Are we wasting our money when we buy these vitamins and supplements?

How do we know that the vitamins we are buying are doing anything for us?

If you are anything like me, you will want to know that the supplements you are spending your hard-earned dollars on are:

  • what your actually body needs
  • the best possible quality, which means they are correctly dosed and in a form that the body can use
  • able to help you achieve your short and long term health goals
  • working nutrigenomically (through your genes) to maximise their impact in your body

We spend a lot of money on vitamins and supplements every year. The vitamin companies spend a lot of money on advertising, convincing us to buy their vitamins.

We most certainly do need to supplement with vitamins because the majority of people are not eating enough natural foods to ensure an adequate vitamin and phytochemical intake. This directly is contributing to the burden of chronic disease, so prevalent in the world today.

The vitamin and supplement industry has exploded in recent years. We can buy supplements anywhere – the local health shop, the grocery store, the pharmacy, online and many of our friends are involved in multi-level marketing businesses which all focus on selling us health!

And they are all very good at convincing us that their brand will give us the very best health.

There are several costly mistakes that I see people make when they buy their monthly vitamins and supplements.

Incorrect dosing – so often people tell me that they use much less of a product than is recommended, mostly in order to save money. In many cases, this makes using the supplement ineffective because you are simply not taking enough of the product to have an effect, which is a waste of money.

Many people like to use omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) to manage their cholesterol levels. A 2011 study compared the use of a supplemental dose (approximately 1 gram) and a pharmaceutical dose (approximately 3.4 grams) of EPA and DHA in the lowering of moderately high triglyceride levels. The results showed that the supplemental dose had very little effect in lowering the triglyceride levels, whereas the pharmaceutical dose showed significant improvement after 8 weeks treatment.

The average daily dose of 2 capsules of an omega 3-containg product provides approximately 1300mg of EPA and DHA, which will not significantly impact high triglyceride levels.

Incorrect form of the nutrient – many vitamins and supplements come in different forms. Often the cheaper forms are less effective because they are poorly absorbed and used by the body, which means that they often just pass through the body without having any effect, which is a waste of money.

An example of this difference can be seen in magnesium supplements. There are many different forms of magnesium available as supplements. Magnesium is often used for muscle health, sleep, constipation, brain health, etc. However, not all magnesium forms are the same. Magnesium oxide is an inorganic form of magnesium. It is not very well absorbed out of the gut and as result, is useful for the treatment of constipation. You would need to use large doses if you wanted to use it for sleep, but this would most likely create inconvenient loose bowels. Magnesium oxide is a cheap form of magnesium, so is often found in cheaper magnesium products. Magnesium citrate on the other hand is an organic magnesium source, and is well absorbed out of the colon. But because of the citrate amino acid chelate, provides less elemental magnesium than magnesium oxide. Magnesium citrate supports muscle and nervous system health with a modest effect on constipation.

Unrealistic expectations – supplements work differently to drugs and because of this, people often think that what they are using is not helping and stop using them too soon, having wasted their money. This is particularly the case when people use vitamins and supplements to manage health conditions.

So many people are desperately looking for solutions to their joint pain, often a consequence of osteoarthritis. Tumeric and particularly the active compound, curcumin are showing convincing potential to be used as alternatives to NSAIDS, which have side effects. Studies have shown that using 1000mg of curcumin daily for 8 to 12 weeks can alleviate arthritis symptoms such as pain and inflammation. This is great news, but what is often missed by people, is that curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric and is only 5% of the turmeric. Your supplement needs to provide 1000mg or 1 gram of curcumin and needs to be taken for at least 8 weeks to be beneficial. Many people are using supplements that do not deliver the therapeutic dose of curcumin and they are not using the products for long enough for effective symptom relief.

Not taking what you actually need – vitamins are broadly marketed for specific conditions. We may think that we need extra amounts of a certain vitamin because the symptoms that we are experiencing are very similar to what is described as a deficiency of a particular vitamin. There is often something much better available that does not just address a possible vitamin deficiency.

Most people turn to high dose vitamin c when they think they need an immune boost. The truth is that we get lots of vitamin c from our diets and it is people with very poor diets who are at risk of being vitamin c deficient. There is a threshold above which adding additional oral vitamin c will have no further impact on the immune system – doses above 1 gram daily show less than 50% absorption of vitamin c with the excess being excreted through the urine. A weak immune system is not generally a sign of vitamin c deficiency in most healthy people.

Bioavailability of supplements – a lot of the research that is referenced when companies sell us a product is not actually done on whole, living humans (in vivo research) but rather done on cell lines and in a test tube or a laboratory dish (in vitro research), which often means that results are achieved in the laboratory are very difficult to achieve in living humans. This often means that while the results obtained from the laboratory studies are very impressive, in reality the dose that would be needed for a whole body would be unrealistic to take or even that the molecules of the researched substance do not easily get into the cells in the living human.

Cheap supplements are simply cheap supplements – sadly, to boost sales many companies sell cheap supplements (low dose, poor quality) because cheap sells faster, which do very little for our health and well-being and give our industry a bad name and waste our money.

In other words, you want total value for money!

This is one of the ways in which a personalised health plan based on a nutrigenetic test can save you money in the long run. Instead of taking handfuls of vitamins and supplements just in case you need them, you can personalize your supplement plan by spending your money on what you actually need.

Let me help you discover which supplements are right for you.

Sources and Inspiration

Skulas-Ray AC, Kris-Etherton PM, Harris WS, Vanden Heuvel JP, Wagner PR, West SG. Dose-response effects of omega-3 fatty acids on triglycerides, inflammation, and endothelial function in healthy persons with moderate hypertriglyceridemia. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(2):243-252. doi:10.3945/ajcn.110.003871

Lindberg JS, Zobitz MM, Poindexter JR, Pak CY. Magnesium bioavailability from magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide. J Am Coll Nutr. 1990;9(1):48-55. doi:10.1080/07315724.1990.10720349

Daily JW, Yang M, Park S. Efficacy of Turmeric Extracts and Curcumin for Alleviating the Symptoms of Joint Arthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. J Med Food. 2016;19(8):717-729. doi:10.1089/jmf.2016.3705