Making sense of a confusing marketplace
Trying to purchase the right supplements for oneself can be daunting for anyone who has not spent countless hours consulting the Internet to understand what it is that is appropriate for his/her individual set of goals and needs. Even when you research what will help you lose weight, you have probably received vastly different (and often conflicting) pieces of advice. Green tea extract? One site may say it has antioxidants and caffeine, which boosts the body’s metabolic rate. Another site may disagree, suggesting that caffeine actually causes the body to rest less effectively which actually can cause weight gain. This is all further complicated by the fact that oftentimes you may have no idea who it is that is suggesting (or disparaging) a particular supplement and whether or not he/she has some vested interest in pushing you one way or another. Consumer skepticism, already fueled by articles highlighting the actions of a few bad industry participants, is only further exacerbated by a lack of consensus and clarity throughout the industry. Unfortunately, because of these factors, consumers shy away from nutritional supplements that can have very real and positive impacts in their lives.
Debunking some common misconceptions
It is important to make it abundantly clear that some things that are often said about the supplement industry are either slightly misinformed or outright false. There are very few industries where so much misinformation abounds – and as with anything you intend to put into your body, you are right to show a high degree of concern, especially whenever you hear anything that may cause concern. With that said, let’s clear up a few things:
Misconception #1: Supplements have no FDA oversight.
This is, without question, false. While supplements do not undergo the same level of oversight as does a new prescription drug, they do undergo stricter review than does any food product. The FDA has strict manufacturing guidelines for a supplement and it actively polices as well as executes a very active investigation process whenever concerns are raised. What is true is that the FDA does not require an inspection prior to being able to release a supplement, provided it is not considered a ‘new dietary ingredient.’ That is to say, a new protein manufacturer does not need to be inspected by the FDA.
Misconception #2: Supplements are only for “gym rats,” people trying to lose weight, infants, and the elderly.
This could not be further from the truth. Unfortunately, the average American diet today is nutritionally deficient in a number of areas – a result of highly processed food, the continued proliferation of fast food, and the relatively high expense of organic food alternatives. Almost everyone can benefit from using the right supplements to service his/her specific needs and goals. To name a few, there are supplements that can improve energy, aid mental focus, improve skin complexion, and alleviate joint pain. Of course, understanding which supplements will help accomplish certain goals remains difficult, and unfortunately, the industry as a whole does a poor job providing easy means of discerning this information. Companies like WellPath that provide personalized nutrition are beginning to gain traction with the specific aim of clarifying this particular problem. Personalized services that build products for individual needs and goals will no longer be available only to those who can afford expensive visits to the nutritionist.
Misconception #3: A product being labeled “natural” means it is better.
As a consumer, you should never assume that simply because something is labelled “natural” it means that it is good for you – or even safe. You should always consult the nutrition label and make sure you understand what the ingredients are and that they match up against the product that has been conveyed to you on the label. At the end of the day, we all take some responsibility for what we put in our bodies. The FDA does a good job of weeding out bad occurrences, but there is always a chance that some might slip through the cracks. If something seems suspect – it probably is.
Some simple guidelines to follow
Having cleared up some of the most common misconceptions about supplements, let’s now discuss some easy ways in which you can avoid falling into the traps of purchasing ineffective or dangerous products.
Guideline #1: Look at the label.
A supplement manufacturer is required by the FDA to accurately disclose the contents of the product on the label. If something sounds unfamiliar and bizarre, research it. As a general rule, if there are “proprietary” ingredients with complicated sounding names that do not appear to be used in any other products then that should be a red flag, warranting, at the very least, further investigation on your part. In other words, if you are buying an amino acid product and the label contains nothing but said amino acids, you’re in good shape. If you’re buying some miracle weight loss product and the label contains some strange chemical sounding ingredient you have never heard of, do a bit of research before purchasing.
Guideline #2: Understand what effective dosing levels are.
This one requires a little more work on your part but it is still pretty easy. For macronutrients and some micronutrients, there are recommended daily values right on the label. For other micronutrients and certain herbs you can find guidelines easily on the Internet. It is important to note that the recommended daily values on the label are based on a 2,000 calorie diet for the average adult. These can vary depending on your age, sex, height, weight, and activity level. Obviously a 200 lb. bodybuilder who is on a 5,000 calorie diet is going to have very different dietary needs than a stay-at-home mother on a 1,800 calorie diet. If you’re buying a supplement, do some research to understand how much you should take to accomplish your needs and goals and compare that against the labels of potential product purchases.
Guideline #3: You are different from your best friend (or wife, brother, colleague, etc.).
This may seem intuitive but it is important to note that all of our bodies are different. We all have a different set of needs depending on our body, lifestyle, and goals. As a result, what your best friend decides to take does not necessarily mean it will also be appropriate for you, even if it may seem at first that this is the case. For instance, if you and your friend are both trying to lose weight and your friend is taking guarana and experiencing success you may want to scoop it up. But let’s say you have a history of difficulty sleeping and typically take your supplements shortly before bed. In such a scenario you could inadvertently find yourself further exacerbating a preexisting problem (or creating a new one while trying to solve another). In short, understand that you have a unique set of needs and nutritional supplements that are not one-size-fits-all.
Guideline #4: Remember, results do not come overnight. Find ways to stay engaged.
There are few supplements where you will feel the impact immediately, especially if it relates to the desire to change your body. Our society conditions us to expect immediate gratification, and when this doesn’t occur, we tend to lose motivation and focus. The responsibility falls on you to find ways to keep yourself engaged. There are plenty of alternatives; for example, you can develop habits and routines such as substituting your breakfast for a nutritional shake in the morning in order to make it easier to stay the course. You can actively log your changes on a weekly basis through objective measurement means to track your progress. It is a deeply personal process so you need to ascertain what works best for you and stick with it.
We hope the above has cleared up some of the confusion that you may have had about the industry. Helping people understand the misconceptions that exist and encouraging people to follow these basic principles will go a long way toward improving the public’s perception of the supplement industry. Furthermore, by doing these simple things to ensure you are taking high quality supplements that are right for you, you will open up the opportunity to live a healthier, longer, and happier life. And if all of that is not enough, it is good to know that healthier people spend less money on healthcare and are in the hospital less frequently. So you may just save some money while you’re at it!
As we’ve stressed here, getting the right supplements for your unique set of goals and needs is imperative. WellPath has created unique technology designed to understand your set of goals and needs and design a custom supplement just for you. Click here to learn more.