How do I choose a plugin?

Are you looking for a vitamin D supplement? Your Amazon search pulls up exactly two thousand options. How to choose the right one?

Choosing a plugin takes into account. Although supplements can have beneficial effects, not all are safe, effective, or even necessary.

This article will cover quality and safety, dosages, manufacturers, and when supplements are needed. Read on for your road map!

What are dietary supplements?

In 1994, Congress categorized dietary supplements as groceries under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) unless they are specifically labeled as pharmaceutical drugs (intended to treat disease).

DSHEA has argued that supplements are products that contain dietary products components. These ingredients may consist of the following:

  • Amino acids
  • concentrates, component parts (active ingredients of plants), extracts and metabolites (product of metabolism)
  • Dietary substances in food, such as enzymes and probiotics
  • Herbs and other herbal medicines (herbal medicines)
  • Vitamins and minerals
  • Combinations of the above dietary ingredients

Dietary supplements come in many forms, including capsules, gummies, liquids, pills, tablets, softgels, and powders.

Some conventional foods are also considered dietary supplements, such as teas and bars.

Reading the label in front of the pharmacy shelves.

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How to choose a high-quality supplement

Sometimes we equate natural with better. And that may be true. However, naturally it is not on the label Always means that the product is better or safer.

Important considerations when choosing a high-quality supplement include, but are not limited to, the following:

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements the way it regulates prescription drugs. This means that the ashvagandha capsule you are about to take may not contain what it says on the label. Or it may contain harmful contaminants such as the following:

  • Heavy metals such as lead, cadmium or mercury
  • Tokins
  • Pharmaceutical products not listed

Appendix Warning

Researchers at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health examined adverse events in people age 25 and younger who were reported to the Food and Drug Administration’s Adverse Event Reporting System. Adverse events included:

  • Hospitalization
  • disability
  • Death

Furthermore, the following categories of supplements had a threefold increase in the risk of serious medical events compared to vitamins:

  • Muscle building
  • Energy
  • Weight loss

The use of these types of supplements is not recommended.

So what are manufacturers doing to ensure the quality and purity of their products to protect your health? Some employ third-party testers.

Third party testers

There are private organizations (or third-party testers) that test supplements for quality and purity. Third party testing is not legally required. However, some manufacturers choose to undergo it.

Check the supplement label for a Certificate of Analysis (COA) from one of these third-party testers:

The testing process requires a lot of resources. Manufacturers sometimes have to increase product prices to cover certification costs.

Testing third-party plugins

Third-party testing includes laboratories that evaluate the following:

  • Are the listed ingredients really present?
  • Do the amounts reflect what is on the label?
  • Are there contaminants?
  • Does the product contain ingredients that are not listed on the label?

Third party testing works not ensure that the product:

  • It is effective or safe for everyone.
  • Will not interactions with other supplements or medications.

What if a third-party tester hasn’t tested my product?

Have none of the above organizations tested your plugin? You still have options!

The following include alternative routes:

  • Verify that the manufacturer has Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) status.
  • Find a manufacturer online.
  • Research their reputation using reputable sources.
  • Check if and how the manufacturer tests its products.
  • Consider talking to the manufacturer directly.
  • Does something seem off or not? Other options are available to you.

Other considerations for choosing a supplement

There are several factors to consider when choosing a supplement.

If you are considering taking nutritional or herbal supplements, discuss the following with your health care provider (HCP) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RD or RDN):

  • Are you already getting enough nutrients from your diet? Consider keeping a food diary to check yours macronutrients (fats, proteins and carbohydrates) i micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) over time.
  • Check your Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (ULs) Taking an amount above the UL can lead to an overdose of a vitamin or mineral and, therefore, adverse effects.
  • What are the manufacturer’s recommendations on the label?
  • What dose do you need?
  • How often should you take the product?
  • Will the product interact with any other supplements or prescription medications? If so, what is the best approach?
  • How to take the product (eg with or apart from certain foods; apart from medicines or other supplements that may affect absorption).
  • Which form (eg liquid or capsule) best suits your current needs?
  • Has anyone suggested a plugin from a multi level marketing scheme? Tip: consider avoiding it.
  • Do you follow certain dietary preferences (eg vegan, kosher, halal)? Check the label to make sure it does not contain products that are not suitable for your diet.
  • Are you an athlete? If so, you will need to follow specific guidelines on supplement use.


