What’s REALLY in Your Supplement?

If you walk into the healthcare aisle of an average supermarket in Australia, you’ll be confronted with hundreds of different supplements including vitamins, minerals, prebiotics, probiotics and more. If you search for supplements online, that number quickly soars into the thousands, and yet sadly, many of these supplements are poor quality or contain undesirable excipients and fillers! Too often we have patients come to our clinic who have spent hundreds of dollars on supplements (either over-the-counter or online) and yet they’re not getting the results they desire. In many cases, they’re not sure which is working for them and which is simply costing them money. In such cases, it is essential we ask the question “what’s really in your supplement?” and consider factors like:

  • Is it the right supplement for you and/or your health situation?
  • Does it contain a therapeutic dose of whichever vitamin, mineral or probiotic it contains?
  • Does it contain a suitable form of the nutrient (e.g. a magnesium citrate vs. a magnesium bisglycinate vs. a magnesium oxide)?
  • What sorts of excipients and fillers does it contain, and what are the potential effects of these?
  • Does it contain added flavourings, artificial sweeteners and/or colouring agents?
  • Is it regulated under Australian guidelines and has it received approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration?
  • Has it been tested for potential contaminants like heavy metals?
  • Will it interact with your medications?

These are essential factors to consider when purchasing a supplement, not only to save you the expense of buying an unsuitable product, but for your health and wellbeing as well!

For example, did you know that when it comes to probiotics, the strain makes all the difference. Some strains have been researched for IBS or diarrhoea, whilst others have been researched for constipation or eczema. There is no point picking a probiotic up off the shelf to address your constipation, if the strain(s) it contains are specific for treating diarrhoea – at best, you’ll notice no improvement, and at worse, you might exacerbate the problem! In fact, we commonly see this in probiotics purchased for children and babies – sadly these supplements often contain unresearched strains or strains that have only been studied for conditions like IBS! There is little benefit in giving your baby a probiotic to support their immune system if it contains an unresearched or incorrect strain – For more on this topic, we suggest you read our article here.

When it comes to fish oils, an issue we commonly see are cheap, poor quality products that have not undergone stringent testing for things like heavy metal contamination. This is a major problem, as contaminants like mercury and dioxins can be accumulate in the body and wreak havoc with fertility, thyroid health, nervous system function and more. Some mass-produced products also contain rancid oils, which are likely to be more inflammatory than they are to be therapeutic (this is a particular problem for fish oils that have been stored for long periods of time, that have unusually long use-by dates and/or have been stored or transported in less than ideal conditions). For this reason, at our clinic we only stock fish oils that have undergone stringent quality testing and purification processes, that contain therapeutic doses of EPA:DHA and that are manufactured according to Australian regulatory guidelines.

Another issue we come across is supplements that contain nasty added ingredients, like colouring agents, artificial flavours, artificial sweeteners and more. For example, many individuals are surprised to learn that fizzy effervescent multi-vitamins (such as those labelled “performance B-vitamins”) usually contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame or acesulfame K, which can bear their own detrimental side effects.  In addition, many supplements targeted to children (such as gummy vitamins, fizzy lozenges and so on), contain things like glucose syrup, honey and/or added colours. We all know the detrimental effects of sugar on the immune system, so taking a multi-vitamin to support your immune system through winter makes little sense if the product itself is full of sugar! Chewing on sugar-laden gummies also raises concerns with regards to dental health and cavities, and to an impressionable young child, blurs the line between lolly and supplement. Some also contain ingredients like lactose or gluten, which can pose a problem for individuals with food intolerances, allergies and/or coeliac disease.

Lastly, many over-the-counter supplements contains ineffective or poorly absorbed forms of nutrients or they don’t contain therapeutic doses. For example, we often see OTC magnesium supplements containing magnesium oxide, which is well-recognised to be a very poorly absorbed form of magnesium. We see also calcium supplements based almost exclusively on calcium carbonate, which does little to improve bone density. There are supplements that contain ‘token’ amounts of nutrients, and others that contain dangerously high doses (this is particularly problematic for iodine and kelp supplements purchased online, which often contain well over the safe upper limit for daily consumption). To compound the problem, over-the-counter supplements often bear a ‘one-size-fits-all’ dose, failing to take into accounts factors like your age, gender, nutritional status, diet and more – after all, a 100 kg man has vastly different nutritional requirements to a 60kg woman, so for example, it is unlikely they would benefit equally from the same dose of zinc, iron or vitamin D.  For this reason, we encourage you to avoid self-prescribing and instead, talk to a qualified healthcare practitioner who can make recommendations that are specific to you, your nutritional requirements and your health goals.

We are proud that the products we stock at Perth Health and Fertility are therapeutic grade, manufactured according to Good Manufacturing Practice and backed by our naturopaths’ years worth of experience in clinic. They have been chosen because of their therapeutic potential and because they contain both a therapeutic dose and form of each herb, probiotic strain or nutrient. They have also been screened for undesirable ingredients (such as artificial sweeteners) and contain as few excipients as possible. Lastly, our naturopaths pride themselves on staying on top of the latest research, so we can continue to deliver a highly evidence-informed and holistic approach to our patients’ care, in alignment with our goals and ethos as a practice.