With an B.A. in journalism from Temple University and a M.S. in exercise science from California University of Pennsylvania, Leah Zerbe covers health news and functional fitness topics. She’s also a certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and is a certified yoga teacher through Yoga Alliance. Leah resides on her family’s organic farm in Pennsylvania.
By Leah Zerbe
There are too many benefits of supplements to list in one article. From building a healthy immune defense and gut immunity to supporting your digestive tract, skin health and joints in dynamic ways, these benefits are just the tip of the iceberg.
And this is a big but …
All supplements out there are not created equally. Because I know you’re not interested in purchasing supplements that you’ll simply urinate away — or that won’t even make it to your gut alive, in the case of most probiotics — I asked two leading formulators to share the biggest supplement-buying mistakes they see most people making today.
Combined, Ancient Nutrition co-founders clinical nutritionist Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, and pioneering formulator Jordan Rubin have decades of experience in sourcing the best whole-food supplement ingredients.
So I caught up with them to help you ID (and avoid) mistakes when you’re searching for a particular supplement to fill your nutrition gaps.
Top Mistakes People Make When Buying Supplements
1. Buying cheap (you get what you pay for)
When it comes to the world of supplements, you tend to get what you pay for. Although the allure of super cheap products may seem enticing, chances are many supplements found at a too-good-to-be-true price point may have some or many of the issues covered below.
2. Buying synthetic
“Always look for real-food ingredients,” Axe says. Our bodies are built to process these ingredients, so be sure to look for supplement brands that talk openly about their commitment to avoiding cheap synthetic ingredients and utilize whole-food ingredients.
3. Herb-Lacking Formulas
“Historically, if you went into an ancient apothecary, you'd find mostly herbs, spices and mushrooms,” Axe explains. “Look for these in all of your supplements, including multis and nutrients.”
4. Poor Sourcing
Where do your supplement ingredients come from? What’s the company’s sourcing policy?
If you’re on a supplement product page online and you’re having trouble finding sourcing and quality information, it could be a sign there’s something to hide. Transparency is key.
Ideally, look for organic or ethically harvested wild products. Ancient Nutrition is fully committed to finding the best ingredients nature has to offer. In fact, Axe and Rubin co-own a 4,000-acre regenerative organic farm in the U.S. where we grow many ingredients.
This includes greenhouses where we grow and ferment adaptogenic mushrooms like reishi, turkey tail, lion’s mane, shiitake, maitake, chaga and cordyceps. “No other company in the world (to our knowledge) grows and ferments mushrooms with the same power and potency,” Axe says.
5. Not Having Expert Formulation
“Most companies don't understand the nature of creating great products,” Axe says. “They just throw a lot of healthy sounding ingredients in a bottle.” He and Rubin both study the ancient methods of herbal synergy and strategically combine certain herbs together for a unique effect on the body.
Just one of many examples of this? Combining black pepper fruit with turmeric in Fermented Turmeric Capsules. The piperine in pepper helps unlock turmeric’s star compound, curcumin, making it easier for your body to absorb. Turns out ancient Indian cultures knew about this thousands of years ago, since this combo is noted in very old texts.
6. Look for fermentation
Fermentation isn’t just a yogurt thing. You can tap into the benefits of fermentation down to the supplement ingredient level, too. And that’s a main focus at Ancient Nutrition. “Looking for fermented herb and superfood ingredients is smart, as fermentation unlocks important nutrients and compounds,” Rubin says.
Fermenting whole-food ingredients can help create a more digestible, usable form for your body. From Ancient Nutrition’s Mushroom and Turmeric Caps to its Fermented Enzymes and more, using this nature-powered food preparation practice takes supplements to the next level.
7. Avoid suspect sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners and even large amounts of sugar itself could be hiding out in your favorite supplements. And even some more natural sweeteners can pose problems for some folks.
“When it comes to purchasing nutritional powders, I typically shy away from sugar alcohols erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol, as they can cause digestive upset in some people,” Rubin says.
In very small amounts under a gram, these are often okay for many folks. But if you’re someone prone to digestive issues, you may want to steer clear.
Gummies and syrups, like elderberry supplements, often contain hidden sugar bombs or harmful artificial sweeteners, which is exactly what you don’t want in immune-focused and multivitamin products.
When I crunched the numbers of a common elderberry gummy brand, I was stunned.
One serving of two tiny gummies contained 4 grams of sugar. That’s 8 percent of all added sugars you should get in a day.
Taking the weight of the ingredients into consideration, sugar actually ranked as the No. 1 ingredient.
That’s why Ancient Nutrition spent years developing an elderberry supplement that packs in the antioxidant power that elderberry brings — all with 0 grams of sugar per serving.
8. Steer clear of binders and excipients
Rubin notes magnesium stearate and stearic acid are supplement additives worth avoiding. Magnesium stearate and stearic acid are commonly used in the supplement industry as a lubricant to form tablets. It’s even known as a "flow agent" because it speeds up the manufacturing process by preventing ingredients from sticking to the mechanical equipment.
It also works as an emulsifier, binder, as well as a thickening, anticaking, lubricant, release and antifoaming agent. It’s said to be safe in small doses, but, nonetheless, there are reports of magnesium stearate or magnesium being connected to poor intestinal absorption, possibly exposure to the carcinogen formaldehyde and suppressed T-cells.