What to look for in a Vitamin or Supplement

Bowl of Vitamins
Creative commons Courtesy stevendepolo

Buying supplements/vitamins can seem bewildering for people without an organic chemistry degree.

The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published a study:

Multivitamins in the Prevention of Cancer in Men-The Physicians’ Health Study II Randomized Controlled Trial

which showed an 8% reduction in total cancer risks.

Eight percent is a modest decrease in total cancer risks, but taking a multivitamin once a day is incredibly easy.

We all like easy.

Figure 3. Cumulative Incidence Rates of Total Cancer Among 13 329 Men With No Baseline History of Cancer and 1312 Men With a Baseline History of Cancer in the Physicians’ Health Study II







How do you know that you are getting high quality for your hard earned dollars?

Which vitamins and minerals are needed for optimal health? I suggest you ask your health care provider before your next purchase.

Naturopathic Doctors have in-depth training in nutrition, supplements and herbs, bringing perspective to their patients health care questions. Perhaps all you need to feel your best is a fabulous organic diet but for the rest of us, a multivitamin/mineral is needed.

In my office, I do the grocery bag evaluation. I ask each patient to bring all of the supplements, medications and drinkable boosts that they take in a grocery bag to their first or second visit. I then go bottle by bottle through the ingredients evaluating for quality.

Rarely do I find high quality vitamins.

Why? I find most of the vitamins I review contain:

Minerals that are not bio-available  ie: highly absorbable. Instead most vitamins use chemically stable carbonate, sulfate or oxide forms. These forms of minerals require your body to break these stable bonds before assimilating the needed mineral.  Some folks have energy to spare, most others don’t.  These stable forms are FAR cheaper for the manufacturers. 

Cheap fillers that pose as available vitamin/minerals. One typical example is magnesium oxide. Although this is one of those stable forms of magnesium,  some companies include the magnesium content in their count of the magnesium available.  Not all people can absorb all this magnesium, giving them a false sense of security.

Inexpensive forms of vitamins/minerals. Calcium Carbonate is Chalk.  Ferrous oxide is rust. Do you really think that your body knows what to do with that or can convert these stable and unusable forms into vital, active ones?

Synthetic forms of Vitamins instead of naturally occurring forms. Especially in Vitamin E, you want the natural forms. Think of it this way, we evolved to absorb the vitamins the way Nature presented them to us, not the way some chemical company manufactured it.  It is all about fitting the correct key into our cell wall receptor sockets.  Naturally occurring ones fit, manufactured ones might not.

Vital Nutrients
Minimal and Essential
Supplement Facts-

This is my checklist for quality:

Is it in tabular or capsular form?

Capsules always break down in the typical digestive tract. Gelatin and cellulose caps melt away in the stomach, releasing the minerals and vitamins to be absorbed.

Tablets have an inconsistent breakdown, they are formed with compression which makes it difficult to break up. If there is too little stomach acid, you may have your vitamin pass through your body almost whole.

Tablets also have to have a coating- usually labeled as pharmaceutical glaze or some other benign phrase. Most of these are actually a derivative of corn, one of the most typical allergens. As an experiment, put one of these tablets in a small cup with 1/4 cup of water and a teaspoon of vinegar. Time long it takes to break up. Stomach emptying time is typically 2-6 hours. See if your tablet is dissolved in this amount of time.

Is the supplement hypoallergenic?
High quality supplements don’t contain Gluten, corn, wheat, milk, milk byproducts like lactose or casein, citrus, potato starch, eggs, yeast or soy.

Does the supplement contain flowing agents or fillers?

Typical flowing (waxy) agents are magnesium stearate, calcium stearate or sometimes ascorbyl palmitate. These allow the manufacturers to quickly produce the supplement by moving it through machinery well.

Problem is they prevent the vitamin/mineral content from being absorbed in the body due to their waxy coating of the ingredients. If your vitamin doesn’t contain these waxes, you are more likely to actually absorb the minerals and vitamins for which you are paying.

Does the supplement contain dyes, artificial ingredients, preservatives or sugars?

High quality vitamins rarely contain sugar-glucose, dextrose, maltose. Using an ingredient that ends in -ose is just a sugar to your body.

Never do high quality vitamins use artificial sweeteners. This table gives some of the names that get hidden in the list of ingredients


No supplement needs these to be useful in your body. Instead they are used to mask off tastes and odors. Skip any vitamin that contains these.

And although brightly colored vitamins might pique your child’s interest, do you really want artificial colors in them each morning? Avoid any vitamin with colors created by chemical manufacturing rather than nature. 

Vitamin? Creative Commons Courtesy to Lisa Brewster

Do the mineral and vitamins come in the most bio-available forms?

Minerals are best absorbed in the citrate/malate or aspartate forms. Vitamin E should be in the d-alpha form.

Alpha-tocopherol (α-tocopherol) is the name of the most active form of vitamin E in humans. It is also a powerful biological antioxidant. Vitamin E in supplements is usually sold as alpha-tocopheryl acetate, a form that protects its ability to function as an antioxidant. The synthetic form is labeled “D, L” while the natural form is labeled “D”. The synthetic form is only half as active as the natural form.

This aspect of vitamin and mineral composition is critical for your health, but far too broad to be covered here. Ask your Doctor for advice.

Is the company proud of its claims?

Does it back them up with independent chemical assays for purity, quality and quantity of vitamins/minerals in the final product? I search for the GMP’s (Good Manufacturing Practices) of the company. Typically if the product makes it this far in my assessment, it is a fairly good product.

If you can’t locate a physician with access to professional quality supplements like the Vital Nutrient Minimal and Essential one a day pictured here, feel free to click on through the Emerson Ecologics link below.

Click here to buy products.

Using the patient code LAYTON and zip code 98225, you can shop for your vitamins, minerals and  gluten-free cosmetics with confidence that you will receive a product that will enhance your health.





  1. karen says

    I don’t understand how to use the HEALTH patient code and zip code to find vitamines.

    • says

      Hi Karen,
      The old link didn’t work so I’ve corrected it. There is a new patient code of LAYTON and the zip code is now 98225.
      Once you sign in, you can look for the vitamins you would like