The longer I worked in retail, the more picky I got about which products and brands I would recommend to my customers. The reason for this is quite straight forward: I was gaining a deeper understanding of what happens once supplements are inside the body (pharmacokinetics), at the same time that I was gaining a deeper understanding of how the natural health industry works (What to call this? Ethos?).

What happens once supplements are inside the body? Any number of things! Some may pass from one end of the gut to the other, relatively unchanged. Some may pass through the gut wall and into the bloodstream. From there they will enter the liver. The liver is like a huge processing plant. Some components will be broken down into their composite parts, some components will be joined with other parts to form new compounds, some components will be modified, and some will simply pass through.

Once they've been through this, these chemicals join the rest of the blood, and begin circulating through organs and tissues. Will they reach their target? That Calcium tablet you took, for example... How much of it made it into your bones, where you actually need it? If it was calcium in the form of Calcium Carbonate (think chalk or sea shells), it's likely that around 4% of it made it into your bloodstream. So even though you thought you were taking 1000mg, what you actually got was 40mg. Other forms of calcium, such as Calcium citrate, or natural extracts like the calcium-rich sea algae, Lithothamnium calcareum, offer better results.

You don't need to study natural medicine for 3 years to figure out that eating chalk is not really "natural", and that there are bound to be better sources of calcium... like food! But what you may not have realised is that "Calcium supplement" sometimes means chalk.

And this brings us to the next piece of the puzzle - ethos. Why would a company sell us chalk for calcium, without telling us that we will only get 4% efficiency from it? Good question!

Number one - Nutritional science is a fairly new science, and a very complex one. Sometimes we just don't know the answers yet. It's exciting for all the scientists who get to make discoveries, but it would be much better for consumers if we already knew everything!

Number two - Some companies don't keep up with the latest advances in supplemental medicine, and will carry on using the same old formula, even when it has been proven that there are much better options.

Number three - Companies are not legally required to include details about digestibility, bioavailability, or any other -abilities of the product. I hate to say this, but I do believe a very small number of companies, even in the natural health industry, are simply too focused on profit to give much thought to the effectiveness of their products, or the ethical pitfalls of selling low quality formulas.

What happened at the end of my retail career was that I began to recommend 100% natural supplements. This may sound strange, given that I worked in natural health anyway. but what I mean by natural supplements is whole foods, super foods, and their natural extracts. This narrows down the options hugely. The reality is, most companies synthesise their vitamin and mineral supplements in a laboratory.

Some of my personal favourite products and brands are - the Lifestream range: all natural, vegan-friendly, highly ethical and effective. Vital Greens: an all-in-one super-food and multi that tastes pretty good. The same company also makes Vital Protein and some other variations. And for herbal extracts, both Artemis and Kiwiherb are made in New Zealand and offer top-quality products. Superfoods are a whole category of health-giving supplements that I rate highly. As long as they are high quality products, they really are powerful in promoting health and vitality.

Lab-made products are not all bad, and many are effective. But as a consumer, or even as a practitioner, the key is always ask questions! Find out everything you can about products before you trust your health to them. Ask your sales assistant, ask a practitioner, ask the company themselves. Most natural health companies have their own practitioners as part of their customer service team, and they have heaps of good knowledge and experience to share.

Green Blessings Everyone, Aurora.