A certain supplement may sound like just the thing you need to feel better and improve your health, but remember it’s your health that’s on the line when you plunk down money at the register.

Whether that register is in a drug store, discount chain, grocery store or health food store is not as important as whether the brand is trustworthy and the product has been studied. A handful of private organizations are in the business of keeping tabs on supplements, each offering a variation on a certificate or seal for supplements it deems consumer-worthy. The three main companies cornering the certification market are ConsumerLab.com, NSF International and United States Pharmacopeia (USP). All three test supplements to determine, among other things, if what’s in the bottle sizes up to the label’s ingredient list. Look for a blue and yellow United States Pharmacopeia (USP) seal or a symbol from NSF or Consumer Lab.com. 

Because you are your own best health advocate, make sure you answer these questions before you swallow anything. You can find some answers right here in this A-to-Z guide or by talking with your doctor about supplements safe for you.
 
•    What are the claims made about the supplement? Are they realistic?
•    Why might this supplement be worth taking? What effects is it supposed to have?
•    Are there unbiased studies or history of use to show this supplement’s safe? Will the manufacturer provide a copy of studies for you to review with your doctor?
•    What are the side effects you might experience?
•    How much should you take?
•    What time – and how many times per day – should you take it?
•    Will it interact with other medications you are taking?
•    Will it interact with other supplements you are taking?
•    Will it interfere with other medical conditions you have?
•    How long should you take it?
•    How long before you see results?
•    Is it worth the price?
•    Is the brand reputable?

If, after answering these questions, you decide a supplement is worth a try, follow this advice to achieve the best results and help ensure supplement safety:

•    Let your doctor know the supplements you are taking.
•    Know that some supplements can affect the outcome of medical tests.
•    Try one new supplement (single active ingredient) at a time, and keep a record of its effects. Note the brand name and the dose.
•    Don’t take more than the recommended amount. You can overdose on anything, no matter how “safe” it appears to be.
•    Keep a list of all of the supplements you are taking, along with your other medications. Don’t stop taking your prescription medications, unless your doctor tells you to.
•    Call your doctor if you have any unusual symptoms or feel worse after using a supplement. Be sure to keep the container the supplement came in.