom takes a percentage of the sale. The distributors are usually just customers who want to take advantage of the "wholesale" prices that are offered to those who sign up. Some of these distributors then go on to take advantage of the business opportunity of selling retail and signing up distributors under them. They then get a percentage of the new distributorÕs sales, and so on down the line.

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 About The Author
Michael Janson MDMichael Janson, M.D., is past-president of the American College for Advancement in Medicine and the American Preventive Medical Association. He founded one of the first holistic medical practices in New England......more
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