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How to Choose a Pharmacy and Shop for Supplements
There are many drug stores fighting for your attention and it’s no surprise that you can be overwhelmed with its variety. Check out tips on how to choose a drug store and find the best supplement, and how to use expert ratings and consumer reviews for it.
How to Compare Drug Stores
- Many pharmacies have a similar look and feel, but there are important differences. Consider the following factors while choosing the best for you.
- Does the pharmacy accept your insurance? If not, no matter how close it is to your house, it won’t be a good choice.
- Will it be convenient to get there when you are sick? The pharmacy that is close to your house is best, but close to your doctor’s office can also be good if there’s nothing near your house.
- Compare prices for any medications you take regularly. Get a quote for your out-of-pocket expenses for all of your medications from each pharmacy you’re considering.
- Analyze pharmacies using online reviews to compare service, wait times, and accuracy.
How to Shop for Dietary Supplements
Dietary supplements are not regulated in the same ways as prescription medications. So it is important to do your own research before purchasing or taking dietary supplements. Pay attention to the following aspects:
1. Look for companies that have been in business for many years and who actively participate in or conduct scientific studies. Also check published research studies supporting the claims of companies and individuals or a long history of documented traditional use.
2. Choose companies that are committed to rigorous product testing. Here are some things they should test for.
- Purity. Quality supplements are free from contamination by heavy metals, environmental contaminants such as pesticides, or chemicals used in the processing of the supplement.
- Dosage. Not all pills contain the same amount of the active ingredients. With supplements, each company determines how much of a substance to put into each pill and each dose, and a dose often includes more than one pill. Keep this in mind when comparing prices and determining your program. For example: If you wish to take 400 IU of Vitamin E each day in a multivitamin, note that some 90 tablet bottles might require three tablets per day for that dose (30-day supply) where others might require only one or two (90 or 45 day supplies, respectively). If the bottles are the same price, than the one that requires three tablets for the required dose is much more expensive. Remember, though, that higher doses are not always better.
- Bioavailability. It doesn’t matter how much of a supplement you take if it is in a form your body can’t digest. Two products might have the same dosage, but if one of them is more bioavailable, your body will absorb more from that supplement. Many supplement companies voluntarily determine how well their products are absorbed by the body.
- Source. Only use plant-based supplements that are cultivated and harvested in environmentally and socially sustainable ways. Increased demand strains supplies, and some medicinal plants have been driven to extinction by over-harvesting.
3. Check reviews on review platforms, forums, and blogs. Keep in mind that you have no way of knowing if the other person is taking the right supplement for them. Ignore reviews that say that a product ‘works’ or ‘doesn’t work.’ Look instead for reviews that describe specific changes, such as that the person felt more daytime energy, fell asleep more easily, etc. Reviews can help you determine:
- customer service and delivery expectations;
- quality and integrity of packaging;
- return policies and practices.
How to Choose the Best Supplements in Special Categories
Here are some popular categories of supplements and a few factors to consider when shopping for each of them. Regardless of what type of supplement you are interested in, first ensure your basic nutritional needs are being met, then choose one desired effect at a time, such as enhancing memory, mood, or energy. Focus on supplements that are bioavailable (can actually be absorbed by the body). The forms of nutrients that are most usable in the body, such as coenzyme methylcobalamin for vitamin B-12, are generally more expensive to produce and purchase, but well worth it.
Prenatal vitamins. Talk with your health care practitioner to determine your specific needs for nutrients critical during pregnancy such as folic acid, iron, omega fatty acids, calcium, and Vitamin D. Remember to compare dosage, potency, and quality.
- Vitamins for women. Depending on your age, you will want different things from your supplements. Post-menopausal women, for example, need less iron than women who are of childbearing age. Many women can benefit from supplementing essential fatty acids.
- Vitamins for men. Unlike women of childbearing age, men do not usually need to supplement iron, which is toxic in high doses. Unless you have a medical need, avoid multivitamins with iron.
- Hair and nail vitamins. Claims that sound too good to be true usually are. Focus on supplements that are bioavailable (can actually be absorbed by the body) and with claims supported by research studies. If you’ve decided, for example, to take silica to boost collagen production, choose a product that has been tested and has available, published research studies. Not all forms of silica can be used by the body.
- Vitamins for memory. Many supplements that provide nutrients that help memory need to be taken for many weeks for noticeable results. Do good research, find a supplement you can afford to take for several months, and stick with it.
How to Refill a Prescription
Not all prescriptions can be refilled, so the first thing to check is the label of your medication. It will say ‘refills remaining’. If that number is zero and you need a refill, call your doctor. If that number is greater than zero, here are some helpful hints.
- What are prescription refill rules? Refill rules vary by medication, and there are two considerations: what the law allows and what your insurance company will pay for. For less-tightly regulated medications, you may have your refill delivered to your home or available at your pharmacy when you are 75% of the way through your existing refill.
- The earliest prescription refill. If you’re going to travel, you need to think about your medications in advance. Not all medications can be refilled when your current supply is at 75%. The permitted window might be two days, or not at all. Early refills typically require authorization, so it is best to talk to your pharmacist, doctor, and insurance company well in advance to ensure that you’ll have what you need.
- Refill date calendar. Talk with your doctor, pharmacist, and insurance company to create a calendar of when your refills are due. There are online calculators, but not all of them will be accurate for your situation. To avoid unpleasant surprises, it’s best to coordinate it with your own medical care team.
Vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other dietary supplements are like any other medicine. The right doses of the right supplements can enhance your health and well-being, while taking things you don’t need can be harmful.
Always do your own research before taking supplements, and consult a professional whenever you have doubts about whether something is right for you.