While I was working in the supplement sections of various health food stores over the years, it was a daily repeated occurrence for folks to wander into the aisles, meandering through thousands of almost identical looking bottles with an eventual look of confusion or resignation on their face, realizing they had no idea how many different types of CoQ10 there could possibly be. And now they had to choose one.
Quite often, when people are looking for a supplement, they’ve either, 1) read an article on the internet claiming that xyz supplement can be used for ______ issue, and so they go to the supplement section looking for that item, or 2) their doctor has recommended a supplement and told them to go to the store to pick it up. However, three major pieces of important information are often missing from these recommendations and that’s dosage, brand and duration. So, if they’ve heard about or been recommended to take CoQ10 and they head over to the supplement section to find it, they’re suddenly confronted with the reality that there are 10 different brands, each with about 5 different options for dosage ranging from 20mg-200mg. Also, it’s expensive so how long are they going to have invest in this?
Lots of question marks.
When you’re in the beginning stages of choosing new supplements, it’s important to do your homework and ask a lot of questions before you invest in good quality supplements. The stewards working in that part of the store can always help you find specific products and educate you on the differences between brands and ingredients, but they legally cannot tell you what to take, how much to take or make any recommendations based on your health issues (and if you want to know why, you can read this super fun FDA document about the DSHEA act of 1994). You need to come prepared knowing what you specifically need. So here are three essential pieces of information to know before choosing a new supplement:
What dosage do you need? This is different for everyone, and for minerals and vitamins ask your doctor or nutritionist specifically about this if they make a recommendation. In most supplement sections there are literally hundreds of products with an astounding range of dosages for a single product. It’s best not to just close your eyes and pick one, but know which dose is going to be the most therapeutic for you and your health needs.
What brand is best for you? Do you need vegetarian options? Capsules or tablets? Food based, organic, non-GMO? There’s an option for just about everything, and the supplement stewards know the differences between brands and individual products to help narrow that down for you. Remember, the supplement industry is not regulated, so getting high quality supplements from health food stores with high standards is extremely important to obtain a good quality product.
How long do you need to take a supplement? Supplements should not be taken forever. Your supplement routine should change as your health changes. I can’t tell you how many times I ask someone why they’re taking a certain supplement and they can’t even remember because they’ve been taking it for years. Duration of supplementation is an important thing to know because your health status is constantly changing. It’s a good idea at least once a year to check in with your doctor or nutritionist to check things like vitamin and mineral levels, cholesterol, iron and ferritin and vitamin D (or request a comprehensive metabolic profile each year to notice these changes on an annual basis). Supplements help to get your body / nutrient levels to a certain point and, ideally, should then be sustained by a good diet and optimal digestion. When you get a recommendation for a supplement, always ask how long you need to take this, or when you should re-test to see how your body is responding to the new inputs.
During my free health coaching appointments at Ellwood Thompson’s, these are all questions I go through with almost every single person each week. And not surprisingly, each person needs something different! There’s no blanket answer to these questions because everyone’s health is in a different place. If you’re confused or have questions about choosing a new supplement or where to start, schedule a health coaching appointment with me and we’ll go through all the details.
Lindsay Kluge, MS, CNS, LDN