Navigating the sh*t storm that is the supplement industry :)
Updated: Mar 11, 2022
Let’s chat about the supplement industry, and just how unregulated & sketchy it can be. AND the importance of quality research into products & companies, and not taking things at face value.
A few years back there were several investigative reports that tested various supplements, the majority of which had little to none of what they claimed. Instead of the ingredients these products were supposed to have, they were full of absurd things like “powdered house plant” & “powdered asparagus.” Not to mention, they were also full of unmentioned additives & toxic heavy metals.
Needless to say, the supplement industry is a bit of a Wild West. Chalk-full of low quality products, low quality/ineffective ingredients, small amounts of ingredients, label games where it doesn’t even have to have any of the ingredients it claims to have if a company is working with a shady manufacturer.
Also, selling products labeled as dietary supplements that actually contain controlled substances & unapproved drugs. While this is obviously illegal, it’s more common than you might care to believe. For ex. the pre workout “Craze.” The label lists caffeine, creatine, & hardly anything else..I.e. nothing really that should have been making people feel like it was the “pre workouts of all pre workouts.” Well, turns out that it contained meth, and apparently meth makes a pretty good pre workout...🤷♀️
Now on to marketing & research. A common marketing ploy is when a company takes one study, that really doesn’t mean anything & blows it out of proportion to sell it as the next greatest thing. They take mechanistic research, animal research, in vitro research & assume that consumers are 1) not going to look further into it or 2) even if they do look into it, are not scientifically versed enough to understand that this research doesn’t actually mean it’ll do anything for you.
Many ingredients have shown promise in animal research & it’s great place to start, typically in rat research (we share nearly 99% of our DNA with rats & elements of rat physiology are similar to human physiology), but often times when it gets to the human research, it totally flops. Raspberry ketones are an example of this.
Other sketchy practices include gaming Amazon reviews for different products, amino acid spiking, companies that start a shady supplement company, sell a bunch of products & then when people start to catch on, stop & “go legit” or “rebrand” & start another supplement company…
This is just scratching the surface, but it's enough to give you an idea without getting tangled in the weeds.
And now that we understand how unregulated the sh*t storm that is the supplement industry, here are a few things to keep in mind as the consumer when navigating it.
1. Foundational high quality good human evidence (not only efficacy, but meaningful effect size). Multiple studies, ideally multiple trials, meta analyses, research reviews. i.e. enough clinical data to do studies of studies.
-->Also keep in mind marketing is spectacular at blowin’ findings way out of proportion. An easy way they do this to fool the consumer is by placing a graph (as the ad) of a “before” & “after.” But unless you look closely enough, it’s easy to miss that they changed the x & y axis to make the graph look super dramatic.
2. The subject of the research really matters. If you only read the abstract (aka take it at face value), you miss whether that research is even applicable to you. Ex. research done on men does not mean that research is applicable to women, research done on sedentary obese people does not mean the same findings carry over to active individuals with a healthy BMI, research done on college athletes is not necessarily relevant to the older population…etc. It is an extrapolation to assume that because the subject of research saw an improvement in specific biomarkers, an increase in insulin sensitivity..etc following xyz that you would experience the same if you do not fit the profile of who the research was conducted with/on. For example, DHEA in older populations contribute to increases in strength, muscle, testosterone & bone mass but these same findings do not carry over to younger populations. The same is true for certain supplements that have be shown to raise testosterone effectively, but only in men with really low testosterone.
3. If there is ONLY animal research available then there should be a good reason to believe that, if there were to be human research conducted, there's a fair chance that the same findings will transfer to humans. You can check this by comparing current research done in humans using similar ingredients, a similar molecular formula.. etc. to the product formula/ingredients that you’re interested in. But while informative, it is still speculative & extrapolation.
Needless to say, this is why I only trust certain brands, like KION and DrinkLMNT. These are brands with integrity in both product & research practices. Which is also why I do my best to not only partner with these brands, but find ways to offer their products at a discount to you. Real quality gets expensive, and especially seems expensive if you compare it against the very inexpensive (for a reason!) 💩💩 on the market.
Check out this page for some of my favorite brands.