The market for food supplements is immense. Hundreds of suppliers present their products in supermarkets, pharmacies, online stores, and health institutes. This has advantages as well as disadvantages: On the one hand, customers are now able to buy almost any type of preparation. On the other hand, there are a lot of poor-quality preparations which are advertised using dubious claims. This makes choosing the correct product more difficult. This is why we have compiled a list of the most important aspects to look out for when choosing micronutrient preparations.
Purity: Allergens, additives, colorings and sweeteners
Micronutrients are often taken over a long period of time and sometimes in high,medically prescribed doses. Patients who are taking micronutrients due to an illness often have sensitive digestive systems, allergies, or allergy-like reactions to certain substances. Moreover, there are many substances that, if taken daily over a long period of time, can begin to burden even the most robust body. This is why micronutrient preparations should always be as pure as possible, i.e. free of allergens, colorings, and auxiliary substances and additives.
Allergens are substances which trigger allergies or intolerances. These include milk protein, soy, gluten, lactose, fructose, and much more. Even if you don't have any allergies or intolerances, there are two main reasons to use products which are free from allergens:
- For patients with certain types of inflammatory illnesses, products that are not free from allergens can cause the development of leaky gut syndrome. This leads to undigested pieces of food entering the blood stream. This then triggers an allergy-like defense reaction in the body – even if the patient has no allergies. This defensive reaction can be particularly severe when triggered by allergens or it can even trigger the development of an allergy.
- Many people have a tendency to develop allergies although they remain dormant in the body. If such patients regularly consume the trigger allergen, the allergy can be activated.
By the way: The exception to this rule are active ingredients which are also an allergen. For example, soy isoflavone. It goes without saying that you should avoid using such products if you have an existing allergy to this particular active ingredient.
The most important allergens are highlighted in the list of ingredients using bold or italics.
Many products use colorings to make them seem more appealing. Some colorings are harmless, others can have negative effects. But they are always unnecessary.Good quality preparations should always be free of additional colorings.
Auxillary substances and additives
During the production of micronutrient preparations, auxiliary substances and additives are often used to help with the filling process and make the product cheaper. In some cases, their use is necessary. But often they can be left out if the production process is adapted. The problem with auxiliary substances and additives is: Many of them act like soap and make the intestine porous to undigested food particles to pass through. They can lead to leaky gut syndrome or worsen the preexisting condition. The effect is amplified the more auxiliary substances and additives are consumed. Examples are magnesium stearate and titanium oxide.
Many products in the form of effervescent tablets, powders and drinks contain sweeteners. Current studies have shown that sweeteners can damage our gut flora - the useful bacteria located in our intestines. Therefore, sweeteners should be avoided, especially if you have a digestive illness.
Many types of preparations may contain contaminants. For example, heavy metals in fish oil and pesticides in phytochemical preparations. They are not listed on the packaging and cannot be identified without laboratory testing. How to avoid them:
- Only use fish oils which have been stringently purified and concentrated. Algae oil is a pure alternative to fish oils.
- Do not buy untested phytochemical preparations: These often contain high levels of pesticides and other contaminants. Conscientious manufacturers test the raw materials for impurities. The manufacturers of cheaper products tend not to carry out such testing.
- Look for manufacturers whose production process has been awarded quality certificates, such as International Featured Standards Food (IFS Food) or Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP): These manufacturers regularly send samples of their raw materials for laboratory testing.
Formula: Dose, Combination, and Quality of the Ingredients
Naturally, the dose of a preparation is important - too low is ineffective, too high can cause an overdose of certain nutrients.
The combination of ingredients is also important: For example, Vitamin D should be combined with Vitamin K2 to enable the bones to absorb calcium from the blood.
Both aspects – dose and combination – must be considered on a case-by-case basis to determine what is appropriate, effective, and safe. Using the information available on our website, you can decide if a preparation is suitable for you or not and what an appropriate dose would be. Alternatively, a physician with a qualification in micronutrient medicine can provide assistance; this makes sense particularly in cases where an appropriate dose can only be determined by laboratory testing.
Special subtypes of vitamins and other nutrients
From folic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin K, Vitamin E and co-enzyme Q10 there are subtypes that offer a range of advantages: Higher efficiency, better absorption and the compensation of deficiencies stemming from genetic defects. If you are interested, read the linked articles to see if you should choose a preparation which contains a special subtype.
Important: Folic acid should always be taken in its active form. When taking vitamin K, it should always also include the vitamin K subtype.
Micronutrients with high bioavailability and digestibility
In many micronutrients, there are different chemical compounds. This applies in particular to minerals. The body is able to absorb and utilize some of these compounds better than others − this means their bioavailability is higher. This can also improve the efficiency or digestibility. Below, you will find three examples of recommended compounds. There are, however, many more. In our nutritional articles you will find out all you need to know.
