How trusting are you of labels on vitamin bottles? Do you even bother to read the ingredient label? If you do, don’t be fooled by what you read. Sometimes it’s what we don’t see, what is left unsaid, that is the most important.

Did you know that federal law does not require vitamins and supplements to be proven safe by the FDA before marketed? And why should this matter to you? Well, without proper regulation, without standards, there is no certainty about what you are ingesting.

I am a Certified Health Coach, and overall wellness and good health is a top priority for my clients and me. Living one’s healthiest life goes beyond the food that we eat, as nutrition is only one part of the equation to being your healthiest self. Because the majority of people do not obtain the proper nutrients for optimal living, supplementation can play a key role. As such, I have done extensive research to make sure my clients and my family are ingesting the best quality ingredients.

The vitamin and supplement industry is growing by leaps and bounds. There are new products hitting the marketplace daily. It is a billion-dollar industry, with people willing to try new modalities to treat and/or prevent ailments and diseases. The problem is when people believe all supplements are created equally, and because this bottle says it contains an ingredient, we believe it actually does. Take, for example fish oil. These essential fatty acids have amazing health benefits, but perhaps the toxicity level of a certain brand of fish oil contains dangerous amounts of lead and/or mercury, which not only cancels the benefit, but can put you at risk of toxicity. While it may contain that ingredient in small amounts, what about the ingredients contained inside that are unlisted?

There are also many people who hold the notion that vitamins are nothing more than expensive placebos. I would argue that statement to be true about many vitamins that do not adhere to the standard of pharmaceutical-grade vitamins.

Why do you even need vitamins and supplements in the first place?

Our health begins inside our cells, and our cells are under attack from daily life. Our bodies are constantly trying to protect us from the normal wear and tear that happens inside our bodies, known as oxidative damage. This is increased greatly by stress, and toxins in our food, air, and water. This damage is occurring every single day, and is a key factor in many of our health problems and diseases today. When our cells are damaged, they are not getting the nutrients they need, which leads to sickness, lowered immunity, less energy, among other things.

The choices we make affect the oxidation of our body—poor food choices, poor lifestyle choices, all affect the oxidation process. How can we counter this process? With antioxidants. We need more of them, and the best sources are fruits and vegetables, mainly organic, especially if eating fruits and/or vegetables from the “Dirty Dozen” list. (Refer to the “Clean Fifteen” list.) The problem is that we are not eating enough fruits and vegetables, nor are we getting the quality of nutrition we need on a daily basis. It is a challenge to get enough of the necessary nutrients in today’s environments, hence the need and importance for vitamins and supplements. However, the right vitamins and supplements, because otherwise it becomes counterproductive.

Not all supplements have the same function, potency, or effectiveness. Many nutritional products pass through the body without being properly absorbed and without sustaining bioavailability, which gives truth to the placebo philosophy. The effectiveness of supplements are determined by: grade, form, purity, bioavailability, and third-party verification.

Why should any of this matter? Well, the ability of the supplement to work as it suggests depends on the determining factors above, because absorption rates matter, as well as absence of toxic ingredients—the purity of the product.

Sometimes it’s what we don’t see, what is left unsaid, that is the most important.

Our health begins inside our cells, and our cells are under attack from daily life.

Where consumers are concerned, the grades of nutritional supplements are:

Pharmaceutical grade: This is the highest quality grade of vitamins, which must meet the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) standards, verifying (by a third party) the purity, dissolution, and absorption rate. It must contain more than 99 percent of the ingredients listed on the label. There are also pharmaceutical-level Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP’s), which require adherence to strict manufacturing guidelines.

Medical grade: This is also a high-grade vitamin, but not to the standards of pharmaceutical grade vitamins.

Nutritional grade: This grade is most typically sold in retail stores. The concentration of the ingredients is not accurately represented on the label, nor does it have to be, due to lack of regulations and manufacturing standards, which mean that although 99 percent of the ingredients listed on the label in pharmaceutical grade must be contained within, nutritional grade may only contain a small percentage of an ingredient, and may not be pure, readily absorbed and/or available in your body.

A variety of brands and grades can be referenced in the “NutriSearch Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements,” which rates more than 1,300 products. Bottom line is that what you see is not always what you get, so it is important to either do the research, or choose a company that has done the research for you. It is important to know you are getting the highest quality grade of vitamin that is going to do exactly what you are buying it for and not put you in danger.

Without a doubt, pharmaceutical grade vitamins ensure you are purchasing the highest quality nutritional supplement, where regulations require they adhere to strict guidelines, and best practices. Does this come at a higher price? Yes, but it’s worth the expense knowing the quality matches the value—your health is worth it.

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