It is easy to notice the powerful interrelationship that exists between vitamins and minerals and how a deficiency in one can wreak havoc with others. Taking a multivitamin-mineral supplement makes good sense, even if you need to take a higher amount of a specific nutrient, such as vitamins B12 or D.
The really problematic supplements are typically associated with weight loss, bodybuilding, and sexual enhancement. Steer clear of these products.
Reading the label:
Tablets: Ingredients can be tightly packed, allowing for higher potency options. Tablets are shelf-stable and have longer expiration dates. Those taking PPIs should choose another method of delivery. Tablets can be difficult to swallow. They require binders and fillers to hold them together and make them a uniform size.
Note: Don’t grind or split a tablet that is enteric-coated, such as SAMe (used for arthritis and depression) or peppermint oil (used for IBS). The coating is designed to prevent/slow its dissolution in the stomach to ensure optimal benefit of the ingredients.
Capsules: They are easy to swallow and break down quickly in the stomach. You can also open the capsule and put the ingredients into a smoothie, applesauce, or yogurt. Capsules do not need binders, as tablets do, but they do often contain nonactive substances that prevent the ingredients from clumping and caking. They also often need fillers to “top up” the capsule: to make it completely full. This is often rice powder, which is hypoallergenic and well tolerated by most. Capsules have a shorter shelf life than tablets because they are not airtight. In general, they are more expensive and less potent than tablets because the ingredients cannot be so tightly compressed.
Softgels: These are smooth, soft, one-piece capsules designed to hold liquid or oil-based preparations. The primary downside is the cost, as they are more expensive to produce.
Units of Measurement: International unit (IU) is the typical standard unit of measure for fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, and E). Milligram (mg) and microgram (mcg) are standard units of measure for the other vitamins and minerals. One mcg is equal to .001 milligrams. One mg is equal to .001 grams.
Flow Agents: They prevent clumping and caking. Vegetarian sources include silicon dioxide, magnesium stearate, and stearic acid. Silicon occurs naturally in foods. Magnesium is an essential mineral. Stearic acid is found in many common foods. The bigger issue is the source of stearic acid, which is often derived from palm oil harvested from tropical rain forests.
Binders: Allow the ingredients in a tablet to stick together and not crumble. Most are vegetarian friendly. One of the more common binders is cellulose, or microcrystalline cellulose, which is derived from wood pulp. Guar gum, xanthan gum, and acacia gum, are also very common, are all derived from plants.
Fillers: Fillers are used to top off the capsule, using rice flour, cornstarch, lactose.
Coating Agents: They make tablets easier to swallow. Lecithin is often used. Sometimes the label will list vegetable glaze or vegetable coating, which could be derived from corn. Modified cellulose is also used and may be listed as HPMC.
Acidulants: To prevent microbes from growing in liquid products and spoiling them. Citric acid, malic acid, tartaric acid, and aspartic acid are often used. The only one that might be problematic is aspartic acid, found in aspartame.
Glycerin: Often used as a solvent and/or preservative in liquids and to soften the gelatin used in softgels. It can be derived from animals or plants.