Make sure you are not allergic to any of the ingredients in your supplements before taking them. Read the label carefully before use.

If you think you are having an allergic reaction, get medical help right away. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, itching and rash.


Knowing how many supplements to take can be daunting. There is much to consider regarding dosage, including but not limited to the following factors:

  • Your Recommended Dietary Intake (RDA) or Adequate Intake (AI) for specific nutrients
  • Age (eg the dose for children is likely to be different from the dose for adults)
  • Weight (eg grams per kilogram (g/kg) of body weight)
  • Gender (female, male)
  • Health condition
  • Whether you’re taking over-the-counter or prescription drugs
  • Whether you take other supplements, including multivitamins
  • How many nutrients are you already getting from the food you eat

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is a great resource for understanding your RDA or AI for nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and more.

Botanical and herbal supplements

Botanical medicines, also called botanical medicines or phytomedicines, include plants and their parts commonly used for medicinal purposes. Botanicals are a broader category that includes herbs. They may naturally contain some vitamins and minerals.

Consider the following before using herbs:

  • Avoid using the botanical if you are allergic to it or its components.
  • They can be quite powerful.
  • They are not always standardized on active components (parts).
  • They do not always have a standard dose.
  • Dosages may vary depending on weight, age or condition.
  • Some can to potentiate (increase the effect of) drugs, potentially causing side effects.
  • Some can also reduce the absorption of drugs, potentially causing complications.
  • They may contain harmful contaminants from contamination of the soil, air or water where the botanicals grow, accidental introduction during production or other factors.

It’s essential to follow your doctor’s instructions when considering botanicals, their dosages, and more.


Again, supplements can increase or decrease the effectiveness of prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Common drug interactions of supplements include, but are not limited to, the following:

Pharmacists are excellent resources to help determine drug and supplement interactions. Contact your local pharmacist if you have any questions.

You can also use resources like for more information on interactions and more.

Do you need a supplement?

Friends, family, and advertisements can inspire you to try a particular supplement. In fact, the 2012 National Health Survey suggests that Americans spent $12.8 billion on natural product supplements (about $368 per person).

When you eat a balanced diet, you are likely to be able to get most, if not all, of the nutrients you need.

However, supplementation may be a viable option if you have any of the following factors and your healthcare provider has determined that you need it:

Use of supplements in pregnancy, breastfeeding and children

Your healthcare provider will help you carefully evaluate the safety and use of herbal medicines and supplements during pregnancy, breastfeeding, or with children.

How do Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) help?

RDNs (or RDs) are highly trained, credentialed nutritionists who can administer medical nutrition therapy (MNT). MNT includes nutritional diagnosis, therapeutic interventions, counseling and more. RDNs can help set the course for your nutrition plan.

An honest discussion about nutrient deficiency issues with your healthcare provider is a good starting point. The following talking points can help you navigate a healthy course forward:

  • Check with your doctor if you have deficiency symptoms.
  • Discuss whether you need lab work to confirm a deficiency.
  • Discuss whether you can meet your needs through food or whether you need a supplement.
  • Discuss whether you could benefit from additional guidance from an RD. If so, ask for a referral.


Take your supplement to your doctor, registered dietitian nutritionist (RD or RDN), or pharmacist. They can help with the following:

  • Review the label to see if the ingredients are right for you, given your specific health conditions.
  • Note potential interactions with your current supplements and medications.
  • Make sure you are not allergic to any of the listed ingredients.
  • Confirm that your supplements are in line with your dietary preferences.

Additional tips to keep in mind include the following:

  • You may already be getting the nutrients you need from food. Try to aim for a balanced diet.
  • Listen to your body, you know yourself best.
  • Specific conditions may require additional nutritional interventions, including but not limited to supplementation.
  • Not all supplements are created equal. Some may be safer than others.
  • Look for a Certificate of Analysis (COA) on the label from independent testers such as, USP, and

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