Food supplements - the 7 biggest mistakes

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Dietary supplements can sometimes work wonders. However, mistakes often happen when choosing or using nutritional supplements. Here you will learn what is important when buying food supplements, and which mistakes are often made, or how best to avoid them. For maximum effect or the desired effect.

Mistake 1: Too high or too low a dosage

From the Swiss physician Paracelsus, who lived in the 15th century, comes this quote, which is still benign today:

All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; the dose alone makes a thing not a poison. - Paracelsus

Applied to dietary supplements, this means that the ingredients must 1) be dosed strongly enough to have an effect, and at the same time 2) not be dosed too high, otherwise they could be harmful to health.

How can I find out if a dietary supplement is too high? Dietary supplements manufactured and sold in Switzerland are subject to strict supervision by the respective cantonal authorities. These ensure that products do not contain any harmful quantities of an ingredient. Products from abroad, including those from the USA, are often subject to different standards. In case of doubt, we advise you to check with a pharmacy or drugstore before buying foreign products to make sure that the amount contained is tolerable.

It is somewhat more difficult to find out whether an active ingredient is sufficiently dosed. Premium suppliers such as VITPEB usually formulate their products on the basis of scientific study results. It is essential that if an effect is proven, the dosage in the product remains the same. This is because if the amount is lower, the effect may no longer occur. So how can you make sure you are getting enough of an ingredient? Either by buying high quality products from traceable sources and/or by doing a quick research of the studies on the internet.

Mistake 2: Compensating for an unhealthy diet with a multivitamin

The promise sounds almost too good to be true. One pill a day and you don't have to worry about your nutrient supply anymore. After all, the assumption goes, all the important vitamins and minerals would be covered.

Unfortunately, the promise that many suppliers of multivitamin preparations make in this form directly or at least implicitly is usually false. Even nowadays in our fast-paced world where fresh cooking is more the exception than the rule for many, we take in most nutrients sufficiently through our diet. Multivitamin supplements can actually cause certain nutrients to be overdosed in combination with food and then excreted through the body, which can unnecessarily stress the liver and kidneys.

In addition, the desire to lead a healthy lifestyle by taking multivitamin supplements often results in the opposite. Since we take an "all I need" multivitamin tablet, the inhibition threshold to eat less healthy tends to drop - one is under the belief that one is "well covered" by the multivitamin preparation without any. Unfortunately, this is usually not the case.

Conclusion: Try to eat a balanced diet and only take those supplements for which you suspect a deficiency or whose targeted effect you want to achieve.

Mistake 3: Synthetic instead of natural version of an ingredient (bioavailability)

One important issue is often under-addressed in dietary supplements: bioavailability. Bioavailability of supplements is a measure of how much of a substance you take can actually be processed by the body and is available to the body.

Why this is important is easily explained. Let's say, for example, you want to take 300mg of magnesium a day. You go to the pharmacy and are offered two products, let's call them "A" and "B". Product "A" and "B" both contain exactly the same amount of magnesium according to the label. Nevertheless, the body can absorb and process the two products differently. One of the two products is more bioavailable than the other, i.e. "better" in this respect. Magnesium is a good example, as there are >10 different variants of magnesium.

So what does bioavailability depend on? In addition to the chemical composition and the manufacturing method of an ingredient, its bioavailability depends on the following factors, among others:

  • Form of ingestion (powder, capsule, liquid, etc.)
  • Time of ingestion
  • Condition of the body at the time of ingestion
  • Especially the condition of the intestine
  • Interaction with other ingredients (see also "Mistake 4: Combining iron incorrectly")
  • Form of storage

In summary, it can be said that not all vitamin C (as an example) is the same. It is also important to know if the particular supplement is in a bioavailable form, and that attention has been paid to interactions between active ingredients in the formulation.

Mistake 4: Combining iron incorrectly (also applies to food)

Many women, but also some men, suffer from an iron deficiency. This can be counteracted with iron food supplements. However, mistakes are often made which result in the body not absorbing or processing the iron well.

One of the most common mistakes is the wrong combination of iron and food. The following food (supplements) should not be combined with iron or, if taken at the same time, can reduce the body's ability to absorb iron:

  • Turmeric
  • Green tea and coffee
  • Milk thistle
  • Calcium and calcium-containing ingredients (e.g. milk, yoghurt, cheese)
  • Tannins (found in grapes, among other things)

The following ingredients can improve the body's ability to absorb iron:

  • Vitamin C and all foods containing vitamin C
  • Citrus juice or fruit
  • Meat
  • Fish

Mistake 5: On an empty stomach or combined with food - it depends

Many know the unpleasant feeling after taking supplements on an empty stomach. This usually has to do with the fact that it is recommended to take them together with food. With other dietary supplements, on the other hand, we explicitly recommend taking them on an empty stomach.

Here you can find out which types of supplements should ideally be taken on an empty stomach, and which should be taken with food or a smoothie. However, as always, this also depends on the product. If in doubt, it's best to check the manufacturer's website or ask a health professional.

The following types of supplements should be taken on an empty stomach:

  • Probiotics
  • vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • vitamin B
  • Iron

These types, in turn, should ideally be taken with food:

  • Magnesium
  • Omega 3
  • Vitamin B complex
  • Multivitamins

Mistake 6: Taking a probiotic without a prebiotic

Probiotics are foods or even supplements that contain living organisms (including bacteria) that are supposed to have a positive effect on our gut flora. With some foods, this is naturally the case; with supplements, these organisms are the reason we consume them in the first place.

Probiotic foods include kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, miso, kombucha, among others.

Prebiotics are simply speaking the food for probiotics. The important thing when taking probiotics is to either combine them with prebiotics or take the latter through your regular diet.

Mistake 7: Not paying attention to quality (easy with our checklist).

The dietary supplement industry is regulated differently depending on the country. While in Switzerland and partly also in the EU very strict regulations and quality standards prevail, this is not always the case in other countries.

You can look for the following quality characteristics to find out if it is a quality product:

  • Where was the product manufactured (don't be fooled by "formulated in" - "Developed in Switzerland" usually just means that these products were produced less stringent regulations cheaply abroad). Swiss Made, on the other hand, stands for developed AND manufactured in Switzerland, for example.
  • How strict are the individual product and the manufacturer certified? Here it is also important to distinguish between "simply" available certifications such as GMP or ISO 9001 and more demanding certifications such as FSSC 22000.
  • Has the product been tested by an independent laboratory?
  • Are the ingredients contained in the product approved in this form and is the claim of efficacy permissible?
  • Do the products contain unnecessary fillers, sweeteners or colourings?

In case of doubt, it is advisable to ask at the pharmacy, drugstore or your trusted therapist or doctor before buying.

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