Not all vitamins and dietary supplements are the same. Many popular supplement brands, in fact, contain artificial additives, synthetic flow agents, chemical colorings, and even imitation vitamin compounds that your body does not recognize and cannot fully process. So how can you know whether or not the vitamins and supplements you buy are safe and effective? Here are six helpful tips on what to watch out for when buying vitamins and supplements.
1) Synthetic vitamins. There is a big difference between the natural vitamins found in food and the so-called vitamins added to many popular dietary supplements. Whole-food based vitamins are uniquely bioavailable, and occur naturally in foods, plants, and herbs. Synthetic vitamins, on the other hand, are produced in a laboratory, and may be derived from toxic sources such as coal tar and petroleum.
How can you know the difference? Synthetic vitamins are typically listed on ingredient labels by their isolated names -- ascorbic acid (vitamin C), riboflavin (vitamin B2), and dl-alpha tocopherol acetate (vitamin E) are all examples of synthetic vitamins commonly added to vitamins and supplements, including multivitamin formulas. Stick with whole food-based vitamins and supplements, including those that clearly delineate their being derived from plants or other natural sources.
"In addition to being synthetic, isolated vitamins are missing all their naturally occurring essential synergistic co-factors and transporters," explains the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). "A synthetic vitamin can stimulate a cell's metabolism, but it cannot upgrade or replace the cell's components with superior, better quality elements. The results? A degraded cell." (http://www.organicconsumers.org/nutricon/qa.cfm)
2) Magnesium stearate. Believe it or not, many supplements, including those made by more reputable brands, contain a flow agent additive that, over time, can actually block the absorption of nutrients into your body. This ingredient is known as magnesium stearate, and regular consumption of it is linked to the development of a harmful "biofilm" in the intestines that may cause digestive problems.
Despite having the word magnesium in its name, magnesium stearate is not a source of nutritive magnesium. The only reason why supplement manufacturers add the chalk-like substance to their products is to make them easier to process through manufacturing equipment. But the long-term health consequences of ingesting magnesium stearate may not be worth the risk.
3) Titanium dioxide. Another unnecessary additive found in many supplements, titanium dioxide, which is often used as a pigment in vitamins and supplements, comes with its own set of health risks. An untested nanoparticle powder made from titanium bits, titanium dioxide has been linked to causing autoimmune disorders, cancer, and various other diseases. Besides the fact that it belongs to a class of particles known to cause cell damage, titanium dioxide serves no therapeutic purpose whatsoever, which means it does not belong in a health supplement.
"Titanium dioxide has recently been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as an IARC Group 2B carcinogen 'possibly carcinogen[ic] to humans,'" explains the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety on its website. "This evidence showed that high concentrations of pigment-grade (powdered) and ultrafine titanium dioxide dust caused respiratory tract cancer in rats exposed by inhalation and intratracheal instillation." (http://www.naturalnews.com/027000_titanium_dioxide_vitamins.html)
4) Artificial colors. Though not as common in more reputable vitamin and supplement brands, artificial colors are still present in many mainstream supplements. The Pfizer-owned brand of supplements marketed as Centrum, for instance, contain toxic coloring agents like FD&C Blue No. 2 Aluminum Lake and FD&C Red No. 40 Aluminum Lake, both of which are potential neurotoxins. Even children's vitamins like Flintstones Complete contain these and other toxic coloring agents. (http://www.greenmedinfo.com)
5) Genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). If your vitamin or supplement formula contains ingredients like maltodextrin, citric acid, dextrose, vegetable-based fillers, sugars of any kind, or even synthetic vitamin C (ascorbic acid), chances are it also contains GMOs. Unless specifically stated on the bottle as being GMO-free, a vitamin supplement that is not whole food-based more than likely contains ingredients derived from GMOs.
Soybean oil is often used as a filler in gelcap-based supplements, and is a common source of GMOs. Vitamin E is another common GMO additive typically derived from soy, more than 90 percent of which is of GMO origin in the U.S. Other common GMO ingredients, unless otherwise labeled, include soy lecithin, inositol, choline, vegetable oil, and vegetable cellulose. (http://www.responsibletechnology.org/docs/Non-GMO-Shopping-Guide.pdf)
6) Irradiation. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently prohibits the use of irradiation as a sterilizing protocol for dietary supplements. But this does not mean that every raw ingredient used in dietary supplements is free of irradiation, as suppliers have been caught in the past illegally selling irradiated raw materials. A European Commission study from back in 2002, for instance, found that nearly half of all dietary supplements tested in Europe contained ingredients that had been illegally irradiated. (http://www.nutraingredients.com)
Since most supplement manufacturers will insist that their products are not irradiated, the best way to know for sure is to ask a company directly whether or not it tests and verifies the integrity of all its raw ingredients. If it does not, urge the company to do so and ask for test results.
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