How to Use Supplements Safely


Docs dont always agree about the usefulness of supplements, but the pills have an excellent safety record when used properly. To avoid unwanted surprises, follow these tips.

Talk to your doc (and your pharmacist). Make sure you have a primary care provider who wont just shake her head when you mention supplements, says Tieraona Low Dog, MD, director of education at the University of Arizonas Program in Integrative Medicine. Also ask about possible interactions with your medications.

Start slow. Try one new supplement at a time and see how your body reacts over several days. If everything seems OK, follow the same approach with any other supplements you decide to try.

Check with a specialist. For specific recommendations and treatment plans, find a well-versed pro by consulting the American Holistic Medical Association, the Institute for Functional Medicine, or the American Herbalists Guild. Most natural-medicine practitioners spend extensive time with each patient to customize their prescriptions. Expect that your insurer probably wont cover any treatment, but ask just in case.

Which brands are best? Youll find a zillion brands at supermarkets, drugstores, and natural-product emporiums, and price isnt necessarily a sign of quality. Our experts recommend Herb Pharm, Gaia Herbs, and Enzymatic Therapy—all well-respected for purity and reliability. If you prefer to try something else, look for a United States Pharmacopeia (USP) mark on the label. USP is a nonprofit group that sets federally recognized standards for dietary supplements and medicines. It certifies that whats on the label is in the bottle, good manufacturing practices are used, and harmful contaminants are eliminated. Another label stamp to look for: CL, meaning the product was evaluated and its quality verified by independent tester Consumer­Lab.