The supplement industry – friend of foe?

Last week I posted an article all about nutrient deficiencies, along with which ones are most common and how to avoid them.

I definitely feel that was the most important content I’ve posted to date, so if you haven’t already, you can check it out here.

For many people the way around this issue is to turn to supplements, and while I’ve touched on this topic briefly in the past, I felt it was important enough to deserve its own post.

After all, it seems that there’s a supplement for everything these days, from boosting your immune system, to making your hair shinier, granting everlasting youth, or bringing about world peace.

In fact, if there’s a potential problem out there, then you can pretty much guarantee there’s a pill-based solution for it, and even if it isn’t a problem, there’s no doubt someone trying to convince you it is, desperately trying to tell you what you want to hear, and trying even harder to sell you something you probably don’t need.

In case you haven’t already guessed, I’m not a big fan of supplements or the industry, and instead I’m a firm believer in trying to get everything we need from our diet, with as little man-made intervention as possible.

Not only is this a more natural approach, but it’s also far cheaper as well, with the added bonus of not having to fill your body with substances that are poorly regulated and often don’t do anything more than make expensive urine.

That’s not to say there isn’t a time and a place for supplements, or that they should all be branded with the same brush, as there definitely are some fantastic products out there. That’s getting ahead of ourselves though and something we’ll be coming back to in due course.

I know this is a highly controversial issue, and I can pretty much predict what’s going to happen. The comments will no doubt be filled with people citing everything from soil degradation to fresh produce not being what it used to be, all trying to back up the science behind their products and why they should be used.

That’s why I’d rather be upfront about my opinion from the start, as the point of this post is not to cause conflict or argue as to how a rat-based study undoubtedly proves taking your product can help me walk on water.

Instead, the focus is to look at the problems with industry on the whole, and raise some points I feel consumers should both be aware of, and take into consideration when deciding on whether or not to use a product.

The supplement industry

The reality is the supplement business is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, with ginormous mark ups in prices and an astounding amount of manufacturers competing for a share of the pie.

In 2014 market research company Euromonitor International found that supplement sales are now worth more than $50 billion a year globally, and with the ever growing trends of health and fitness, this seems likely to continue increasing every year.

It’s just like any other business though, where there are shareholders to please, interests to protect, and the ultimate goal of cutting costs and increasing profits.

So because of that you’ll often be paying more for marketing than anything else, with some estimations predicting that manufacturing costs can range anywhere from between a tenth to a twentieth of the retail price, with some unsurprisingly costing considerably more.

This holds especially true for big brands in named stores, as very few people are informed enough on the subject and therefore simply assume they’re paying for what it’s worth. With high street retailers making an absolute fortune from the unsuspecting consumer.

To make matters worse, many products are simply a worthless waste of money.

Yes, you read that right. A worthless waste of money.

They’re often produced with cheap ingredients at ineffective dosages, then packaged in a way that promises miracle cures or results, with ridiculously expensive endorsements to try and buy trust.

Then they’re flogged to the unsuspecting consumer, who is simply trying to take positive measures to improve their health, oblivious to the fact that in all likelihood their good intentions are simply being exploited, as they are unaware of how shady this industry truly is.

This holds especially true for many multivitamins, as producers will often fill space with cheaper ingredients and only put in tiny amounts of more expensive ones, simply to say they’re included and not coming anywhere near clinically effective dosages. The problem with this is that the cheaper ingredients are what we commonly have an abundance of in our diet already, whereas the more expensive ingredients are often what you’re trying to avoid being deficient in and may even be what misled the consumer into potentially buying the product in the first place.

Muscle building and weight loss supplements are even worse, as the market is filled with products from fat burners to amino acids and testosterone boosters, all of which make huge outlandish claims of their life changing influences, how they’ll transform your body into a Greek God overnight, skipping all the hard work that’s actually required and most unsurprisingly, effectively doing nothing.

