by Ruth Ann Clayton, RD

Buying dietary supplement for you or your family can be confusing.  It is a big responsibility to choose the correct one that fits your needs, Through years of experience, training, and observation I have developed a few points I believe can help you understand your responsibility in choosing a supplement.

A dietary supplement may contain vitamins, minerals, herbs, other botanicals, amino acids, protein, or fiber as well as other ingredients. It can be a single or multi constituent product and found in many forms such as tablets, capsules, softgels, liquids, or powders. Some dietary supplements can help you get an adequate dietary intake of essential nutrients; others may help you reduce your risk of disease.

First of all be bold and discuss supplements and drugs with your doctor and other healthcare professionals.  Check with a Dietitian or Pharmacist who is knowledgeable in integrative medicine.  A coordinated approach is your best pathway to the use of traditional medicine and natural supplementation.

When buying supplements ask questions and request information.  Study the traditional and historical use of the product you are considering.  Use sales literature to tell you the ingredients, but look further for additional research. Remember that by law, sales people and sales literature cannot make claims unless the claims have been backed by research and approved by the FDA.  .

When well meaning friends, neighbors, relatives, or television personalities advise you to take something that has worked great for them, check to see if it is pertinent to your situation.  Just as in shoes, one size does not fit all.  Talk to someone with knowledge and research the product yourself before purchasing. If it fits your needs, then consider it.

Don’t be gullible. In other words: “Don’t believe everything you read”.  You are in an era of information overload from print, television and the Internet that makes it difficult to know what is true.  Question the data.  A red flag should go up if information on a product promises quick cures or tells you to forego medical treatment.  If an advertisement requires the purchase of a book or subscription in order to get the information, don’t buy it.  If your credit card number is required to send you product for free, stay away from it.  This often winds up as a permanent order that is difficult to cancel.  Use reputable companies, sources, credentialed authors, reference books, professionals and trained sales associates to help you make decisions.

Watch for interactions between drugs, supplements and over the counter products. Many drugs and supplements can work well together, but should be checked for interactions.  Three major categories to watch are anticoagulants, antidepressants, and hypertensive medications. Keep a list of your drugs available when buying supplements and tell the sales associate.  Be aware of vitamin and mineral depletions caused by drugs that may require supplementation.  A well-recognized example is statin drugs increasing the need to supplement Coenzyme Q10.

Read the entire supplement label, not just the front. Avoid products with artificial colors and sweeteners.  To ensure you are taking the intended dosage double check the serving size required.  Products do vary in the amount they provide. For example, not all fish oil pills contain the same amount of Omega 3.    Look for the directions on how and when to take the product and always read any warnings on the label.

Question what I call the “Kitchen Sink Formula”.   These have so many ingredients in one pill it most likely has no therapeutic value. And while we are discussing therapeutic value, avoid the “hot ingredient” fad of the moment.  Check it out to see if the dosage of the “hot ingredient” is significant enough to be of any use.  I watch “hot ingredients” come and go with the news cycles and find some of them to contain less than therapeutic amounts.

Buy from brands with a history.  Check to see if they stand behind their products.  Find out if they use Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) that are required by the FDA and the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act.  Finally, price is always important, but if you shop only price, you are the prey of companies who make lower quality products and/or offer lower quality service.

You can take responsibility for your health by staying informed about the drugs and supplements you take.  Ask questions, seek answers, and stay in control.

Ruth Ann Clayton is the Registered Dietitian at Nature’s Way.  Reach her at  This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.

Ruth Ann Clayton, Registered Dietitian, is active in both the American Dietetics Association and Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine Dietetic Practice Group. Her nationally accredited Dietetic Internship and her years of experience in public health and hospital settings reflect her commitment to your health and well being.

As the co-owner of Nature’s Way, she uses her comprehensive background to research products, read labels, investigate manufacturers and provide information for her customers.