- Iron: Iron fumarate or iron pyrophosphate microcapsules, instead of iron citrate or iron carbonate
- Vitamin B12: E.g., Methylcobalamin instead of Cyanocobalamin
- Zinc: Zinc citrate or zinc gluconate instead of zinc oxide
Hard capsules may be manufactured using gelatin or modified cellulose. Cellulose capsules are suitable for vegetarians and vegans. Hard capsules are the recommended dosage form:
- Easy to swallow: Capsules easily slide down the esophagus using the saliva.
- High-Grade Purity: Usually, no auxiliary substances are necessary during the manufacturing process.
Soft capsules made from gelatin are used for the delivery of products like fish oil or borage oil. This enables a precise dose to be administered, protects against oxidization, and masks unwanted smells or tastes. Unfortunately, these are not suitable for vegetarians.
However, there are vegetarian-friendly alternatives available, such as soft capsules made from carrageen, algae, or modified starch. Although, there is now discussion among some experts about the possibility of carrageen posing a risk to health. It is possible that carrageen can trigger allergy-like symptoms. Therefore, it is important to keep carrageen intake levels as low as possible. The disadvantages of algae and modified starch are: They often require auxiliary substances to allow oil to be encapsulated using these plant-based alternatives. Therefore, if you don't have to avoid gelatin on ethical grounds, soft capsules made from gelatin are the best option.
Tablets are cheap to produce and are often the preferred form for cheaper preparations. Compared to capsules, they have some disadvantages:
- Ease of swallowing: Tablets don't "swim" on the saliva, but stick on the tongue. To stop this happening, the tablets often have a coating, which is an additional auxiliary substance.
- Auxiliary substance: Many tablets require auxiliary substances for stability or to make them easier to swallow.
Tablets are a better option when
- a product is only able to perform its function in tablet form or
- the encapsulation of the product is not possible and
- the tablets can be produced with the lowest amount of additives possible.
An example is lozenges, where the active substance targets the mucous membranes of the mouth or throat.
Some types of preparations, such as liquid vitamin D, are sold in dropper bottles. This is useful for those who have problems swallowing capsules. These preparations are recommended when they do not contain unnecessary additives such as colorings, flavorings, sweeteners, or preservatives.
If the dose of a certain preparation is too high for it to be delivered via capsules or another dosage form, powder is often used. The power is usually mixed into water then drunk. Examples of this are fiber and drinkable gelatin. It is important to ensure that the active substances are as pure as possible and that the preparation does not contain unnecessary additives.
Protein shakes help optimize protein intake, e.g., athletes or those on a diet. Protein shakes can also be a suitable option in the treatment of cancer and immune deficiencies, or after surgery. Unfortunately, they are hardly available without added sweeteners and flavorings. Therefore, it is recommended to use shakes which are less sweet and not excessively flavored. Also, the quality of the protein is important. There are two numbers used to display protein quality: The Chemical Score and the Biological Value. Good protein has a Chemical Score of at least 100, better if over 150, and a Biological Value above 75.
Effervescent Tablets and Powders
Effervescent tablets usually contain unnecessary additives which can be damaging in the event of illness or hypersensitivities: Colorings, flavorings, sweeteners, and other substances which help the powder dissolve. Also, some of the ingredients remain in the glass and require an additional rinse. Therefore, these preparations should only be used when there is no other alternative.
Drink Bottles, Ampules, or other Drink Preparations
Similar to effervescent tablets, most ready-made drink preparations from bottles or ampules, contain colorings, flavorings, and sweeteners. Some products also contain preservatives. They often also contain emulsifying agents to stop the ingredients from settling. It is common for one bottle to be used per day: This is expensive and bad for the environment. When possible, avoid the use of such preparations.
Sprays are rarely used. They are only suitable for individual application and have high production costs. They are useful when using coenzyme Q10 sprayed directly onto the gums to treat periodontitis and reduce inflammation.
High-quality micronutrients have to fulfill numerous criteria to be deemed suitable for a course of therapy or for long-term use.
- Free from allergens and contaminants
- High-quality raw materials, sensible doses and combinations
- No unnecessary additives, such as colorings, flavorings, preservatives, and sweeteners
- Suitable dosage form, such as capsules and powders
The information listed on our website can help you evaluate various micronutrients preparations and create an optimal combination for your needs.
Geyer H et al. (2004): Analysis of Non-Hormonal Nutritional Supplements for Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids – Results of an International Study. Int J Sports Med 25: 124-129