What to consider when choosing a supplement

What to consider when choosing a supplement

South Africans are increasingly turning to preventative care to enhance their health and prevent disease. This is no surprise, given the spread of health care information, the rising costs of medication and the fact that 85% 1of us are dependent on the government health system in case we fall ill. More and more of us are relying on pharmacy staff for guidance as we self-medicate, and we are spending significantly more money on preventative medicine, including supplements. 

The most common supplements include vitamins, minerals, enzymes, herbs, extracts, probiotics and amino acids. Shelves are stacked with so many options, how do you know which supplement and brand to choose? 

We’ve put together a checklist to help you make an informed choice the next time you visit the supplement aisle. 

1. Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) compliance 

Ensure that the company you’re buying from complies to Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), a set of manufacturing, wholesaling and distribution practices that ensure that medicines (and related substances) are of high quality, safety and efficacy. GMP is a prerequisite for health product manufacturing in South Africa and this is regulated by SAHPRA. 

2. Availability of a package insert 

Check if the product has a package insert. Package inserts, prepared by the medication manufacturer, contains the product information (characteristics, risks, and recommended uses) and prescribing information needed to administer the medication. 

3. Contact details and a valid company address 

Ensure you have a company to contact should you experience any side effects or if you need more information pertaining to the supplement. You can also check out the company’s website and make sure the information on it is recent and updated. 

4. A full list of ingredients 

When purchasing a supplement, read the label carefully. Ingredients are listed in order of predominance, with the highest amounts listed first. Watch out for: 

Serving size and the amount of the active ingredient. This indicates how much you should take for the required dosage to be effective and to not exceed the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA). 

Additives, preservatives, fillers, binders, artificial sweeteners, colourants or flavourings. While certain additives are necessary (to extend shelf life, for example), its best to avoid products with too many additives. 

Food allergens. If you have an allergy, check if the product includes any food allergens – the most common ones being milk, eggs, seafood, nuts, soy and wheat. 

• Animal-derived ingredients. For those with specific dietary requirements like vegans, watch out for animal-derived ingredients including gelatine, collagen, magnesium stearate, and lanolin. 

Health claims. Avoid products that make unfounded health claims, promote unrealistic testimonials or use misleading phrases. 

5. Awareness of supplementation interactions 

Supplements can interact with prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications, other supplements, as well as food and alcohol. They also have side-effects; some can be toxic if overconsumed and certain supplements can even be dangerous when mixed with another supplement. For example, St. John’s Wort has side effects and over 500 interactions with other substances! Conversely, two supplements can work synergistically. 

To get the best out of your supplement, stick to the recommended dosages, keep track for how long you take it and take note of how it affects you. When in doubt, always consult your doctor or pharmacist.

Read more herewhen to consult a health care professional when supplementing


These articles are for information purposes only. It cannot replace the diagnosis of a healthcare provider. Pharma Dynamics gives no warranty as to the accuracy of the information contained in such articles and shall not, under any circumstances, be liable for any consequences which may be suffered as a result of a user’s reliance thereon.

The information the reader is about to be referred to may not comply with the South Africa regulatory requirements. Information relevant to the South African environment is available from the Company and in the Professional Information/Patient Information Leaflet/Instructions for Use approved by the Regulatory Authority