Are Supplements Becoming The New Snake Oil?

Snake Oil

I’m not sure when it began, but I can tell you that supplements have crossed over from being beneficial to more similar to snake oils and placebos. For over 6 years, I’ve been personal training. Prior to this, I worked for Walgreens and several other pharmacies for a couple of years; I have watched the industry go from bad to worse.

Originally, supplements were designed to fill in the gaps regarding where to obtain nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that you weren’t able to get from your food. Now, they are being peddled as miracle cures from everything to fat loss, increased energy, and the list goes on. There is little to no oversight when it comes to developing, producing, and selling items labeled as dietary supplements. In 2011, congress pushed to implement the Dietary Supplement Labeling Act of 2011 to attempt to fix this problem. It was never enacted due to the several hundred billion dollar industry that would drastically have suffered from this bill being instituted.

Supplements vs. Whole Foods

Any whole food you purchase has gone through FDA approval. However, dietary supplements do not have any regulation – ZERO!  Whole foods are more complex. For example, eating whole foods, such as lean meats, fish, eggs and dairy, have the appropriate ratios of amino acids to make complete proteins; they actually satisfy all the essential amino acids (protein) needed by the body. Conversely, a non-FDA approved dietary supplement, such as protein powders, can claim they have the same effect, yet no proof is required what-so-ever!

SupplementsDo You Really Need Supplements? 

If you are a healthy individual who consumes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, low-fat dairy products, lean meats and fish, you most likely don’t need supplements. There are some cases where even healthy individuals may require supplements or fortified foods, such as women who are pregnant, adults who don’t consume over 1,600 calories daily, vegans or vegetarians who eat a limited variety of foods, and adults over the age of 50. If you have a medical condition that effects how your body absorbs nutrients or have had recent surgeries on your digestive track, supplements may be one of the only ways you can consume the nutrients your body requires.

What to Look at When Choosing a Supplement:

Should you choose and have a doctor recommend you taking a supplement, you should look at the following things:

Check the Label – Read over each active ingredient and make sure you don’t have any know allergies and check with a pharmacists for any potential reactions to prescription medications you may be taking currently.

Read Serving Sizes – Many supplements are deceptively marked, misleading, or false. The nutritional label and ingredients may be listed, but may require 2,3, or more scoops, capsules, packet, etc. and may only have 6-12 servings which means they may only last a week if taken as directed requiring you to purchase more often. Some multivitamins and other supplements may boast having 500-1000%+ of the daily value(DV) based or the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA’s). This usually is unnecessary since your body can only absorb some much at one time, or can be even toxic if you over consume certain vitamins and minerals. Also, if you are already consumed your RDA’s through food, consuming more through supplements may put additional strain on your body as well.

Check Expiration Dates – Supplements can lose potency over periods of time and even become toxic, so if there isn’t an expiration date on the product, set it down and look elsewhere for it.

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