“The FDA does not determine whether dietary supplements are effective before they are marketed.”–Office of Dietary Supplements
Rounding out national nutrition month is a topic, I’m quite certain, has confused many of you at one point in your lives — supplementation. Dietary supplements are, as defined by Merriam Webster, products taken orally that contain one or more ingredients that are intended to supplement one’s diet and are not considered food. Like many of you, I have taken boat loads of supplements over the years. Everything from a multi vitamin, calcium, dandelion pills, and echinacea, to creatine, BCAAs and thermogenic pills; from Chinese herbs prescribed by my acupuncturist to multilevel marketing supplements that were ‘guaranteed’ to change my life, financially, physically, and mentally. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars (maybe even thousands, vomit) on products that I thought would make an impact on both my mental and physical health.
It wasn’t until grad school that I realized how much money I had been wasting on supplements. None of the herbs, pills, powders, and extracts available as supplements are scientifically proven to do anything they claim to do. It says it right there on the packaging.
Most of these supplement companies will run tests on their own, but they do so with limited controls and small test groups that don’t take important varying factors into account. I know it’s hard to stay strong when you’ve got the enthusiastic “nutrition expert” touting the life-changing benefits of a certain supplement, but stay strong! Most people who are selling supplements are making money from the sale so of course they’re going to do everything they can to make it sound like your quality of life sucks without it. And if you’re a hypochondriac, oy vey! By the time you’re finished hearing the sales pitch, the seller will convince you that you feel problems in areas of the body you didn’t know existed. But just remember, the only people who can legally ‘prescribe’ supplements are healthcare professionals (doctors, registered dietitians, etc.) Personal trainers do not count as healthcare professionals…I am a certified personal trainer and a dietetic technician, registered, and I still do not, and will not, tell my clients which supplements to take.
Before buying any dietary supplement, I highly recommend checking with your doctor. Not because the supplements will necessarily cause you harm (although certain medications should not be combined with certain dietary supplements because it can be dangerous), but because you might be wasting your money. Many of these supplements simply serve as placebos. Your brain is far more powerful than you might give it credit for. It can sometimes be coaxed into convincing a person they are sick when they are not; and on the other side of things, it can lift you out of the doldrums and help you overcome a lot of *non-medical problems. So before you buy the million dollar supplement, make sure you first try the million dollar power pack in your head. I’ve done the multilevel marketing deal (don’t call it a pyramid scheme, they don’t like that), I swore that the $120/month vitamins were making me feel incredible. I had tons of energy, I was sleeping well, my nails were growing, it was great! Once I found out that I did not need 3000% of the RDA for vitamins and minerals, and that I was wasting my money, I stopped taking the vitamins. Well, not only was I wasting my money, my experience with that company ended badly, there was some shady stuff going on and I wasn’t getting the “easy income” that I was promised when I first signed up (my fault, I shouldn’t have fallen for it, but they really do make it sound so wonderful). That was about 3 years ago. Nowadays, I have tons of energy, I sleep well, and my nails grow quickly. Want to know the miracle supplements that I use? A daily gummy multi vitamin from Costco ($9.99 for a 125 serving bottle) and whey protein powder for after my intense workouts (a 6 lb bag for $35 at Costco). Learn from my mistake!
Supplements are meant to do exactly what their name implies, supplement your diet. You get more vitamins and minerals from your food than you may be aware of. Even if you eat an incredibly crappy diet, you’re still going to be consuming some nutrients. If you eat a well-balanced, veggie and fruit ridden diet, then you are really getting a good dose of vitamins and minerals. I say this to demonstrate that you do not need a vitamin that provides 1000% of the RDA. Example, many people take 1000mg of vitamin C as a supplement, the RDA for vitamin C is 60 mg, 1 orange has 45mg of vitamin C. Save your money on the bottle of pills and peel an orange instead. Ask your doctor what type of multi vitamin you should be taking. I like my gummies because they do not have an astronomical amount of each vitamin and mineral and they taste good, plus I hate the swallowable multivitamin after burp…ew.
Some of you reading this, are probably still saying, “I swear the stuff I take works!” Well, I find that the act alone of buying expensive supplements has a tendency to go hand in hand with other actions that will lead to a feeling of better health. Whether it’s exercising or slightly improving your diet, one of those things are bound to happen once you make the decision to purchase any supplement. Or it could be that you convince yourself you feel better, because you just spent a months salary on a cabinet full of products. Your body can only absorb so much of the vitamins and minerals that you are ingesting, so often times you are peeing out most of the supplement that you have taken, that’s some expensive urine! What I’m saying is, you probably do not need to spend your money on expensive pills, powders, extracts, and elixirs. Don’t you think that if there was an over the counter supplement that REALLY helped you lose weight, or increased muscle, or got rid of wrinkles, or helped you sleep better or shortened the length of a cold, Dr. Sanjay Gupta would be all over it in a hot minute? Exactly.
“In general, FDA regulations of supplements are different from those for prescription or over-the-counter drugs.” — Office of Dietary Supplements.
*For medical problems, or if you think you have a nutritional deficiency, please consult a health care professional.