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How To Choose And Use Supplements — And Why They’re Good For You

  • By Shawn Talbott, PhD
  • Published Aug. 1, 2013
  • Updated Aug. 2, 2013 at 1:07 PM UTC
Supplements come in a variety of forms and brands. Do your homework before buying some. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

Brand Name Or Generic?

This is one of the most common questions I get when it comes to multivitamins. People want to know if they can just buy the “grocery store version” to get their daily nutrients. The ultimate answer is really less about generics vs. brand-name products than it is about choosing between supplements that provide “basic” versus “optimal” levels of particular nutrients. Therefore, the answer to this question will depend on two primary factors: How much money can you afford to spend on a supplement, and are you looking for a basic or an optimal supplement?

Many of the generic or private-label store-brand supplements on the market will do a satisfactory job of helping you meet the basic RDA (recommended daily allowance) levels for essential vitamins and minerals. The primary limitation with these generic products, and even with many brand-name supplements, is that the basic RDA levels of most vitamins and minerals fall far below the levels associated with optimal health and certainly below those needed for optimal endurance performance.

With respect to the B vitamins, there is good scientific evidence to support daily intakes at 200-500 percent of RDA levels for optimal stress response and cortisol control. These levels are two to five times higher than the levels found in most multivitamin products.

RELATED: Should You Take A Multivitamin?

Calcium and magnesium are two minerals that are known to help regulate the body’s stress response, yet most generic supplements and one-tablet-a-day-type brand-name supplements provide only a small fraction of the 250–500 milligrams (mg) of calcium and the 125–250 mg of magnesium needed to promote a normal stress response. The primary reason for skimping on the calcium and magnesium in these products is not cost (both are very cheap), but rather space considerations in the capsules and tablets. Both calcium and magnesium are bulky minerals — that is, they take up a lot of space — so an optimal daily dosage requires more than a single capsule each day (and sometimes as many as four capsules, depending on the mineral source).

The bottom line here is that everybody should take at least a basic multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement (MVMS) — and virtually any product, generic or brand-name, on the shelf at Wal-Mart, Rite-Aid, or your local grocery store will satisfy the basic RDA-level requirements. However, if you are interested in a supplement that delivers more than the rock-bottom levels of nutrients, and if you can afford to spend a little more on your daily supplement regimen, then you will want to consider a MVMS that provides higher levels of B-complex vitamins, calcium, and magnesium.

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