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Planning Your Supplement Program


While many people look to Recommended Daily All.

Each person will need different types of nutrients depending on age, activity level and general state of health. There are many different types of nutritional supplements, each with a very specific action in available health and healing

Dosages and RDA

While many people look to Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) to decide on vitamin and mineral dosages, RDAs do not account for individual differences.

Originally, RDAs were set to prevent deficiencies, such as scurvy, and were based on averages. These averages do not account for the varying needs of an individual and do not necessarily meet a person's daily needs. In reality, larger dosages are required to prevent and treat illnesses. Higher dosages are needed by athletes wanting to reach peak performance levels as well as those needing more energy to cope with stress or illness. RDAs are actually insufficient for most individuals, even the healthy.

What is very important to note is that there are many other helpful supplements apart from vitamins, minerals and amino acids which are not included in the list of RDAs, including coenzyme Q10, probiotics, lecithin and evening primrose oil to name a few. While some of these nutrients are not considered essential nutrients, all have become food supplements because they are most useful in the prevention and treatment of disease.

Relationships Between Supplements

Your supplement program will take into account that many supplements work better when they are taken together, and others, when they are taken separately. All nutrients work synergistically. Iron, for example, is better assimilated when taken with vitamin C and apart from vitamin E. Vitamin C and bioflavonoids are recommended together because they act similarly in the body, each enhancing each other. Likewise, calcium cannot be absorbed without the presence of vitamin D and in balance with magnesium. Taking zinc supplements regularly can deplete copper in the body, so trace amounts of copper are often recommended with zinc.

Nutrients come in many forms, such as gluconate, citrate, malate, hydrochloride, etc. Others are found in forms that are most active or already reduced to the form the body can readily use without any type of breakdown or processing required. These are: pyridoxal-5-phosphate, the active form of B6; riboflavin-5-phosphate, the active form of riboflavin; methylcobalamin, the active form of B12; to name a few. These are the recommended forms especially for those with digestive disturbances or enzyme deficiencies.

As a general rule, most supplements should be taken with food to improve absorption. However, in unique cases, they should be taken apart from meals. Enzymes such as bromelain, used as an anti-inflammatory, must be taken between meals otherwise its enzymatic effect is used up during the digestive process.

Natural Versus Synthetic

Five categories of nutrients are utilized in the manufacture of nutritional supplements: natural, natural source, nature-identical, strictly synthetic and food-grown.


Natural nutritional supplements are nutrients from vegetable, mineral or animal sources that undergo little or no processing, thereby retaining their basic nutritional integrity as designed by nature. Natural supplements include fish liver oil, bee pollen, yeast, garlic, kelp and all the minerals.

Natural Source

Natural source are products that undergo processing, but which are still obtained from vegetable, mineral or animal sources. This includes vitamins A and D from fish liver oil, vitamin E, lecithin, digestive enzymes, protein powders and amino acids.


Nature-identical are laboratory-manufactured nutrients that are identical in molecular structure and activity in the human body to natural nutrients. These nutrients are manufactured because the cost or difficulty of extracting the same nutrients from all-natural sources would make them too expensive or scarce. These nutrients include vitamin C and the B vitamins.


Strictly synthetic supplements are laboratory-manufactured nutrients that are in some way dissimilar to the natural nutrient. Some nutrients like vitamin E cannot be copied exactly, but their synthetic analogs are inexpensive and so they are used by many manufacturers.


Food-grown nutritional supplements have raw materials which are produced in two ways. Minerals and some pharmaceutically manufactured vitamins are added to Saccharomyces cervisiae yeast cells. This mixture is combined with larger carrier molecules for dissemination throughout the body. In another process, vitamins react with extracts containing vegetable proteins. The vegetable protein derivatives are then combined with yeast cells.

Tablets, Capsules, Powders and Liquids

Supplements are available as tablets, capsules, powders and liquids. Some forms, however, contain more than just the desired nutrient.


