March 2019

Beyond 3rd party verification: Identify the best supplement based on active ingredients

Not all supplements containing the same natural medicine have equal benefit. So how do you know what to look for? In Natural Medicines, we aim to inform our users about the constituents to which an herb or supplement is standardized in the Standardization & Formulation section on our professional monographs.

Turmeric is a very popular ingredient. In fact, turmeric sales in the US totaled over $32 million in 2017. Turmeric extract is typically standardized to curcuminoid content, but not all products follow this approach. Just because a product lists “turmeric” on the label doesn’t mean that it has been standardized to contain enough curcuminoids to have the beneficial effects that have been seen in studies. Check the Standardization & Formulation section of our monograph to learn about formulations that have been studied, then go to the Pharmacokinetics section to learn about which formulations yield the greatest bioavailability.

Fish oil is another example. It’s commonly standardized to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) content. Products on the market contain varying amounts of these two omega-3 fatty acids. Depending on the condition it is being used for, it’s important to look into which formulations might be most effective before taking just any fish oil product.

Effectiveness isn’t always the top priority when it comes to product standardization. Some extracts from ginkgo leaves contain ginkgolic acid, which can cause serious allergic reactions as well as other concerning side effects. It’s important to make sure product formulations contain no more than 5 ppm of this constituent. Butterbur is another example. Always look for butterbur products that don’t contain pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA) constituents.

If your patients are interested in taking a product that contains a certain ingredient, refer to the Standardization & Formulation section of our monographs to make sure that the product contains enough of the active constituent to have the desired effects. Also look into any constituents with possible safety concerns, and make sure that the product has been third party tested to ensure what’s on the label is actually in the bottle.

The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2024 NatMed. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited. NatMed is the leading provider of high-quality, evidence-based, clinically-relevant information on natural medicine, dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, functional foods, diets, complementary practices, CAM modalities, exercises and medical conditions. Monograph sections include interactions with herbs, drugs, foods and labs, contraindications, depletions, dosing, toxicology, adverse effects, pregnancy and lactation data, synonyms, safety and effectiveness.