The supplement industry is big. So big, in fact, that it spends millions of dollars each year to convince the government to maintain the industry’s status quo. A few mainstream, trusted brands do exist, but many are no better than snake oil salesmen in the wild west. They push empty promises, sell unfounded claims, and many of them are downright dangerous. We at Bend Personal Trainers want to make sure you understand the risks you are taking when you take dietary supplements.
1. Dietary supplements are not well regulated.
The dietary supplement industry has virtually ZERO oversight from the FDA. The industry covers itself of its liability from untested claims with a simple disclaimer: “These claims have not been evaluated by the FDA.”
It’s a marketer’s paradise. “Promotes heart health” or “promotes liver health” are common slogans printed on supplement labels. What consumers need to understand is that these are entirely unproven statements. Medical science has instead shown that most of the outlandish claims made by supplement companies are downright wrong.
As an example, The New York Times reported fish oil supplements, which have been advertised for years as beneficial to heart health, and are consumed by nearly 10 percent of Americans, are in reality completely useless. More troubling, some studies cited demonstrated the supplements raise levels of Omega 6 fatty acids, responsible for inflammation.
2. Labels may not be accurate.
Dietary supplement companies are not regulated by the FDA. Therefore, there is no guarantee that what is listed on the label is what’s in the bottle. A recent slew of lawsuits targeting protein manufacturers exposed a common practice among dietary supplement companies called “spiking”. Spiking is the practice of adding generic filler to add weight to the product for less than it would cost to fill it with the actual nutrient in questions, which in this case is protein.
Spiking had been used for decades to increase supplement companies’ profit margins. That’s because while the FDA issues guidelines for labeling on dietary supplements, they have no legal basis or the resources to enforce the guidelines. Spiking has caused other problems for consumers as well, such as the presence of the heavy elements lead and mercury.
Third party labs have recently popped up to test supplements’ quality and purity as an effort to clean up the industry. These companies will add a quality assurance label to the products they test. The caution here is that most of these companies are bankrolled by the supplement companies they test.
If you’re looking for quality assurance, Canadian and Australian companies are the most reliable because dietary supplements are regulated in those countries, so their standards are much higher and testing more rigorous.
3. Supplement companies use fear to target specific groups.
The most troubling recent news story about the supplement industry was the revelation that supplement companies are targeting seniors with the same unproven claims and dangerous products. As reported by non-profit news outlet Fair Warning, supposed memory-boosting supplements like Prevagen have caused an array of problems for many seniors. Not only were Prevagen’s complete garbage, many seniors who took their supplement experienced horrible side effects that included headaches, depression and anxiety.
“The marketers of Prevagen preyed on the fears of older consumers experiencing age-related memory loss,” Jessica Rich, director of the Federal Trade Commission’s consumer protection bureau, said in a prepared statement, as reported by Fair Warning. “Yet despite the defendants’ claims, there is no scientific proof that use of the product will improve memory or provide any other cognitive benefit.”
Take supplements at your own risk
We are all tempted by the concept of the silver bullet. But the reality is that dietary supplements, like most other things pushed by the fitness industry, are not magic pills. A fitness lifestyle starts with specific choices, such as eating less and exercising more. While some dietary supplements, such as multivitamins, may be a good insurance policy, others can be dangerous to our health. There is nothing more effective than to eat a well balanced diet and to exercise regularly.