by Megan Crockart (Balancing Nutrition)

There are so many supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbal supplements, oil supplements etc) on the market it can be mind boggling. In 2017, research was undertaken to get an idea of the supplement use in Australia and we are one of the bigger consumers spending AU$646 million in 2013!
But are all supplements created the same and equal? No, unfortunately they are not.
There are retail supplements that you can pick up at any health food store, chemist and even supermarkets without having to see a qualified health practitioner. It can be dazzling going through one of the large chemist chains and seeing the abundance of brands and products and what to choose. Amongst this massive range are some well respected brands that use the highest quality ingredients and then some that use cheaper and not so well absorbed nutrients. There is also question as to what excipients are added in some of these brands, as currently the Australian TGA labeling laws does not require everything to be listed that is contained in the capsule/tablet/powder/liquid. The TGA is undergoing a review of whether all supplements on the Australian market should have their excipients listed.

So what are excipients you may ask? Anything that is used in the development of the supplement that is not one of the active ingredients which can help stabilise the product, bulk it or fill it or can be what the capsule or tableting material is made from. Things such as gums, sugars, preservatives, flavours, colours, emulsifiers etc to name a few. Most companies are leaning towards making sure their supplement products are free from the main allergens (or at least list them on the packaging), gluten and shellfish being the main ones. But as a consumer, you don’t always know what is in a product.
There is another concern with some supplement companies as to their transparency as to where they source their raw ingredients from. Many supplements have synthetic vitamins, minerals and nutrients put in them. But many products extract certain nutrients/components from animals, fish/shellfish, plants and other “natural” means. Are these extraction and processing procedures done in the cleanest, healthiest and humane/sustainable manner? Where are these animals, sea creatures and plants from and what other toxins/diseases could they be exposed to?
Some of the main differences between some products is the forms of nutrients used. For example, not all minerals are absorbed well by the body. There are different forms of minerals (oxides, amino acid chelates, sulfates, sulphides, carbonates, citrates, malates, picolinates, gyclinates etc). Some of these don’t absorb well by the body and others can. Some vitamins can be activated or methylated and these versions may be required by some people. Some vitamins and minerals need other vitamins and minerals to be absorbed and likewise, some can compete with each other and should not be taken at the same time. Some need food to help absorption and some are better on an empty stomach. Some foods/drinks can impede their absorption.

There is great popularity amongst the Australian consumer to buy online from America (mostly) and other countries for products not available here, or for brands not available here. There are reasons why many are not available here. Australia’s TGA does have one of the strictest policies regarding what supplements can be made in Australia. This may seem over the top with some things, but in general, it’s a great safe-guard to make sure we have some of the highest quality supplements in the world. So next time you are thinking of buying through an American or other country website, perhaps it might be wise to enquire as to why you can’t buy that product in Australia.
There is a growing market of multi-level marketing (MLM) supplement companies becoming available. These products are generally more expensive and don’t necessarily contain therapeutic levels of nutrients or contain the properly absorbed forms of nutrients. Often the people selling these products have no formal training/qualifications in the sale/advising of these supplements. There often isn’t transparency of what is in their products and generally don’t list excipients. This is one area I advise to be cautious with or avoid altogether.Also on the market is what are called practitioner-only product brand supplements (POP). These companies make the supplements with the purpose of them only being prescribed by a practitioner after they have undergone a full and thorough consultation with the client/person. They are not available to the general public without a practitioner consultation and prescription. All Australian POP companies are in compliance with the Australian TGA and have full disclosure of all the excipients in their products and can tell you where they source their raw ingredients from. Many make the products here in Australia and some are family owned or small business operators. A plus for many reasons.
Some people may not feel the need to see a practitioner to go out and buy a multi-vitamin for example, but it is worth considering seeing a Nutritionist or Naturopath, especially if you have quite a few things going on to ensure all of your health needs are addressed appropriately. What supplement may suit one person, may be completely unsuitable for you. Or you might think you need 5 different products (because your friend/neighbour/relative takes them) and find you only need 1 product or none. There is a perception that practitioners make money off these supplements so just prescribe willy-nilly to make more money. This isn’t always the case and a good practitioner will only prescribe what is absolutely necessary and usually just for short term duration, unless there is a particular reason for it to be taken longer term. This would all be discussed with you in your consultation.
how to incorporate slow living in your lifePOP companies keep changing and updating their products with the current scientific information and some do their own studies. They ensure their products are of the highest quality, third party tested and utilise forms that are well absorbed and tolerated. They help educate practitioners with these changes. A couple of the main Australian POP companies brought in and introduced Australia to many of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients we know today, due to their research and diligence.
There are many questions that need to be asked when looking at supplements.
I offer 30 minute supplement check consults to go through what you are taking and what you need to take. If you don’t want to sit down and spend time consulting a practitioner, then at the very least, before you buy something you think you need and take a random bottle off the shelf, have a chat to staff in a health food store first. Vive Health’s staff are all practitioners (nutritionists/naturopaths or students) and can guide you in the right direction of retail brand supplements.

Megan Crockart is a qualified Holistic Nutritionist & a self-confessed foodie! Megan has special interest in working with individuals with allergies, food intolerances, SIBO, eczema, pre- & post- natal health & children’s health.
Balancing Nutrition 
To book a consultation with Megan please click here.



Burnett, A, Livingstone, K, Woods, J and McNaughton, S, Dietary Supplements Use among Australian Adults: Findings from the 2011-2012 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey, MDPI, Published 14 November 2017
Australian Government Department, Department of Health, Therapeutic Goods Administration, Consultation: Increased online access to ingredient information, 29 August 2019