Functional Nutrition

Supplements: Worth the Money?

By Liz Abel, LDN, CNS, MS, MA

I worked in the pharmaceutical industry for ten years, and I learned a lot about quality assurance and regulation during this time. Did you know that the supplement industry is not regulated? This is a pretty scary concept, considering it was a $36.1 billion dollar industry in 2017(1).

Does it surprise you when you see sensational headlines that suggest you are pouring your money down the drain, or that what you think you are buying really isn’t what you are getting?

Let me share a few pieces of information that I believe are critical in your decision of if you should take supplements.


  • I believe supplements should be targeted, short-term and for a specific purpose. In every intake, I ask clients two questions, “why do you take it?” and “what effect does it have for you?” If you can’t answer these questions, and/or the effect is non-existent, I propose you stop taking the supplement (unless recommended by your physician).


  • Look at the ingredients in your supplements. If they contain dyes, throw them away. This is a cosmetic tactic and could potentially be harmful as many people have delayed reactions and hypersensitivity to dyes.


  • Also, throw away the gummies. Look how much sugar is in them (and probably you’ll find more dyes, too). Sugar is a neurotoxin and is limited to 40 grams, or 10 teaspoons, a day for people without any blood sugar or weight trouble. Some gummies are 10 percent of the daily maximum allowed dose.


  • Did you know that many vitamins and minerals work synergistically together? When you are low in vitamin D, dosing vitamin D alone is only part of the story. It loves vitamin K2, Calcium and Magnesium. Understanding what ratios to take can be daunting indeed.


  • Did you know there are many different “forms” of Calcium? Magnesium? B12? Just to name a few. Each form has different properties. Here’s an example of why it’s important to be educated on what “form” you need: If you want to try Magnesium at night because you heard it might help you sleep better, you need a different formula if you tend to be constipated 3 or 4 days a week versus someone who has daily bowel movements or even tends to have loose bowel movements. Magnesium has many effects on the body and understanding the totality of this can inform the right choice for you.


  • Most inferior products use inexpensive ingredients that the body cannot convert into usable substances. Here’s an example: Vitamin B6 is important for energy. Many individuals have trouble methylating. That means, they need the methylated version of B6 (because the body cannot do it alone). If you keep pouring non-methylated Vitamin B6 into the body, nothing is going to change and you are literally peeing your money away. However, if you are an individual that has trouble methylating and you take a supplement with pyridoxal-5’-phosphat and pyridoxine HCl (the methylated version of Vitamin B6), your world might just change in a few days with increased energy.


  • And the probiotics…which always feel like an expensive trial. The reality is we’re still learning a lot about probiotics and the gut microbiome. There are now really fun at-home test kits to assess your gut microbiota. This is super cool, especially if you love data and learning about yourself. The gap is in the answer to the question, “so what?” Here’s the truth: we don’t actually know what bacteria should be in your gut. These tests are literally naval gazing! Here’s what we do know about probiotics: most probiotics are often destroyed by our stomach acid, so we need a superior delivery system. Most probiotics are cultured in dairy, which many people have sensitivity to, so we need a soil-based culture. Most probiotics are a combo of a bunch of different strains, yet there is actual research that suggests if you tend to be constipated, you may benefit from a particular strain versus someone who tends to have loose bowel movements multiple times a day may benefit from a different strain. Understanding these nuances will get you closer to finding the best probiotic for your symptoms.


And there’s more, much more. We can talk about: Bioavailability. Raw ingredient testing. Third party Quality Assurance testing. Proper storage requirements. Shelf life stability.


In sum, I don’t want you to waste your money. If you have found supplements that work for you or have been advised to take by your doctor, please continue them. If you want some help targeting what you might need, please call us so we can arrange a time to discuss your individual concerns. Until then, continue to educate yourself. I know you’re reading labels and comparing and contrasting. Continue your good investigative work.

[1] Retail sales of vitamins & nutritional supplements in the United States from 2000 to 2017 (in billion U.S. dollars). (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2018 from The Statistics Portal at



Liz Abel, LDN, CNS, MS, MA, is a Licensed Integrative Nutritionist at the First State Health & Wellness Integrative Health Center. She leads a dynamic, team-based Functional Nutrition program that encompasses food, lifestyle, advanced lab testing, natural supplementation, mindfulness and movement to support your health and well-being. Integrated with First State’s 6 chiropractic offices, the program offers access to Delaware’s premiere experts in holistic health. Are you ready to create your custom plan and harness sustainable results? Call 302.384.7104, e-mail or visit to schedule your comprehensive Functional Nutrition consultation today.




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