Vitamins and supplements are great ways to help support your health naturally, aid your body’s healing process, and even boost mental performance. Not all supplements are created equal, however, and knowing how to find the best supplement brands can help you avoid disaster. Here we’ll help recognize what makes a quality supplement brand and where to buy them from.
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What makes a quality supplement brand? We believe that ingredient quality, manufacturing practices, and industry reputation are all important factors. Non-GMO certification, use of organic ingredients, and minimal processing agents are also important. In addition, cost, availability, and catalog depth are major factors we consider contributing factors in our assessment. We’ve got a full list of the brands we believe to be the best in the world but below you’ll find our six favorites with links to where they can be purchased.
When it comes to anything you consume things like food, medicine, or drinks, you need to be especially mindful of product quality. This is especially true for supplements since often they are used to address health issues. Whereas two supplements may both list the same ingredients on their product labels they can both be very different in terms of potency and purity. Some key considerations to make when selecting vitamin or supplement brands are as follows:
- FDA-Registered Manufacturer
- cGMP Compliance
- NSF-Registered GMP
- In-house testing
- Professional brand vs. Consumer brand
Each of these points is important to consider and can have dire implications on overall product quality. Unfortunately, each of these characteristics is sometimes hard to discern from product labels. That’s why it’s especially important to have done your research before shopping so you know which supplement brands can be trusted to deliver potent and pure products.
Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP)
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains a series of guidelines that help manufacturers establish credibility in the marketplace. These guidelines govern the manufacturing processes across many industries, and have specific considerations depending on the processes used, the raw materials handled, and the end-use of a product. In general, the cGMP guidelines for dietary supplements outlines how supplement brands should handle the following aspects of business:
- Facility Quality & Cleanliness
- Ingredient Purity & Identification
- Process & Quality Control Procedures
- Potency Testing & Shelf-life estimation
- Product Labeling & Health Claims
- Handling Recalls
This list makes the cGMPs sound pretty simple but they are anything but. In fact, cGMP is a complex nightmare that requires a serious investment on behalf of any supplement manufacturer. In practice, this means that the vast majority of supplement brands contract their manufacturing to third-party facilities. This doesn’t have any direct implication on quality, but it’s a strong signal of dedication when a brand maintains its own facilities.
Consumer Brands vs. Professional Brands
The best way to find the best supplements brands quickly is to divide them into consumer brands and professional brands. You may hear professional brands referred to as practitioner-channel brands, doctor-trusted brands, or other names hinting at their use in clinical settings. These brands are used by licensed physicians to treat health concerns and contain only the purest and most potent ingredients. Many of these brands operate their own manufacturing facilities and maintain their own labs as well.
Store brands are the absolute worst choice possible and are notorious for containing garbage ingredients.
Consumer brands are, in most cases, best described as the supplement brands that you can find in stores. The Vitamin Shoppe, GNC, Whole Foods, and probably even your local health food store will carry these. Not all consumer brands are found in all stores but there are plenty that you can learn to look for. These are the most dangerous of brands in that they often contain inefficacious compounds (magnesium oxide for example) or may even contain unlisted ingredients. The danger is that it’s hard to tell just form the label. Store brands are the absolute worst choice possible and are notorious for containing garbage ingredients.
Quality Supplement Brands
With the above in mind, we’ve put together a list of supplement brands that are well-respected among the medical community. As a general rule, a professional brand will always be a better choice than a consumer brand and a store brand is always a bad idea. Another general rule is that professional brands will also be more expensive since extra steps are generally taken during manufacturing to ensure purity.
|Garden of Life||Consumer||Local/Online|
|Designs for Health||Professional||Online|
The brands listed in the table above aren’t by any means the only brands that are worth buying. They are biased to the brands that we know can be trusted and that medical professionals that we know and work with trust as well. Here are some basic rules of thumbs for each that can help you navigate your supplement buying more effectively.
Professional Brands are Hard to Find
The best supplement brands, those that doctors and professionals trust, generally aren’t sold in stores. In fact, many of these brands require a professional healthcare license in order to qualify as a reseller. That means that your local health food store isn’t likely to carry them! Some such as Thorne Research sell directly through their website. Others also sell through on Amazon via authorized re-sellers like iServe.
Consumer Brands Can be Great Too
Just because a supplement brand uses magnesium stearate as a flow agent rather than L-leucine, or uses an animal glycerin capsule instead of a Project Non-GMO certified vegetable glycerin one doesn’t mean they’re evil. Professional brands often avoid these because patients often have heightened sensitivities to animal proteins or need maximal absorption.
Brands like Jarrow, Life Extension, and Garden of Life might make some compromises to distribute their product widely and cost-effectively but that doesn’t mean you should shun them. For most people, these brands are the best balance of purity, availability, and affordability.
Store Brands Always Suck
This statement isn’t true, but it’s a good credo to live by. Brands form stores like CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, and Costco are the epitome of mass-produced goods that get strewn through manufacturing facilities not designed to handle them. There are well-documented reports of cases where such brands contain extra ingredients, out-of-date ingredients, and sometimes just downright mislabeled ingredients. A shocking 2013 report in the NYTimes helped shed light on this industry-wide fraud:
… bottles labeled as St. John’s wort, which studies have shown may treat mild depression, contained none of the medicinal herbs. Instead, the pills in one bottle were made of nothing but rice, and another bottle contained only Alexandrian senna, an Egyptian yellow shrub that is a powerful laxative. Gingko Biloba supplements, promoted as memory enhancers, were mixed with fillers and black walnut, a potentially deadly hazard for people with nut allergies …
The report said, not in these exact words, that store brand supplements were a scam. They very likely contain inactive ingredients, maybe don’t even contain traces of the listed inactive ingredients, and are slammed on the shelf with as little regard for consumers are possible. Snake oil, in other words. Store brands from companies like VitaminShoppe are probably better but we still don’t recommend them.
Vitamins and supplements are incredible tools in helping support health and nutrition naturally. They won’t solve all your problems, they’re not likely to cure what ails you, and you can have very negative side effects if you’re not careful. There is no substitute for working with a doctor when trying to diagnose a health issue.
For those issues where vitamins and supplements are determined to be useful, knowing how to find a quality brand can make all the difference in the world. If your supplements contain unnecessary fillers, out-of-date, or mislabeled ingredients you’ll never know if they’re helping or not. The brands we’ve listed here are brand we trust, brands that people we trust trust, and have stellar reputations within the industry.