As the ex-owner of GNC stores for six years and someone forced to eat liver and bone meal as a child from a mother who read Adelle Davis (thanks, Mom), I have had a great deal of personal experience with vitamins/minerals supplements. There is so much floating around in my head that I could write a novel and put you all to sleep by the second page. At Pamela’s request (even though the only other things I have ever written are a post on bicycle tips and technical engineering reports), I am going to break it down into digestible pieces, and she will make it a series. Just please remember, I am not a doctor; be careful with your choices, use common sense and when in doubt consult with a doctor.
General thoughts about supplements and the industry — Topic #1:
I believe in the use of supplements (I use this term to include vitamins, minerals, and other health supplements) as an important part of an overall healthy lifestyle. To me the keys to good health are
2. eating right,
3. taking supplements, and
4. not smoking
I have never been very good about eating right, but I think that following 3 out of 4 has helped me keep up with Pamela at my very advanced age.
Cynics and non-believers will say that with a good diet, supplements are a waste of money, something that just passes through your body without purpose. They will tell you this while drinking a $6 grande cappuccino with zero nutritional value.
The body is an amazing system that is “smart enough” to determine what vitamins/minerals/nutrients it needs. I am quite sure that there are things lacking in my diet that that would allow my body to perform better if I consumed them as part of my food choices. To make up for this, I provide it with a full palette of nutrients to choose from through my diet plus supplements. I allow it to determine what it needs and waste the rest. With intelligent choices on my part, the cost of this strategy can be less per day than that cappuccino.
Things you need to know about supplements:
1. Product quality varies broadly by manufacturer. Be careful with bargain shopping. There is so little regulation of this industry that reading a label does not tell the whole story. Bargain products may be less absorbable. They may have impurities that are harmful and fillers that are simply a waste. Find a brand based as much as possible on personal experience, references that your trust, and truly scientific analytical support (when available) and then shop around to get the best price for that brand.
2. Be wary of extreme sales and prices that seem too good to be true. Supplements have expiration dates just like any other food or consumable item. And some products’ effectiveness degrades with time. Extreme sales are often due to suppliers dumping about-to-expire products they would otherwise have to throw away. If you buy a 6-month supply that is going to expire next week, then, depending on the product, it may not have been a good deal after all.
3. Find nutritional advice that you trust, from sources whose income is not dependent on the sale of a particular product. The nice sales person at your local chain store is not always your friend. They are often incentivized to sell certain high margin (or expiring) products by their management, and they may or may not give you good advice.
4. Watch out for bait and switch. When new products are introduced they often have ingredients in them that are NOT on the label, but that are added to the products to make them more effective. Once word gets out about the product, the formula is changed and the company milks the market for as long as it can with a worthless product. The most common example of this is with “men’s health” products. Believe it or not, it is very common practice for an unscrupulous company to blend Viagra (yes a prescription drug) into their sexual performance “herbal” supplements. Word gets out that “man,,,,, the stuff really works”, they take out the expensive Viagra, and they sell a worthless product during the ensuing product craze until the word gets out that the stuff does not actually work anymore. ** On a side note, this same practice is often what gets professional athletes in trouble because they take an exciting new muscle building product with innocent ingredients on the label that actually turns out to contain a banned substance to make it truly effective, and, UH OH, something shows up on their random testing.