The Scoop on Supplements

If there is one thing that I find myself down the rabbit hole on most often, it’s dietary supplements. Through my training as a certified health coach, working with clients, and mentoring by some of the best nutritionists in New England, I’ve learned that dietary and herbal supplements are one of the most misunderstood aspects of health and wellness.

Some people think you don’t need supplements if you eat well. Some people think that all supplements are created equal and they can just buy whatever generic brand at the store. Some people think the more supplements you take the better. Some people think supplements are only for kids and sick people. None of these are totally accurate.

There are a number of reasons for this lack of clarity. First and foremost, supplements are largely based on a strategy of prevention whereas our health care system is based on treatment. Really, it’s not a health care system, it’s a disease treatment system. With this systemic focus, prevention is not going to get its due diligence because it doesn’t fit the paradigm and is not as profitable (though, it is, indeed, a very profitable market).

Since the system is built for them, drug manufacturers have the money and the power in the market. Using this influence, they can control the flow of information, the research focus, etc. Simply put, they are bigger and more powerful so they get the attention.

The structure of the supplement industry itself is not helpful for disseminating useful information to consumers. It is largely unregulated by the government and rapidly expanding, which means two things:

1. You need to do your due diligence as a consumer to make sure you are purchasing a quality product but that information is going to be very difficult for you to find because there are limited disclosure rules.

2. Supplement manufacturers are not allowed to make claims about what supplements do without substantiated scientific evidence. In an industry where the money is concentrated in the hands of pharmaceutical companies, it’s difficult for supplement makers to fund clinical studies so these supplements makers are left with the ability to only make very vague claims about the support they can offer your body.

On top of that, it seems like there is a new supplement out every week with claims about “amazing weight loss” or “body transformations” or “anti-aging.” The industry is expanding so quickly, it’s almost impossible for someone to keep up with. Because of this, I spend a lot of time researching a new product someone has heard of so I can recommend whether it’s worth trying or not (mostly, it’s not). (Pro tip: if it’s offering a quick fix, it is too good to be true. Likewise, be very wary of before and after photos and overly enthusiastic voice-overs.)

My main concern when it comes to dietary and herbal supplements is making sure that my clients are not only getting a safe product but also one that is what it purports to be. A majority of supplement companies claim the backing of scientific studies, but when you request that information a number of things may happen: said study doesn’t exist, the product itself was not studied but the ingredient it purports to contain was, they’ve paid a third party to conduct the study thereby influencing the findings, or the study was never done on human subjects.

Recently, an investigation by the New York State Attorney General found that just 21% of the supplements they tested from GNC, Walgreens, Walmart, and Target actually contained the ingredients they claimed to contain. Contamination and adulteration are also common issues with dietary supplements. The FDA is supposed to inspect supplement manufacturing facilities, but only gets around to a very small number of them – less than 20%. Given these facts, being able to review the studies that prove the supplements are what they say they are is crucial.

Knowing that doing product research can be a herculean task for people balancing work, family, chores, errands, volunteer responsibilities, and more, I made it a priority of mine to weed through the product claims and find a high-quality supplement company that I trust and can recommend to my clients. After months (literally) of research, I came to Shaklee. They have 20 years of clinical research on their products and you can actually access and read those studies online. They test their raw materials prior to production for purity and identity and they test their final products for purity and effectiveness. They will not put a product out there without science verifying its effectiveness. Furthermore, they have been in business since 1956 and have never issued a recall. Because of this, Shaklee is what I trust for me and my family and what I recommend to my clients as well.

If you want to learn more about dietary supplements – the industry, what to look out for, what to know, should you be taking them – then join me on Thursday, June 22nd for a free online event discussing the what, why, and how of supplements.

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