Half of all Americans take vitamin supplements, reported a Gallup poll conducted in 2013. While Harvard School of Public Health professor Eric Rimm says a varied, balanced diet is the best way to obtain the vitamins you need to stay healthy, some people such as the elderly or pregnant women may benefit from supplementation. However, not all over-the-counter vitamins are created equal. Take the time to find a reputable brand and follow your doctor's instructions for the correct dosage.
Pick a Well-Known Retailer
According to Rimm, you don't need to buy the most expensive name brands available to get high-quality vitamins, but you should choose ones sold by a large, well-established retailer that serves a high number of customers daily. Vitamins sold by these retailers -- whether from a traditional store or online -- are restocked often, lessening the chance that sunlight and warm temperatures will degrade their content. ConsumerLab.com president Dr. Tod Cooperman suggests vitamin chain products over drugstore brands, which tend to have greater variability in their ingredient reliability.
Look for the Seal
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not conduct compulsory quality testing on dietary supplements like vitamins, though a number of independent organizations do test at the request of the manufacturer. Two such groups are the United States Pharmacopeia and NSF International. If the vitamins pass either organization's requirements for safety and purity, the manufacturers are allowed to display the group's seal of approval on their label. If you don't see the USP or NSF seal on a vitamin, check the product databases on their websites.
Check With a Consumer Protection Group
ConsumerLab.com and ConsumerReports.org test nutritional supplements like vitamins and publish their results for consumers to use as buying guides. They provide information about brands that may contain potential contaminants or inconsistent ingredient amounts. In addition, the two groups compile lists of reputable vitamin supplements rated by customer satisfaction along with brands that their researchers have tested and approved for both quality and affordability.
Ask for Help From an Expert
Your doctor, a nutritionist or a dietitian can steer you toward vitamin supplements they trust will give you maximum benefit with the fewest possible side effects. If you can't get reliable information about a specific supplement, use the search feature on the FDA's main site to look for details. Searching on the brand name will allow you to see if the manufacturer or that particular supplement has been linked to health warnings or product recalls.