Dear Pharmacist,

Are there certain ways to shop and ensure that I buy high-quality supplements?

--J.J. Boynton Beach, Florida

Answer: Yes. Here’s some advice that can help you make better selections:

Check for artificial colors- Dyes and Lakes are unnecessary additives to make supplements prettier but many are coal tar derived. Because there is no benefit obtained from artificial colors, I think they should be avoided. The U.S. FDA allows colors because they say they pose no risk when used properly, but I think that depends on who you ask. Some colors like tartrazine (a.k.a. FD&C Yellow 5 or E102) can trigger allergies in people; skin rashes, hives, migraines, nasal congestion, asthma, anxiety, depression or diarrhea. Some colors are are suspected in hyperactivity (ADHD) and DNA damage (think cancer). Colors are frequently used in medications to help distinguish tablets, but less frequently used in supplements. Do you want pretty or pure?

Check for allergy-causing ingredients- I think it’s nice when a maker takes special care to avoid the items that many are sensitive to. Try to avoid wheat, gluten, dairy, corn, soy and sugar. There are many additives, some natural ones too, that can trigger problems. Download a free brochure called “Food Additives” from www.FoodAdditives.org.

Check for USP certification- It stands for “United States Pharmacopeia.” When you’re shopping at your local pharmacy, picking supplements, you sometimes see the three initials, “USP,” printed smack dab on the label which means the product has been certified. By the way, the USP-National Formulary is kind of like a very thick cookbook of sorts that provides directions on manufacturing, disintegration, solubility and testing parameters. What I like about the USP certification process is that it’s a third-party verification program that is recognized as a sign of quality in over 130 countries. I think it’s nice when someone other than the makers is able to certify quality, purity and potency. Just FYI, many good products are USP certified, even though it’s not designated on the label. You can learn more at www.USP.org and in my book, Drug Muggers where I’ve offered you product lists and guidelines to find the highest quality vitamins and minerals based on my 22 years of experience.

Check for bizarre or unnecessary additives- Like high fructose corn syrup, carmine (red bug colorant), or shellac. The insidious thing here is that you can’t always tell what’s actually “added” because it’s done during manufacturing. For example, today on the FDA website, I learned that a big company has amended the food additive regulation to permit the use of hydrogen peroxide (!) in the manufacture of modified whey. If you love whey protein shakes, make sure it’s derived from organic cow’s milk that has never been injected with growth hormones!

Did You Know?

If you’re suffering with itchy watery eyes, conjunctivitis or seasonal eye allergies, try Zaditor eye drops. It used to be prescription, but it’s sold OTC now and it’s strong.

Suzy Cohen

Suzy Cohen, is known as America’s Pharmacist. She has been a licensed pharmacist for 24 years and is a Functional Medicine practitioner. She’s the author of 6 books, including her most recent Amazon #1 best-seller, “Thyroid Healthy: Lose Weight, Look Beautiful and Live the Life You Imagine.”

She was the host of The Thyroid Summit which broadcast worldwide in June 2014. Suzy has been a syndicated columnist for 19 years reaching 20 million in circulation each week. She is a Huffington Post writer, and also hosts her own syndicated medical minute on TV. Suzy has been featured on The Dr OZ Show 6 times, and has appeared on The View, Good Morning America Health, The Doctors and hundreds of other networks. She is a member of The Institute of Functional Medicine, also the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, The American Pharmacists Association and ILADS, the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society. You can read free articles and receive your free newsletter by visiting her website, SuzyCohen.com

Books authored by Suzy Cohen include:

  • Thyroid Healthy
  • Headache Free
  • Drug Muggers
  • Diabetes Without Drugs
  • The 24-Hour Pharmacist
  • Eczema: Itchin’ for a Cure (kindle only)
  • Understanding Pancreatitis & Pancreatic Cancer (kindle only)