Are Nutritional Supplements a Scam?
Let me start by saying that this article is not sponsored, no press samples were given, and there are no affiliate links. There’s no financial benefit to me writing this. I just have somethin’ to say! You could say that health is my hobby and I enjoy sharing what I learn with you!
Many people subscribe to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy. Well, when it comes to health, I do not subscribe to that. AT ALL! There are so many facets of aging that people accept as normal – like wrinkles and age spots, thinning hair, fuzzy thinking and forgetfulness, muscle and joint pain, weak bones, fatigue, etc.
What if you could minimize some or all of those symptoms as you grow older, or at the very least, put them off for as long as possible? Would you do what it takes? That could mean lifestyle changes, dietary changes, exercise, nutritional supplements or biohacking devices (infrared light therapy, cryotherapy, PEMF, laser facial treatments, bone density training, etc, etc, etc).
So, let’s talk supplements, shall we? What do I mean when I say “nutritional supplements”? Well it could be an herb, vitamin, mineral, hormone, protein, probiotic, fungus (mushroom), or some combination. It could be animal, vegetable or mineral. It’s basically a substance that you ingest with a specific goal in mind, whether that’s to replenish your body’s supply of electrolytes, or to help you fall asleep faster.
I often hear people say, well I have a good diet and I’m relatively healthy, so I don’t need nutritional supplements. Well, it’s possible that you don’t need any! But it’s also possible that unless you are very carefully structuring every meal, living in a place where there’s no pollution in the air or water, avoiding an excess of mental and physical stress, exercising daily, eating only organic vegetables and wild-caught or grass-fed meats, avoiding sugar and alcohol and cigarettes, and not taking any pharmaceutical drugs, and just generally NOT aging, then your body may not be operating as well as it could. Our bodies are extremely adaptable, and for the most part they do what they are supposed to do – until we introduce things that burden or alter our systems. For some, years of eating processed food and sugar, which creates insulin resistance and leads to type 2 diabetes is a good example of how our we can change our bodies for the worse. Another thing to remember is that even though whole, unprocessed foods are the best medicine in most cases, you would have to eat a crazy amount of certain foods to get the same effect as taking a supplement.
When it comes to nutritional supplements, I put them in two camps: ones that have an immediate effect (like melatonin or GABA which can make you sleepy or relaxed within 30-45 minutes), and ones that will improve an aspect of your health over time (or potentially prevent disease or poor health – like a multivitamin for example). The long-term ones require more of a leap of faith. I have been taking probiotics daily, as an example, and although I have done research on different strains, tested my gut bacteria with Ubiome, and seen some health improvements, I’m still hoping for the best when I chug those gut bugs!
The body is extremely complex, and we haven’t even begun to understand all of the chemical reactions taking place. You CAN hurt yourself with nutritional supplements, so don’t ever start taking something without doing your research. And don’t even take MY advice – I’m not a health care practitioner, so please do your research. There are also health trends that change over time. Remember when everyone was eating as much soy as possible? Even taking soy isoflavone supplements? Well now we realize that’s not a good idea for everyone! So, talk to your naturopathic or functional medicine doctor or other health care practitioner, and remember that you know your own body better than anyone else.
But Jen, aren’t supplements just “expensive pee”? Well, some are! If you’re taking a supplement you don’t need or buying a low-quality brand (like MOST of the supplements in drugstores), you could be wasting your money. I believe supplements are an easy and relatively cost-effective way to start giving your body what it needs to thrive or fix something that is out of balance. Unfortunately, since supplements are not regulated by the FDA, there is a lot of snake oil out there. In general, I would recommend choosing supplement ingredients that are backed by studies and research (Pub Med is a great resource). And buy your supplements from a reputable company that uses high quality ingredients and avoids unnecessary fillers.
It’s hard for the average person to know if a company is reputable, and I’m not saying I have all the answers. But I will tell you that I’ve been taking supplements since I was a kid (my mom has always been very much into alternative medicine), one of my first jobs was at an independent health food store that was big on training its employees, and while other teenagers were out at the mall, I was reading every herbal supplement book I could find and growing a medicinal herb garden in my backyard. That garden didn’t last very long because I have no green thumb, but I’m happy to let other people grow the herbs and I just buy them! Ever since, I have made learning about health my number one hobby. I’ve always loved supplements and health treatments just as much as I love beauty products and spa treatments.
I’m also highly skeptical and will never recommend products that I believe are low quality, don’t work, or could be harmful, like “skinny teas” (yes diuretics and laxatives work but they don’t make you “skinny” and they can be harmful), low-quality hair gummy vitamins (it infuriates me to see really pricy supplements with really low-quality ingredients), and other crap from mega marketing machines. Please don’t buy something just because a busty Instagram girl or a Kardashian told you they love them. They are being paid a lot of money to say that and taking the supplement will not make you look like them. I’m currently not a fan of homeopathic remedies, flower essences, and other things in that realm. I could very well change my mind on that in the future, but so far, I’ve never seen any effects from them. (If you’ve seen results from these, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.)
I’m also VERY sensitive – more sensitive than anyone I know. Every time I go to a new doctor, dentist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, or aesthetician, they never believe me until they start treating me. Then they go, “Wow you ARE sensitive!” What that means is that when I try a supplement, MOST of the time, I usually have to start with ¼ of the recommended dose (or less) and I typically know right away if it’s doing something (good or bad). There are definitely exceptions to this rule though.
So, when I recommend a supplement on this blog, I hope you know that I put A LOT of energy into researching it, and I test it on myself (and sometimes on my family and friends if they let me!). I never write about a supplement if I think it’s low quality, ineffective or harmful. But of course, my experience is going to be different from your experience. Some things that work for me, won’t work for you, and vice versa.
I’m still working to fix my health issues (and I will continue to document that), but once I come out on top, and qualify as “normal” (whatever that means), I don’t plan on stopping my quest for supplements and healthy lifestyle changes that can improve my health ABOVE normal and help me live to a ripe old age with the best odds of having as few health complaints as possible.