Chinese Herb Academy Logo

Web Chinese Herb Academy

Herb Databases


Find a Chinese Herbalist



photo montage of herbal medicine

Shopping for Vitamins

by Todd Luger, L.Ac.

The majority of vitamin purchases are made at large chain drugstores and supermarkets. The perception is that there is no great distinction between vitamins made by different companies. This belief is only partially true. It is indeed true that the vast majority of vitamin and mineral products use ingredients manufactured by a few large companies. However, there are still critical distinctions to be made.

For instance, while most vitamins are synthetically produced, there is a range of different sources of the chemical precursors one might use. One of the largest suppliers of vitamins is the Eastman Kodak company, which is able to chemically alter certain photo processing chemicals in order to manufacture their ìhealth supplementsî. While research seems to indicate that the body uses such synthetically produced items in exactly the same way as those produced by nature, the synthetic products are not actually identical to the natural ones. Half of synthetically produced vitamin C is actually a mirror image of the one produced by nature and these mirror images do not work as vitamins in the body.

Small specialty manufacturers often provide encapsulated vitamins without additives. Large companies add free-flowing agents and binders, which may be toxic, and lubricants, which dramatically interfere with nutrient absorption. If one is seriously ill, please consult an expert in this area before beginning a supplement program. This can actually save a lot of money, frustration and adverse reactions, in the long run. Finally, more isnít always better. Many manufacturers put large numbers of obscure ingredients in their products, however many of these ingredients are actually not present in large enough amounts to have much health impact. Without specific advice from a professional, one should identify a product that contains adequate quantities of common vitamins (beta-carotene, B's, C, D, E, K). For specifics, the shopper is referred to the Encyclopedia of Natural Healing by Murray and Pizzorno.

Like certain vitamins, we must get certain minerals from our diet for optimal health. In nature minerals occur complexed with amino acids. Product manufacturers have attempted to mimic this process by combining minerals with amino acids in the process of chelation. This process increases the absorption and utilization of minerals. Labels may say amino acid chelate or perhaps specifically refer to the amino acid, such as aspartate. Several minerals have been heavily researched and optimum supplementation levels have been determined. These include calcium, magnesium and zinc. The dosage of others are more controversial, such as vanadium and molybdenum. Selenium, which is quite deficient in modern diets, appears to be a potent antioxidant. As a word of caution, no one should take iron supplements without a physician's prescription. Solid evidence links excess iron intake with the development of cancer.

In addition to herbs, there is a whole range of supplements available, which are neither vitamins, nor minerals. These include items such as glucosamine sulfate, shark's cartilage, amino acids, DHEA and melatonin, to name a few. Some of these items are very safe (glucosamine sulfate), but others have caused concern amongst health professionals (DHEA and amino acids). While such items are legal for sale without a prescription, they are not really nutrients. Some are actually more similar to drugs.

The proper use of these items is highly specific. In order to get good, safe results with such products, I strongly advise consulting with a natural healthcare professional. Be extremely wary of healthfood store personnel who recommend this type of supplement. It is one thing to make a product available or to recommend the use of a general multi-vitamin, but Oregon law is very clear. Only a licensed healthcare provider may recommend a product for the relief of a symptom or a disease. Anyone who does this should be willing to document their education and licensure. Otherwise, the health product consumer should always err on the side of caution.


[back to top]