Tablets contain fillers, binders, lubricants and coatings. Fillers serve to make the tablet large enough to take comfortably when the main nutrient is a trace amount. Binders hold the ingredients together, although hard pressure is used as well. Lubricants are used to ensure the ingredients do not stick to the machines, while coatings make the tablet easier to swallow. All these added ingredients can hinder absorption in anyone who lacks stomach acid, experiences digestive problems or suffers from poor assimilation of nutrients.


Time-released tablets and capsules contain substances that reduce absorption even further to release nutrients over an extended period of time. Since most nutrients are absorbed quickly in the small intestine, time-released tablets and capsules are the least assimilable form. Furthermore, they are not always broken down by those with weak digestive systems. Niacin in a time-release form has been associated with toxicity problems because it is released in the large intestine and bowel.


Sublingual tablets, on the other hand, bypass the digestive tract altogether and are readily absorbed under the tongue. Vitamin B12 is one of the few sublingual supplements, and it is often recommended in this form because of the improved absorption.


Chewable tablets tend to contain natural or artificial sweeteners, flavoring and coloring to improve their taste and appearance along with the binders, fillers and coatings. Be sure to brush your teeth after taking chewable supplements to avoid tooth decay.


Capsules contain few additional substances, although they can contain fillers. The capsules themselves are almost always made of beef or pork gelatin, unless specified that a vegetable material is used. A benefit of two-part capsules is that they can be opened and emptied onto food if desired. Vitamin E capsules can also be cut open and the oil applied directly onto the skin. Capsules dissolve quickly, so they are easy to digest and well tolerated.

Powders and Liquids

Powders and liquids are easily assimilable with the added benefit of being the most comfortable to swallow. Check labels, since many liquids and some powders contain sweetening, flavoring and coloring.

Combination Nutrients

There are many vitamin supplements on the market, sold in combination with minerals (as multivitamin and mineral formulas) or combined with herbs. These formulas contain a combination of nutrients with dosages calculated to provide the right proportion of the nutrients relative to each other and to fit the daily needs of a healthy adult. Many multivitamin and mineral tablets are especially designed for people with particular conditions which require emphasis on a certain set of nutrients. There are, for example, anti-stress formulas, sports fitness combinations, special prenatal formulas and children's formulas

Read the Label

Be sure all the information you need is on the label, including how and when to take the supplement, and how many to take. If you have allergies, look for hypoallergenic products or a listing of all ingredients, including binders and fillers, on the label. Also, be aware that some companies add meaningless ingredients to make the product look impressive.

The size of the bottle–even the size of the pill–can be misleading. Instead, look at the number of pills and the strength of each dosage to determine the monetary value. Some large bottles only contain more cotton packaging rather than more pills. When comparing strength, be sure you are comparing the same unit amounts, such as milligrams (mg) as opposed to grams (g) or micrograms (mcg).

Read the label carefully. Calcium gluconate is not equivalent to calcium citrate, just as natural source vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol) is not the same as its synthetic counterpart (dl-alpha tocopherol). A large difference in price can sometimes be a clue to a poor quality item as well.

It is important to check the "elemental" or true amount of a mineral. In many cases, the amount listed on the label is the mineral plus its carrier substance. For instance, magnesium aspartate contains about four-fifths aspartate and only about one-fifth magnesium. However, if the aspartate is in brackets-magnesium (aspartate)–or if an elemental amount of magnesium is specified separately–then you know exactly how much magnesium is in each tablet. In some cases, a supplement will contain large amounts of nutrient and minimal carrier substance, and sometimes there is little nutrient and more carrier substance. Again, a large difference in strengths can alert you to combined versus elemental value.

If there is more than one nutrient, be sure that each item is listed separately according to its strength. Otherwise, you can never be sure of exactly what you are getting. To help you make an informed choice, various types and sources will be discussed individually under each vitamin, mineral or other supplement. The best way to avoid becoming confused by a label is knowing what you want from it.



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