Originally posted on the Well.ca Blog
As a practicing naturopathic doctor, I’m often asked: “Aren’t all vitamins the same?” and “Why would I spend more when I get something similar for much less?”
The question about why some nutritional supplements are more expensive than others is a complex one. Instead of asking, “why are these so expensive?” you might consider asking, “why are these so cheap?” Either way, the differences between professional quality products versus others are important when it comes to your health, so let’s explore a few factors that are particularly worth discussing.
FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE SUPPLEMENT PRICES
This simply refers to what’s actually in the product. For example, if you have two vitamin B12 formulas, you will often find that the professional quality brands only use the active (or easily absorbed) version of the vitamin. The standard brand will use a less expensive and, potentially, less well-absorbed type of the same vitamin. So both say Vitamin B12 on the front, but it’s on the back label that the truth comes out.
Always read the back label to see exactly what’s in your formula. Magnesium is another great example. Too many low-cost items contain magnesium oxide (a very poor form of magnesium), while the higher quality counterparts use magnesium glycinate, citrate or malate (different types for different health concerns).
This refers to the amount of an ingredient per serving. Let’s look at omega-3 supplements as an example to illustrate this further. Omega-3 fatty acids are comprised of two subtypes—EPA & DHA. When you read the front of the product, you may not be able to see exactly how much of these subtypes are in the formula. And many formulas will advertise the total fish oil content, but this not the same as EPA + DHA (the active parts of fish oil that contain all of the benefit).
Some omega-3 supplements contain only 100-200mg of EPA & DHA per serving, while the professional brands can contain up to 1000 mg or more! This can mean the difference between obtaining the health benefit or not—this is a big deal!
This is perhaps one of the most important differences between lower cost and higher cost supplements. And it’s especially important when it comes to herbal ingredients, fish oil, and protein powders. While it’s important to know what’s in your nutritional formula, it’s also important to know what’s not in it. Heavy metals, contaminants and fillers can sometimes cause more harm than good.
I recommend researching the company beforehand to see where they source their ingredients and if they use a third party to verify that the formula is pure. Or, simply purchase from a high-quality, professional brand that prides themselves on giving you all the information up front.
FAIR ENOUGH…BUT WHAT IF I CAN’T AFFORD TO FULLY OVERHAUL MY MEDICINE CABINET?
I always recommend professional quality vitamins, but I also understand that you may not be able to afford them exclusively across your stash of supplements. To help you prioritize which are most worth spending on and how to allocate your vitamin budget, I recommend focusing on these 5 swaps to professional brands because quality in these matters most: