How to Choose Supplements

It doesn’t take long to get overwhelmed when wandering through the grocery store or specialty supplement store. Learn what to look for p- and what to avoid – when choosing a supplement.

It doesn’t take long to get overwhelmed when wandering through the grocery store or specialty supplement store.

Maybe it excites you to think that there might be a magic pill that will solve your weight worries, energy woes, or even help you gain some muscle.  One size fits all supplements are easy to find in anywhere – grocery stores, supplement stores, online, at doctor’s offices, and in MLM companies.  I’ve been guilty of purchasing some magic potion from all of those at one time or another.  

Anyone can make and label a supplement with it’s promises for better health, better energy, better mood, and a better ‘you’.  But are we getting healthier?  Or are the supplement company’s bank accounts just getting bigger?

A plethora of supplements exist – it is a BILLION dollar industry after all.  

But do you know what you are getting?

Common belief is supplements are regulated to keep us safe.  That is true and false.  

Let’s start with a little history and background.

Yes, supplements have some regulations, but in the US they aren’t quite as strict as you might think.  The United States regulations allow companies to hide fillers and ingredients under the name “proprietary blend”.  The idea behind it is to protect the company from having their formula copied and used fraudulently. Unfortunately, under that same guise may be unknown ingredients that are potentially harmful to your health.  As a whole, Europe tends to have the strictest standards across the major countries for manufactured supplements.

In 1994, basic standards were set by the US by the DSHEA (Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act). At this time in our history, the supplement business was very politically charged and standards needed to be set.  The FDA reinforces manufacturing standards and labels, while the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) monitors the media for fraudulent or misleading advertisements.  

What do you think?  Are they doing a good job?

It’s imperative to understand supplements are not always gluten free, dairy free, egg free simply because the label says so.  There are companies that seek higher standards than what the US requires.  Thorne is one such company who voluntarily seeks out Australia’s TGA for certification to ensure its customers are getting the highest quality available.

Do you have to take supplements?  No.

Best case scenario – you get all of your nutrients from your food.  

This is becoming increasingly difficult for the average person because of soil degradation due to mono-cropping, pesticide and herbicide use, and the increased propaganda for a fully plant-based diet.  Hormone disruption and the undernourished-overfed population is on a steady rise.  Some statistics report less than 3% of the US population lives a “healthy lifestyle” and only 12% are metabolically healthy.  

If you are able to grow a garden, purchase from a local co-op or growers, you’re one step closer to better health.  

I’ve heard “pay the farmer now, or pay the hospitals later”.  It’s true.

We know we aren’t healthy, so we turn to supplements to help.  

Where should you start? 

Know what you are buying.

Basic categories of supplements

  • Minerals

  • Nutrients

  • Vitamins

  • Glandulars

  • Amino Acids

  • Antioxidants

  • Enzymes

  • Herbs

  • Omegas

  • Prebiotics

  • Probiotics

  • … and more

One major flaw with using grab and go supplements is you don’t always know what  you are getting. Especially if you are self-diagnosing, following the latest fad, or being given advice by someone who doesn’t know your specific health needs and concerns.

How often has someone recommended a product to you because it worked for them?  

This can be harmful to your health if you blindly follow someone’s advice (on anything for that matter) just because it worked for them.

Before purchasing any more supplements, find someone who actually understands the physiology behind how that supplement works, the possible interactions with other medications, and your unique need for a supplement.

As we age, our bodies don’t process anything with the same efficiency.  What worked for you in your 20s most likely won’t be as effective in your 40s, 50s, or beyond.  Taking supplements when your body doesn’t need them, can cause more damage.

On top of all that, if you are constipated or your elimination pathways are not free-flowing, adding supplements should not be the first approach.  You end up clogging up an already backed-up system.  

Your liver must process everything you take in.  If it is not functioning optimally, adding more burden will make things worse.  Think of it like a bathtub getting filled up.  If the water draining out is slower than the water being put in from the faucet, the tub will overflow.  To avoid this, make sure the drain is fully open and working then slowly turn on the faucet.  The same analogy works for losing fat.  Reducing fat stores at an accelerated rate can be very tough on an already burdened liver.

Sometimes as our body heals, we get a little worse first.  That “healing crisis” is possible, but if you don’t support your detoxification pathways appropriately, you are doing more harm than good.

What do you do now?

Be aware of:

  • One size fits all (no one)

  • Using supplements when you don’t need them (“Test before you digest”)

  • What is good for one person, may not be good for you – even if you have the same diagnosis.

  • Know if your supplement is fat-soluble or water-soluble

  • Look for expired products


  • Start slow.

  • Eat whole foods.

  • Stay hydrated.

  • Exercise.

  • Only supplement what is needed, and for as short of a duration as possible.

Think of these recommendations as a starting point. Knowing how your unique physiology responds will be key in getting fine-tuned.