In June of this year I developed a webinar for Today’s Dietitian titled, “Dietary Supplement Use in Older Adults: Help, Hype, or Hope?” (Click here to access the webinar.) The webinar ended with a robust Q&A. Time ran out before we could get to all of the questions and some of them were tough to answer. In my teaching days I told students to seek out experts when they didn’t know the answer to a question, so I turned to an expert in dietary supplements to help me. Dr. Anthony Thomas is the Director of Scientific Affairs for Jarrow Formulas and he jumped in to answer your questions. I’ve tapped Dr. Thomas in the past when you asked about probiotic supplements…click here for a link to that post.
Question: The number 1 question involved supplement ingredients. Many people believe that all supplement ingredients are manufactured in China and they expressed concerns over quality issues with Chinese ingredients.
“Ingredients for use in dietary supplement manufacturing are sourced from all over the world, including China,” explains Dr. Thomas. “Quality ingredients are quality ingredients regardless of their country of origin and in fact a number of companies headquartered in other countries have manufacturing set up in the U.S., too.”
One suggestion that I routine make when asked about supplements is to look for a quality brand, like Jarrow Formulas (disclosure, I have no connection to Jarrow Formulas, but I do use some of their products because I recognize quality supplements.). A quality brand often uses third-party verification or endorsement. That means that a brand contracts with a third-party certifying agency to test their products. One of the most well-known is USP which stands for United States Pharmacopia. When you see the USP symbol on a supplement it tells you that the supplement:
- Contains what the ingredient label says it contains and, in the amount, listed
- Doesn’t contain contaminants
- Will dissolve or break down in the body and get absorbed into the blood stream in a specific time frame
- Has been made with good manufacturing processes (GMPs) as outlined by the Food & Drug Administration.
Another well-known third-party entity that evaluates supplements is NSF. The NSF certification also helps consumers know they are getting a quality supplement. When I worked with athletes at the university, we looked for NSF certified supplements because they test supplements to ensure that they do not contain substances banned by their sport governing body.
Question: What is the difference between a supplement called a nutraceutical vs. nootropic?
Dr. Thomas defines it this way, “a supplement called a nutraceutical is more-or-less a fancy term (not a legal term) for dietary components or dietary supplement ingredients with purported health benefits beyond nutritive value. Nootropics are a subset of ingredients that positively influence cognitive function(s).”
Question: Is there a B12 supplement source for vegans? What form of B12 is best absorbed in older adults?
“All forms of B12 used in dietary supplements are suitable for vegans since they are synthesized chemically. Look for one that says suitable for vegans because some capsules are made with gelatin. Jarrow Formulas makes a chewable form that is appropriate for vegans,” says Dr. Thomas. “Thus, the concern about vitamin B12 deficiency in vegans is easily overcome.”
As for the “best” form of B12, Dr. Thomas explains, “despite the marketing hype, there is not good evidence of differences in absorption between different forms of the vitamin. There is limited evidence suggests that methyl-B12 may be better retained by the body and reduced elimination in the urine compared to cyanocobalamin. Methyl-B12 seems to be the preferred form by consumers, but that is likely due in large part to marketing rather than research demonstrated superiority. Some suggest that methyl-B12 is not suitable for all the body’s needs as if it cannot be converted to right form, but this is incorrect.” The bottom line is that some marketing might make it appear that there is a “best” form but all forms are used by the body.
Question: How do you know if supplements of omega 3s are not rancid?
“Unfortunately, smell is not always indicative of oxidative degradation. If the product is stored away from heat and light exposure, it should be fine, although I often just keep my bottles in the fridge,” says Dr. Thomas. “Soft gels are usually formulated with antioxidant ingredients to protect against oxidation.” As with other supplements, buy supplements from a reputable brand with a long-standing reputation of quality. That is my recommendation, as well as Dr. Thomas’ recommendation. He adds, “of course this recommendation may seem self-serving given the company I work for. However, there is increasingly more direct consumer brands primarily available online as they can contract the manufacturing of the supplement and just put their label on the product but it may or may not have all the other quality control measures in place to ensure safety, potency, and quality. We see more problems with products from such companies, not all or most, and it is often guilt by association for the entire industry. In fact, Jarrow L. Rogovin, the man who started Jarrow Formulas in 1977, relied on contract manufacturers but after so many issues over the years, he eventually invested in the development of our own manufacturing nearly 20 years ago.
Thanks to Dr. Thomas for helping me answer your questions on dietary supplements. Keep the questions coming!
Dr. Christine Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Along with Dr. Bob Murray, she is the author of Food & Fitness After 50.
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