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Where You Buy Your Supplements MATTERS.

Far too often, when people want to buy a supplement, they hop online, pop down to the pharmacy, or worse, they head to the supermarket. As a society, we don't tend to consider the value of seeking out professional advice from a naturopath or integrative practitioner when it comes to nutritional or herbal medicines.

Understandably, some people are after a bargain, so perhaps that's why they're drawn to the discount pharmacies and supermarkets, but it should be remembered that the same goes for cheap supplements, as it does for everything else that comes cheap...... chances are, it's crappy quality.

So where should you be buying your supplements?

Your local health food store will stock the best 'over-the-counter brands available but if you really want to make sure you're getting supplements that work, your best bet is to see a naturopath and be prescribed what's known as a "practitioner-only" supplement.

These "practitioner-only" brands focus on producing higher quality, more potent products. In fact, these products are manufactured to maximise impact and effectiveness, and they're top-of-the-range when it comes to natural medicine. That means if fish oil from Woolies didn't seem to make much difference to your health, don't give up on fish oil - find one of superior quality.

Legally these practitioner-only supplements should only be accessed under the supervision of a qualified health professional, in accordance with section 42AA of the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989.

Naturopaths and nutritionists are trained in herbal medicine and clinical nutrition. We understand how each ingredient in a supplement will affect you. Taking advice from a health professional on what to take means having your symptoms, health conditions, and medications properly assessed to determine any potential interactions and ensure that you're taking something specific to your needs. But, it's even more than that.

Practitioner-only products are generally of higher quality, and more potent than anything you'll find over the counter. That's not to say that allll retail brands are poor quality - when you know what to look for, there are some good options available but typically practitioner brands contain higher doses, are better absorbed and contain scientifically researched herb-nutrient combinations.

How Is 'Better' Quality Actually Defined?

Quality can vary significantly between supplements and there are a few reasons for it. I'm going to break these down for you. They revolve around:

  • Ingredients

  • Dosage

  • Bioavailability

  • Excipients


One of the craziest things I discovered early on is that some companies sell herbal supplements without necessarily using the part of that plant that contains the medicinal or therapeutic value. To give you a better understanding, consider this.

Herbal medicines can be derived from the leaves of a plant (like mint), the roots (like ginger or turmeric), the bark (cinnamon) or the flowers (like chamomile). The entire plant is not always medicinal and certain parts can contain different medicinal qualities than others.

This is why it pays to know what you're buying and don't trust the big brands just because they're 'reputable'. You want to see that they're proud of and transparent about where they source their ingredients. Why? Because not all plants of the same species contain the same medicinal value. That will depend on how the plant is grown; under what conditions, in what soil, for how long etc.

The other consideration when it comes to ingredients is something I mentioned earlier. When a herbalist or nutritionist formulates a supplement they combine ingredients that they know work synergistically together. They combine nutrients or amino acids with cofactors, they combine herbs with other herbs or nutrients that are known to be effective together. This knowledge comes from clinical practice but also from scientific research.


You want the nutrients or herbs contained within a supplement to be provided at therapeutic doses. This is so very, very important if you want natural medicine to work for you. When doses are low, or people just don't take enough, natural remedies get a bad rap.

I should mention though that more is not necessarily better when it comes to certain nutrients. For instance, calcium absorption is optimal when a person consumes no more than 500 mg at a time. The key is to provide therapeutic amounts, in the right form, and dosed correctly.

Let me give an example.

You could have a 'sleepy tea' before bed and find it just gently relaxes you. Great, but if you really want your herbal medicine to come anywhere close to the effect of a sleeping pill then you want to go for those same herbs but in a herbal tincture. A tincture is a herbal liquid that is significantly more potent, but it's not only the potency that's important here. A tincture is made by using alcohol to extract the therapeutic constituents (not just water like with herbal tea). This means you get a whole range of different active ingredients that you simply wouldn't get from drinking brewed tea alone.


Bioavailability refers to how efficiently your body can use a nutrient and it's influenced by the quality of the supplement - how easily the body can break down and absorb it, but also by how well the consumer can absorb it based on the health of their digestive tract.

I like to explain it like this. When a nutrient is in nature, it's unstable so we need to bind it to something. Iron for example is often bound to sulfate or fumarate. You may have used iron before from your doctor and found it caused constipation or some kind of upset tummy.

That's because pharmacy-sold iron is usually bound to something cheap and poorly absorbed so it messes with your gut. On the other hand, practitioner supplements bind iron to an amino acid. The reason is that amino acids are the breakdown of proteins that we eat every day. Our digestive tract is familiar with them and we have plenty of channels in our gut to facilitate entry into the bloodstream.

Another example is calcium. A supplement commonly prescribed by GP's in Australia uses a form of calcium that is bound to something called 'carbonate'. Calcium carbonate (also known as chalk) is the same ingredient that you'll find in a quickeze! Great for neutralizing stomach acid not so great for improving bone health. A practitioner supplement might instead use a calcium-hydroxyapatite. Why? Because this is the form of calcium that's found in our own bones.

I could rant more about this supplement and how it's prescribed to the elderly for osteoporosis and how crazy that is seeing that calcium carbonate requires more digestive acid to breakdown and these oldies have insufficient acid levels to begin with. So essentially they're getting constipated and peeing it out. I know I wouldn't want my parents or grandparents using this, ever.

This topic also makes me think of well-known preconception supplements that combine nutrients that compete for absorption in low, poorly absorbed forms. Total waste of money. If you want to prep your body for a bubba, please see a professional.


Definitions from Oxford Languages · ex·cip·i·ent noun

  1. an inactive substance that serves as the vehicle or medium for a drug or other active substance.

"excipients are things like colouring agents, preservatives, and fillers"

How scary is this - an excipient may make up to 90% of a product formulation and may be synthetic or sourced from plants or animals.

Thankfully depending on the medication or supplement type, excipients can be nil to low. Powders and capsules generally require fewer excipients than tablets. Remember some nutrients like vitamin D for example is fat soluble and thus better absorbed in a fat base so opt for a spray or capsule, never a tablet.

Let's go back for a sec, You know that supplement I was referring to that contains calcium carbonate? This is the excipient list.


Allura red AC, aluminium lake brilliant blue, FCF aluminium lake croscarmellose, sodium dl-alpha-tocopherol, hydrogenated soya oil, hydrolysed gelatin, macrogol 3350, magnesium stearate, maize, starch, maltodextrin, polyvinyl alcohol purified talc, silicon dioxide, sucrose, sunset yellow, FCF aluminium, lake titanium dioxide

And the best bit?

You won't find these scary excipients on the bottle, nor on their website. You would have to have some healthy distrust and make an effort to look up the products TGA listing.

How Can I Access Practitioner-Only Products?

Through a registered health practitioner.

The Kiyah Store stocks only the highest quality retail (over-the-counter) products. If you need a high quality practitioner supplement, connect for a naturopathic call, through the website.

2 Kommentare

01. Juli 2023

Thank you for this very thorough explanation...I recently tried some supermarket vitamins as my I'd run out of my practitioner supplies. Within 2 days my joints were aching and legs cramping at night.

Lesson learnt.

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Lauren Jane
Lauren Jane
10. Nov. 2023
Antwort an

My pleasure :)

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