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How to choose a good quality supplement

Pharmacist, herbalist and nutritional consultant Davide Ferrilli (MSc Pharm, PG Master in Herbal Medicine, MGPhC, MANP, MGNC) guides us through the do’s and don’ts of menopause supplement buying.

So, you’ve decided that you want to explore the world of alternative supplements to ease your menopausal symptoms. But where do you begin when there’s so much choice available?

Lots of people dive straight in without consulting an expert but this can lead to mistakes in terms of how effective and safe the supplements are, a particular watch-out if you’re taking regular medication or suffer from particular conditions.

When it comes to menopause supplements, for example, you must be particularly careful about what you take if you have or have had a history of hormone-related cancer, or if you are on strong anticoagulant medication. Likewise, some herbal remedies can interfere with medicines that are prescribed by doctors – for example, St John’s Wort can decrease how effective many types of medication are.

3 tips to help you find a good quality supplement

If you are going to go it alone, the golden rule is always to choose a good quality supplement.  Here are three simple tips that will help you through this potentially tricky process:

1. Always read the label

The first important tip when buying a supplement is to properly read the label. You should be able to find a clear list of all the ingredients including their concentration expressed in mg or mcg.  Moreover, when herbs are involved, you should always look for the percentage of their main active principle(s) (the technical word for this is standardisation). This is because the effectiveness of a plant remedy is usually related to the concentration of its most active bioactive compound(s).

If you can’t find the above information, you’re probably about to buy a poorer quality natural remedy, regardless of its price.

2. Look for certifications

The second tip is to look for certifications on the box or, even better, on the website of the supplement’s brand. Certifications are a guarantee of quality, efficacy and safety. As a general rule, the more you can find, the better the supplement will be. These certifications can come across as simple logos such as, for example, the “THR” (Traditional Herbal Registration) symbol which assesses the quality of the medicinal plants contained in the box, or the “non-GMO” mark that certifies the absence of genetically modified products in the formulation.

Most of the time certifications are reliable declarations on the company website that guarantee, for example, the absence of allergens, fillers, or additives in the supplement. 

3. Read the list of ingredients

The third tip is to read the list of all the ingredients. If you can see a long list of chemical fillers and additives on the label (such as sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, magnesium stearate, talcum powder or titanium dioxide), then the supplement you are about to buy is likely to be poorly absorbed by your body.  As a result, it is likely to be less effective.  Furthermore, and most importantly, the possible toxicity of these compounds – especially over long-term consumption – is still being researched.

When looking for the additives mentioned above in a formulation, be particularly careful if you spot one or more of them in the first line of the list of its ingredients. This means that they will be highly concentrated in that supplement. 

Do you get what you pay for? 

One question that I’m asked time and time again is why supplements with similar formulations vary so much in price. Is there an actual difference in quality or is it just marketing? My answer is always the same: absolutely yes, there is usually a massive difference in quality. In fact, the quality (and subsequently the efficacy and safety) of a natural remedy can vary widely and is often directly proportional to its price.

The quality of a supplement is determined by different crucial factors such as:

  • Quality of the raw materials
  • Absence or low presence of fillers, additives and allergens
  • Manufacturing controls and tests on the final products
  • Scientific research into formulations
  • Use of branded patents to improve absorption and efficacy of the active principles – higher quality supplement companies constantly seek innovative ways to make their natural remedies more effective
  • Presence of more bioactive forms of vitamins in the formula
  • Certifications on the company website (and sometimes also on the packaging)

More expensive brands usually tick all the above boxes. That is why they cost more. They usually simply work better and may also be safer to use, depending on your individual medical history and circumstances.

Other questions I’m frequently asked

Stand-alone or supplement blends?

Another question I’m often asked is whether it’s better to take stand-alone supplements or blends of different ingredients. It really depends on the natural remedy. My personal preference is to prescribe blends of stand-alone supplements. This way, a person can be given bespoke ingredients that are right for their health, but at higher concentrations.

Brands that I recommend?

When speaking about general supplementation, brands that I really like are:

  • Pure Encapsulation
  • Biocare

While, when dealing with medicinal mushroom formulations, the brand that I usually recommend is:

  • Hifas Da Terra

The brands above are called ‘clinical formulas’ (meaning they are usually recommended and sold by practitioners or experts). However, they can also be easily purchased directly, online or in good healthcare shops.

Other readily available brands that I often recommend are:

  • Nature’s Plus
  • Solgar
  • Nutri Advanced
  • Viridian

When should I take my supplements?

Lastly, let me answer one crucial (and often asked) question: what is the best way to take supplements (e.g. with or without food, morning/evening)? It really depends on the supplement but, generally speaking, supplements should usually be taken twice a day (morning and evening), with food. However, always check the label on the supplement you are taking or follow the specific advice of your practitioner.

 

Davide Ferrilli  (MSc Pharm, PG Master in Herbal Medicine, MGPhC, MANP, MGNC) is a Registered Pharmacist, Nutritional Consultant, Herbalist and member of the Association of Naturopathic Practitioners. Davide strongly promotes a holistic vision of health, especially for chronic disorders. Whilst practicing as a pharmacist, he studied Herbal Medicine, gained a Diploma as Nutritional Consultant and attended a 2 year course in Bioenergetic Nutrition according to Chinese Medicine. He runs HealisticYou, where he offers personalized holistic consultations and promotes his original nutritional method (PEF). Davide also collaborates with like-minded psychotherapists and healthcare professionals both in Italy and in the UK. His science-based approach is focused on personalized nutrition, supplementation and lifestyle, combining Western and Eastern medicine. 

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