Yet with no real regulations or governing body watching over them, these products are easy to sell due to the unsuspecting consumer buying into the hype, looking for any glimpse of hope that will make their goals easier to achieve.

The ‘placebo’ effect

You’ve no doubt heard of the placebo effect, but what you may not know is that it’s been scientifically proven to exist.

What this means is that often by simply believing in the effectiveness of a product, supplement or medicine, can actually make it work.

There are cases of people curing all form of illness imaginable, on a mental, physical and emotional level, overcoming everything from depression to anxiety, lowering blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.

You name it and there’ll no doubt be someone who swears by the therapeutic value of these products, when in fact, they have little to no effect at all.

The reason why this happens is because the human body is capable of tremendous things, from healing to treating or even reversing diseases. But a huge aspect that is often overlooked is how much of an influence our mindset has on its ability to effectively perform these tasks and the fact that during desperate times people will believe in or cling to anything that offers a glimmer of hope. This state of mind can thereby convince them this ‘miracle cure’ will make everything better, which in turn, actually works, as it’s pushed them to overcome the biggest barrier of them all – their mindset.

Still not convinced?

Numerous studies have concluded that health and outlook can be directly influenced by the way people view them. Most notable is research conducted by Dr. Cohen at Carnegie Melion University, who took 343 healthy individuals and exposed them to a cold virus.

He found that people who were deemed to have a positive emotional mindset or outlook on life had a greater resistance to the virus. Whereas those classified as negative (due to being depressed, anxious or hostile), were far more likely to claim they had cold-like symptoms, regardless of whether or not they actually developed a cold.

This same tendency was seen in another study at John Hopkins University, where by looking at more than 5000 people over the age of 65, it was discovered that the risk of death within the next five years doubled for those who had a poor perception of their health.

But while that’s all well and good, you’re probably thinking;

So what does that have to do with supplements?

Well you see, by having a more positive mindset you place less stress on your body, reducing the impact of hormones such as cortisol which can often shut down various processes from your immune to your reproductive system.

Without going too far into the science behind it all, this happens because being trapped in a negative mindset continuously places your body in ‘fight or flight’ mode, which in turn prevents it from operating effectively.

This in part explains why by simply believing that a product will work, can give the user the mental boost into believing it has.

That’s not to say that all supplements are bad and there definitely is a place for their use in a balanced lifestyle, especially for those who are unable to successfully get what they need from their diet, such as vegans, vegetarians or people with food intolerances.

There are also some fantastic companies out there who really do care about their products and the health of their consumers.

But as with anything else, you really do need to be careful about who you trust and believe.

Making more informed decisions

When deciding whether or not you’re going to be using a supplement, make sure you thoroughly read the back, looking at the RDA’s (recommended daily amounts) and using that as the deciding factor in your purchasing decision.

There are also a few trustworthy resources online that independently verify exactly what’s in certain products such as Examine or Consumer Lab. So it’s definitely worth doing some research on exactly what you’re buying, before parting with your hard earned cash.

While personally I try and avoid taking supplements, there are however a couple of exceptions, as I do take Vitamin D and Omega 3 every day. This is simply because of how difficult they can potentially be to get enough of in my diet, and I’d rather be safe and avoid any potential deficiencies. This is a perfect example of working out what my body needs, and making an informed decision from there.

With that being said though I’m in no way prescribing or telling you what you should or shouldn’t do, as it’s entirely possible to avoid all deficiencies, without having to take supplements, under normal and healthy circumstances.

On the other side of that as well, if they’re something that work for you and you choose to consume, then there’s nothing wrong with that either.

The entire purpose of this post was simply to raise your awareness to the bigger picture, and get you to question what you’re led to believe.

At the end of the day if a product sounds too good to be true, then chances are it probably is.

So all I ask is that you approach whatever you decide to do or take with some precaution, and rather than looking for a quick fix or miracle cure for all your problems, try and learn to listen to your body instead, as that’s the only way to determine what you actually need.

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