Supplements: Do you know what you are putting in your body?

Do you take supplements?  Do you feel the benefits outweigh any risks?

While I do believe some supplements can be beneficial for certain people, I am not a huge fan of supplements and I will tell you why…

For one, I have always been a firm believer that the general public can get all of our nutritional needs from a healthy, well-nourished diet. Of course, that does not guarantee we can or will always eat as healthy as we should!

A few years back, I was personal training at a gym in Arizona. Part of their training program involved selling clients on supplements and a diet plan. Being young and a bit new in the health field, I was eager to learn and took in as much information as I could.

As new trainers, we were taught that there is no way our clients can eat a balanced enough diet on their own and therefor they need supplements. We were taught more about how to sell the products and what to say than what the supplements actually did for our bodies and the science behind the claims. (Ex: If you are trying to lose weight, I recommend taking XYZ supplement because it will increase your metabolism and therefor burn more calories.)

Ugh, that statement makes me cringe! There was no facts or research backing up the statement that the ingredients in the pill did what they claim to do and that there was no warning about risks or side effects! I questioned supplements from the start, but was willing to be open minded…

As trainers for this company, we were hired to not only train clients but also promote this gym’s supplement line. We were indeed informed that supplements are not FDA approved. We were also informed that while other supplements may not be what they claim to be, this company was top of the line and backed my doctors and top trainers.

Ok, so maybe their supplements are the best and maybe they are safe, but MAYBE they aren’t!? Since dietary supplement firms do not need FDA approval to market and sell their products, it is very difficult for the general population to determine myth from fact and very easy for companies to mislead consumers!

It is the company’s responsibility to make sure its products are safe and that any claims are true.  If any safety issues are suspected, the FDA will investigate and remove the product from shelves if needed. However, it is much easier for a firm to get a product on the market than it is for FDA to take a product off the market. (sourceThat is crazy, valuable information! 

Michael Levy, the director of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Division of New Drugs and Labeling Compliance, warns Americans about tainted dietary supplements saying, “We’ve found (some) weight-loss products marketed as supplements that contain dangerous concoctions of hidden ingredients including seizure medications, blood pressure medications, and other drugs not approved in the U.S.”

The FDA has recalled more than 40 products marketed for weight loss with potentially harmful ingredients and has issued consumer alerts about dozens more. The agency also has issued warning letters, seized products, and criminally prosecuted people responsible for these illegal diet products.

Second and third reason I am not a fan of supplements: For the fact that supplements are too unknown and not regulated by the FDA, I do not feel that the potential risks and misleading information are worth the claims!

My blog subtitle is: The secret is hard work, sweat, and determination – clearly I do not believe in quick fixes that many dietary supplements claim to sell consumers on!

So you may thinking, “Well of course the diet pills are full of myths, but herbal supplements are probably safe.” But once again, these are not regulated or tested by the FDA and many studies are inconclusive. If you do a basic search on the web, you will find many articles, studies, and testimonials about various supplements resulting in some very interesting findings. You might be surprised by what you read or what you thought you knew!

The more you read accredited sources (which the average American will not do because these articles tend to be longer and more technical), the more it becomes clear that there does not seem to be straight answers and definite facts to support many supplements’ claims.

In an article on the Dr. Oz blog, a study published in BMC Medicine examined 44 different herbal products manufactured by 12 different companies. The results showed that nearly 60% of the products tested contained plant material not listed on the label, and about 20% included fillers such as rice, soybeans and wheat, which were also not labeled. These fillers could pose a risk to people with allergies or intolerances.  What else could these companies be misleading people about?

The final reason I am skeptical about supplements (as if the above were not enough) is that I do not feel a “doctor’s recommendation” should always just be accepted as a fact. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for doctors and could never do what they do! And while some of them are very educated in the nutrition field, not all of them are! Nutrition and fitness research has come a long way over the past few decades, if doctors are not staying up-to-date on the latest information, would you always just trust their ‘recommendations’? I also feel doctors are very quick to prescribe pills instead of lifestyle changes.

I watched a recent Doctor Phil where a woman was giving her 3 year old son some medicine to help him sleep at night (because he had ADHD?) that was prescribed by her doctor but not FDA approved. When Doctor Phil informed her about this and discussed how it is very hard to diagnose a 3 year old with ADHD, she said she had no idea about these facts.

I recently spoke with a young man who lost over 60 pounds in the past year and has recently hit a plateau. He was talking about various amino acid and metabolism boosting supplements that he has been taking. I asked why he needed to take all of those and if he had ever done any research on them. He said he is taking them to lose weight and that he knows they are safe because his doctor said it was OK for him to take them. Ooookay.

My dad had a heart attack and stroke a couple years ago. He was prescribed many different medications, a few of which being blood pressure medications. This is all common after a major health issue, especially a heart attack. But what is slightly more uncommon, is that after such a major issue, my dad quit smoking, lost weight, and is now on no medications (other than a baby aspirin every other day). Many people today would readily stay on the blood pressure and various other medications the rest of their life. I know quite a few people who are overweight with high blood pressure and their solution is pills rather than losing weight and living healthier!

I know this can be a controversial topic and I, in no way, claim to know it all! I am not a doctor, scientist, or nutritionist. I just fear Americans are often mislead, lack proper education, and potentially putting themselves, or their family, at risk by choosing quick-fixes like dietary and herbal supplements instead of a healthy, well rounded diet and regular exercise.

Sources:
FDA.gov – Beware of Fraudulent Weight-Loss ‘Dietary Supplements
The OZ Blog – Herbal Products Full of Contaminants and Fillers, Study Reports

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