Dos and Don'ts of Supplement Shopping

Even though the online marketplace for supplements has grown exponentially in recent years, there are plenty of people who still like the convenience of purchasing their products at a local store. You also have the opportunity to support local businesses and jobs for your community. But there are some nuances to shopping at a store versus online. At any supplement store or in any supplement department of a larger store you will likely encounter employees who will answer your questions and help you find what products you’re looking for. This is a simple guide of what to do and what not to do when you choose brick and mortar stores.

DO - Come prepared by knowing exactly what you want. If you are open to options, be sure to let them know so that they can make recommendations. Be as specific as you can from the beginning and you'll both have a better experience.

Example: You are searching for a creatine supplement to support sports performance and you go in knowing what type and dosage you want. If you need to know more, it’s always good to research beforehand, but many employees are knowledgeable enough to give you recommendations.

DO - Know your dosage. Technically, employees are not supposed to recommend specific dosages due to DSHEA laws and you would have to get a dosage prescribed from a medical professional. If you don’t know, then you can ask what works for other people or the employee, or ask to discuss research backed dosages.

Example: Turmeric is at the top of your list because you want to address joint issues. You ask the employee how much to take and when...well they can only tell you what other people take or read it to you from the bottles. However, you could technically ask what the research on turmeric shows is effective, but you can’t ask how much you should take.

DO - Know dosing units. Milligrams, grams, IU’s, micrograms, and more. Confusing your dosage units is a surefire way to either underdose, overdose, or set up an argument with an employee when they let you know that vitamin D supplements are not offered in a 5000 milligram dose.

Example: The vitamin D one got me before. 5000 milligrams of vitamin D would be enough for your entire lifespan and more and might actually kill you if you were to take a dose that big. Briefly, a milligram (mg) is one thousandth of a gram, a microgram (mcg) is one thousandth of a milligram, and an International Unit (IU) has specific conversions to mcg’s based on the specific vitamin.

DO - Respect the knowledge of the employee. It takes years to learn about nutrition and supplementation, and the information is updated constantly with research being published on a daily basis. A quick google search is not the same as years of experience with the products and reading scientific articles.

Example: While you can’t always trust what they say, most of us in the industry have been here for awhile and we have an intense interest in it. Some will try to sell you because they make commission, and others only want to help. Know the difference between a salesman and someone who wants to benefit your life.

DO - Respect DSHEA laws. The Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act sets strict guidelines on labeling and what retailers can say during the course of business with selling supplements. We will review these in future posts, but know that when the employee is talking strangely and dancing around certain subjects, they’re avoiding violating federal law.

Example: You want a supplement to lower cholesterol. Despite what research demonstrates about certain supplements or food products, a retailer can’t explicitly tell you that something will lower your cholesterol. They may instead say something like “Garlic is known to help support health cholesterol levels.” You will also see such wording on the labels. Only pharmaceutical medications and doctors get the privilege of saying that something will alter your body, even if it’s not true.

DON’T - Treat the employee like a doctor or pharmacist. Because of DSHEA laws, those employees are limited in what they can legally say. They can’t diagnose you, so if you have a funky skin rash or other medical condition, go to your doctor first. They also can’t prescribe you anything to treat a condition, so be sure to do your research beforehand. That’s why we have The Herbal Equivalent!

Example: You go into the store and complain to the employee about muscle pain you’re having and ask them what it means and what they can do to treat it. Funny enough, people do this all the time without realizing that it’s illegal for the employee to respond to either question unless they avoid diagnosing you and making recommendations based on it. If you’re reading our blog, you may not like doctors very much, and neither do we, but they have fancy lab equipment for diagnosis along with being able to recognize symptoms and disease states. You can’t use a health food store employee as a doctor!

DON’T - Assume label claims mean everything. I can’t tell you how many people see a supplement marketed towards a specific purpose and act like that’s the only function, while getting giddy over another supplement with the same ingredients being marketed towards whatever benefit they’re looking for. Many supplements have multiple functions and actions in the body and it’s not practical for most companies to list literally everything the supplement supports on the front of the bottle.

Example: One bottle of reishi mushroom claims that it helps support relaxation and mood state, whereas another claims that it supports the immune system. Assuming they both have reishi mushroom and the claims are backed by research...guess what? They both have the same effects! The writing on the bottle does not magically determine what the supplement does or doesn’t do in your body. Remember, they’re not pharmaceuticals.

DON’T - Be cheap. While we all want to spend less money, quality matters. There have been issues for decades in the supplement industry with cheap products being mostly rice flour, containing ingredients not listed, or not being anywhere near meeting the label claims for dosages. Shell out a few extra bucks and invest in your health. You can’t expect to get top quality products at miniscule price points.

Example: Going into a high end store or browsing reputable brands and complaining about the pricing compared to the supplement you can buy at the dollar store is a big mistake. It’s the same as comparing cheap food to quality food - you get what you pay for. Fillers and other junk usually go into the cheap products to make them cheap, and don’t be surprised if the supplement doesn’t do anything for you. Instead, budget appropriately if you wish to include supplements in your regimen.

DON’T - Think supplements are magic. While plenty of them have medicinal benefits and can provide great benefits to your health, you have to be realistic. A fat burning supplement is not going to be like getting liposuction. A muscle builder isn’t going to be like taking steroids. A sleep supplement isn’t going to feel like you took a prescription sleeping pill. Your whole lifestyle plays a much larger role than a supplement ever will, as they are designed to supplement what you do and not replace it. We created The Herbal Equivalent to help you understand the real human effects of supplements and make decisions for yourself, so we want to be your go to resource!

DON’T - Leave for the store without checking us out first! We are busy writing reviewing the research and putting out articles for your education. You can always email us at if you have any specific questions on things we have not covered.

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