There’s a fantastic new show on HBO called “Last Week with John Oliver.” It loosely resembles The Daily Show but is infinitely better. In fact, it might actually be better than CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, etc at actually reporting the news…
Last week, the show took the supplement industry to town, which you can see in the link below. I highly recommend watching it through to the end, especially if you like Steve Buscemi.
The points made in the segment are all extremely valid.
1) Many supplements have no evidence to back up their claims.
2) Some supplements don’t even have the listed ingredients in the supplement (What a bunch of assholes).
3) Some of these over-the-counter supplements have proven to be dangerous and, in extreme cases, lethal.
I think the natural response after watching the segment is to try and improve the regulation system of over-the-counter supplements, perhaps even make it a mirror of the prescription medication system which requires FDA approval.
Let me preface this next sentence by telling you the following, I sell exactly zero supplements of my own so I have no financial ties to the supplement industry. Despite that fact, the idea of regulating the supplement industry in the same manner we regulate medical prescriptions is not something that I’d be excited about seeing happen. Why? Well, if we were to tightly regulate supplements, I think there’d be several major effects.
1) It would likely make the supplement industry safer and hopefully improve the quality of research on supplements (A good thing).
2) It would drive the price of supplements through the roof as basic research and safety trials would have to be conducted prior to sale. Trials are EXTREMELY expensive and as a result, the end product would have to cost more to make up the difference (Mostly a bad thing).
3) This added cost would likely dissuade many people from starting new businesses around supplements. For instance, Mike Kesthely’s Max Adrenal product which he sells through Dynamic Nutrition. Many of my clients have reported insanely impressive result with this product and there are scientific publications supporting all of the ingredients that are put into it. My guess is that if we were to regulate the supplement industry like we regulate medical drugs, Mike would have never created the product in the first place… (A very bad thing).
In my opinion, the cost of driving good, helpful supplements out of the market outweighs the benefits of getting rid of all the snake oil that Dr. OZ wants you to buy.
Realistically, I don’t see any changes happening to the way the supplement industry is regulated anyway because of all the lobbying described by John Oliver. Instead, YOU are going to have to take some personal responsibility and figure out how to tell if something is a pile of bull shit or a product that can help your health and/or performance. Personal responsibility… what a crazy idea.
Here’s how I would go about deciphering whether or not a supplement is A) Safe and B) Useful.
1) Know what happens if you take too much (aka overdose). Something like magnesium or arginine causes diarrhea when you take too much. Shit happens, but its not the end of the world. Other supplements with reported health benefits also can have serious side effects at higher amounts, most frequently liver issues. Know how to decipher between the two or work with someone that does.
2) If you’re a trainer or consult people on nutrition, I would HIGHLY recommend investing in a guide to help summarize the research on supplements, as doing Google searches (or better yet, PubMed searches) can be overwhelming when you’re trying to figure out safety and efficacy. I’ve had good experiences with “Stack Guides” as it has sections about the synergistic effects of various supplements which many other sites lack. Also, “Stack Guides” doesn’t sell any supplements themselves so they’re not trying to steer you towards their products. Definitely worth the investment…
3) Listen to people with more experience in the industry than you. No one says that you have to know everything and I guarantee if you’re thinking of trying a supplement, then so have 1000 other people. Find the people you respect and listen to their opinions on the topic.
4) You should probably stop listening to Dr. Oz.