Last Updated on March 24, 2020

choosing a supplement7 “Should Ask” Questions When Choosing a Supplement

Earlier this week, a bombshell study lit up the Internet. After analyzing five year of clinical trials, researchers found no “significant effect” from taking multivitamins, Vitamin C, Vitamin D and calcium supplements. The article, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, has many consumers wondering whether to take supplements at all.

While the study didn’t examine the impact of protein powders and other fitness supplements, it does raise an important question: how can you ensure that the supplements you choose, none of which are regulated by the FDA, are the best on the market?

Here’s a quick seven-point checklist for determining the quality of dietary supplements.

What am I hoping to achieve by taking this supplement?

 Take a look at the supplement you’re considering. Then, take a look at yourself. What are you trying to achieve by taking this supplement? If it’s a whey protein powder, are you hoping to better fuel your workouts, or are you seeking a miracle cure for your lack of muscle? If it’s the latter, then it’s time to reassess.

Supplements aren’t a miracle cure, and they’re not a substitute for hard work or a healthy lifestyle; hence the name “supplement” itself. By understanding what’s reasonable to expect from a supplement, and what other actions you need to take to maximize its impact, you can hold yourself accountable—and ensure you’re getting the most out of your supplement of choice. After all, achievable goals are the ones you can measure.

Does research show the supplement’s ingredients are effective?

There are many ways to determine whether a supplement will be effective. One is taking a look at its ingredients. Has research been conducted on the effectiveness of the key ingredients in its formula? Are proven ingredients the star, or is it more filler than quality? In the world of whey protein powder, for instance, any powder including “protein concentrate” is only 20% protein. The rest is filler in the form of fat, cholesterol and lactose.

What are its side effects, if any?

 One factor that’s driven supplement sales over the last decade is their relative lack of serious side effects—especially when compared with prescription drugs and other medications. With that being said, it’s still important to do your due diligence.

If you’re taking prescription medications, it’s crucial to ensure that your supplements will not react with them. Your best bet is to consult your doctor directly on this one.

Do I know how often I’m supposed to take it?

 Many of the side effects of supplements come into play most when you take more than is recommended. In the world of vitamins, there are clear recommended daily values for the major ones, and those should be followed. It is possible to have too much of a good thing, and for some supplements—iron, for instance—taking too much can be detrimental to your health.

Whereas water-soluble vitamins typically will be eliminated naturally from your body when you take more than you need, fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, E and K can build up in the body and wreak havoc. In addition to iron, selenium is another to make sure you’re not taking too much of. If you’re considering pre-workout supplements or gainers, pay close attention to the serving size on the label, and consult your doctor to be on the safe side.

Am I getting some of these nutrients in my food already?

 When it comes to vitamins and minerals, we get many through our daily diet. But when our diet falls short or we have other unique needs, it can be beneficial to try supplements. (Fitness supplements are a bit different, as these typically provide formulas to help with specific goals, such as muscle gain, fat loss and increased endurance during tough workouts.)

If you’re taking vitamin and mineral supplements and already have a healthy, balanced diet, it could be that you are getting more than you need each day—and in some cases, over the daily upper limit. When calculating how much Vitamin A you’re taking daily, for instance, you need to factor in supplements plus food to get an accurate account. Still, don’t worry too much; vitamin overdose is rare.

 Have I told my doctor about my plans to take this supplement?

 Especially if you have a medical condition or specific health concern, it’s important to let your doctor know about your plans—whether it’s a simple Vitamin D supplement or a protein powder. Says the FDA, “Some dietary supplements may increase the effect of your medication, and other dietary supplements may decrease it.” In short, it’s best to run any dietary change by your doctor to ensure your supplements fit into your diet in a healthy, safe way.

Have I read unbiased reviews?

 We don’t have to tell you that the Internet is full of marketing and white noise. But one silver lining in today’s digital world is the proliferation of real reviews from real people. In the supplement industry, which isn’t regulated by the FDA, it’s crucial to seek out reviews from unbiased, reputable sources. Simply put, knowing the brand name just isn’t enough anymore.

Read trusted reviews closely, check them against your own due diligence and get ready to feel more confident than ever in your supplement choice.

Cory is a veteran health industry writer and content creator. His work has been featured in major publications such as MyFitnessPal, Healthy Living, and Low Carb Fanatics. His health industry writing career spans over nearly two decades.

In his free time, Cory enjoys snowboarding, fictional writing, and online chess.