Knowing how to buy supplements can save you money

Saving on Supplements

by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

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As of 2015, 68% of Americans took vitamins, minerals and other dietary supplements, according to the Council for Responsible Nutrition ( Finding the best deal on supplements depends upon more than just identifying the lowest price.

Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about supplements to know what you need to take. Medical professionals can help you know what supplements can best support your good health, so you can avoid taking something unnecessarily. It may seem sensible to discuss supplement needs with a nutrition expert at a health foods store, but keep in mind this person has a vested interest in selling you as much as possible.

Once you decide what to take, you should find a brand you feel is high quality. If you scrimp with a poorly made product, it wastes money. Supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so you need to do your homework. Most nutrition experts agree that naturally-derived supplements are more readily absorbed by the body and contain more complete nutrients than their chemically-derived counterparts.

If you spot a bottle of supplements you want in the clearance bin, check its expiration date. Although expired supplements generally won't hurt you, they may not help, either. Their efficacy declines over time, so you may not receive the benefit you want.

Compare prices among brands based upon servings per bottle, not simply how many tablets or capsules are inside. For example, if you have been advised to take 400 IU (international units) of vitamin D daily, a tablet that has 200 IU would contain half the number doses as one that contains 400 IU. Knowing your dose can make a big difference in how long your supplements last and if you're getting the best value for the price.

Similarly, with multi-vitamins, the percent of the daily allowance each serving contains can differ among brands. Compare labels so you know what you're getting.

To ensure you receive the maximum benefit, it's important to take the supplements as directed. While "more is better applies" to some areas of life, this isn't one of those areas. Taking more supplements than you should wastes money because there is no additional benefit of taking excessive supplements. Some people take even a thousand or more times the US RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) thinking that their health will exponentially increase. In reality, this can harm your health in addition to your budget.

Taking too many water-soluble supplements taxes your kidneys. Your body must filter out and eliminate the excess supplements it can't use. It's like flushing money, really. And for people with kidney issues, it can exacerbate their problems. Taking too many fat-soluble supplements can cause toxic levels to build up in your body. It is far better to take a reasonable amount based upon the US RDA.

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How you take supplements can influence their efficacy. In general, multivitamins are best taken with a meal since they contain fat-soluble vitamins that are best absorbed with food. Follow the guidelines on the package.

Store supplements as directed on the bottle. Exposure to heat, direct sunlight, and moisture can decrease supplements' effectiveness, so avoid stowing them in places such as the bathroom medicine cabinet, in a cupboard near the oven, or on a shelf near a sunny window. Tablets and capsules usually come with a cotton ball and/or moisture-absorbing packet in the bottle. The cotton ball helps take up space so the supplements don't bang around during shipping. If you plan on taking the bottle with you on a trip, it might be a good idea to leave the cotton ball in place so the supplements don't become broken in transit. As for the moisture-absorbing packet, if you live in a humid climate, it's also a good idea to leave it in place.

This article should not be construed as medical advice. The best way to take care of your health is to follow the directions of a medical professional.

Updated December 2016

Deborah Jeanne Sergeant writes full time from her home in Clyde, N.Y. Visit her online at

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