nutritional supplements scientific evidenceThe role of nutrition in health and disease is no longer in question. What remains questionable is the purity and potency of many nutritional supplements. Not many people realize that few regulatory standards exist for nutritional supplements. Therefore, if you decide to include supplements in your health regimen, it is imperative to know that the products you’re using are of the highest purity and potency.

One way to ensure quality is to only purchase supplements from manufacturers who elect to be licensed by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). These facilities must meet or exceed the stringent protocols and Good Manufacturing Practices established for the pharmaceutical industry. In addition, products should be subjected to rigorous disintegration and dissolution testing. The best-formulated product in the world is of little benefit if your body cannot absorb it.

Other factors to consider include:

•          Processing technique. Heat destroys many nutrients, particularly enzymes. Supplement manufacturers should guarantee that all products are formulated in the cooler temperature ranges that preserve nutritional potency.

•          Use of chemical solvents. Although commonly utilized in the nutritional supplement and pharmaceutical industries, many chemical solvents are mutagenic (i.e., capable of causing mutations). There is little logic in recommending a product to enhance or preserve health if it is also a known cancer-causing agent. Consumers should ask manufacturers whether chemical solvents are used in the processing of their nutritional supplements.

•          Supplement coatings and binders. The most commonly used coating in the nutritional supplement industry is pharmaceutical food glaze, better known as “shellac.” A shellac coating on a supplement adds an attractive shiny appearance. It also makes the pills slightly slippery, which may facilitate swallowing. However, this coating often results in the phenomenon known as “bed pan pills”, products that slide, intact, straight through the gastrointestinal tract.

Similarly, methyl cellulose is commonly used to bind nutritional formulations to facilitate the manufacturing process. In fact, methyl cellulose is so effective a binder that the nutrients it coats are rendered mostly unavailable for absorption.

Supplements should be devoid of shellac coatings and glue-like binders. A safer alternative is to find products that are coated with a solution of water and vegetable proteins. This process allows for maximum disintegration and dispersion. Chemical binding agents are never necessary.

Among the elderly, the routine use of multivitamin/mineral supplements has been shown to improve immune function and thus reduce the risk of infectious disease.

Penny wise and pound foolish

Just as all nutritional supplements are not created equal, neither are the nutrients themselves. Huge gaps exist in the safety and effectiveness of specific nutrients. For example, germanium is a trace mineral that has been shown to enhance immune function. Although abundant in the earth’s crust, germanium is difficult to obtain from the food supply. However, more than one form of germanium exists. The inorganic form of germanium is more toxic than other forms of this mineral. Furthermore, it is not assimilated effectively when taken orally. In contrast, germanium sesquioxide (Ge-132), the less toxic, organic form of germanium, is beneficial when taken orally.

Ge-132 is significantly more expensive than organic germanium, but it is also much safer and more effective. Which form is most commonly included in nutritional supplements? The less expensive, less effective, and more toxic form – inorganic germanium.

Open-door policy

Does the company that provides the nutritional supplements actually manufacture the products, or are they simply a distribution facility? If the answer is the latter, that company may have little or no control over the quality of the products or the methods used to produce them. If the company is also the manufacturer, do they fully disclose their policies and procedures and invite you to tour their facility? If a supplement manufacturer does not allow you to personally inspect their facility, perhaps they have something to hide. Be extremely wary of any nutritional supplement that seems to have been designed by the company accountant rather than by those familiar with the scientific literature.

Protect your health

Recent years have witnessed changes in the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in this country. While infectious diseases were dominant early in this century, technological, biological, and behavioral changes have largely controlled these conditions. Today, we face chronic, degenerative diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and stroke.

Research strongly suggests that better nutrition, including the use of appropriate nutritional supplementation, can promote health and reduce the risk of many chronic and acute health conditions.