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Friday, February 27, 2015

5 Reasons to Avoid (Most) Supplements

Vitamins: Definitely not all created equal
The Associated Press recently evaluated herbal supplements at four big-box retailers. Reporters learned "four out of five contained none of the herbs on the label. Instead, they were packed with cheap fillers such as wheat, rice, beans or houseplants."

The New York Times picked up the piece, and suddenly everyone and their grandma was buzzing about how supplements were ineffective.

"So, the industry keeps growing, with 65,000 dietary supplements now on the market, consumed by nearly half of all Americans," writes Timothy Egan in a snarky follow-up editorial. "Everyone wants to live longer, to be happier, to have better sex. And, if you think you can do it without exercise, or eating enough vegetables, or getting regular sleep, there are a thousand pills for you, sold not far from the candy counter."

The Times took a similarly dismal view in this 2013 opinion piece summarized as "Dietary supplements: mislabeled, contaminated and probably useless."

It isn't just the New York Times. Mainstream media, often led by
nutritionally clueless journalists, jumps on and over-simplifies the anti-supplement wagon with glee. Not that these studies aren’t accurate, but they distract us from other studies that validate supplements and even worse, pharmaceutical drugs, which can and often do create real harm.

I have mixed feelings about this latest debacle, which provides a cautionary tale against buying bargain-basement supplements but also gives our whole industry a bad name.

Ultimately, I feel sympathy for the well-intended folks who spend their hard-earned money on ineffective supplements. They're smart, savvy, and proactive about their health. If they find resveratrol or CoQ10 (or whatever supplement they use) at a bargain-basement warehouse for one-quarter the cost their nutritionist sells a professional brand for, who could blame them for stocking up?

Don’t shoot the messenger.

My friend Dr. Jonny Bowden talks about things you should never scrimp on. Take parachutes: If I ever skydive, I want the very best one money can buy.

Supplements fall onto Bowden’s don’t-scrimp list.

“Given a choice, would you buy cheap-o supplements or not supplement at all?” a client recently asked me after reading the Times blog.

I didn’t need to think. “Don’t buy at all,” I replied.

Among my many reasons, over-the-counter supplements often:

1.      Use junk ingredients. Most over-the-counter supplements come loaded with cheap fillers, binders, cutters, expedients, and other stuff you don’t want. They use inferior nutrient forms like synthetic vitamin E (look for the dl- among ingredients) and magnesium oxide (the most poorly absorbed form of magnesium). And why on earth should your supplements contain FD&C Yellow 6?

2.     Adhere to “minimum wage nutrition.” One-a-day multis and other over-the-counter supplements contain the “minimum amount” to get by. Manufacturers use Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs), which were formulated to prevent disease. You don’t want to just prevent disease; you want to thrive with abundant health. Take vitamin C: The RDA is a paltry 60 mg. That might help prevent scurvy (and really, who has scurvy these days?), but it won’t help collagen synthesis, adrenal function, and vitamin C’s numerous other tasks.

3.     Often contain inaccurate amounts (or none) of promised nutrients. Three out of six herbal products at Target — ginkgo biloba, St. John’s wort and valerian root, a sleep aid — tested negative for the herbs on their labels,” says Anahad O'Connor in the New York Times. “But they did contain powdered rice, beans, peas and wild carrots. And at GNC, the agency said, it found pills with unlisted ingredients used as fillers, like powdered legumes, the class of plants that includes peanuts and soybeans, a hazard for people with allergies.”

4.    Might use too much of a nutrient. Yes, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. Every so often, a careless, clueless manufacturers include too much of something like selenium or chromium, minerals that can become toxic in excess. You can bet these stories make big news, even though pharmaceuticals create far more harm. Still, you want to be confident that what’s on a supplement label is what you’re actually getting.

5.    Have no third-party analysis or accountability. If I sell you a professional-quality adrenal-function adaptogenic formula and you take it regularly, you expect it to work within a certain time frame, right? If it doesn’t, you’re pissed at me, and I hold the manufacturer responsible. Professional manufacturers, in term, usually have third-party independent analysis to verify supplement quality, doses, and potentially harmful materials. Over-the-counter brands don’t usually have that accountability or analysis. Do you think the salesperson at GNC, who maybe worked in a Home Depot until two months ago, really cares if you have a supplement reaction?

I don’t want to say every over-the-counter supplement brand is dodgy, but why take that risk? Always buy professional. You’ll pay a little more, but you get what you… Well, you know.

If you take supplements, do reports like the New York Times expose make you second-guess what you’re taking? Share your story below or on my Facebook fan page

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Fitness expert and strength coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!  Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at© 2011 Jinifit, Inc.

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