The claims made by dietary supplement manufacturers are some of the biggest lies you can find in any industry’s advertising. Tricky wording is part of the deception: The bottle won’t say that it lowers blood pressure, it will say that it supports healthy blood pressure. Likewise, you can find pills to support everything from heart health, mood, energy, focus, bone health and of course, your sex life.
So why does this "support" word pop up everywhere? Because the flimsy laws regarding labels only specifically bar dietary supplements from a few words: diagnose, treat, cure and prevent are all verboten. So instead of saying that a supplement treats high blood sugar or prevents diabetes, they’ll say it helps to “maintain healthy blood sugar levels already within a normal range.” (source) That sounds reassuring, but when you read it carefully, it doesn’t actually mean anything. So if you have healthy blood sugar, this pill claims to help you stay the same.
It’s important to mention that some supplements are effective in specific uses, such as taking a specific nutrient for which someone has a diagnosed deficiency. Yet, sadly, these are the minority of cases in which people actually buy and use supplements. Most people aren’t treating a diagnosed deficiency, they are looking for a health boost or noticeable result which never happens.
A meta-analysis that reports that a particular probiotic “had a positive effect in weight loss in humans” (like this one, in which that quote appears http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2444866416000064) will generate headlines and spikes sales of that supplement like wildfire. And you bet the supplement companies will plaster it all over their bottles and posters, positioning their probiotic next to bikini clad fitness models. But if you actually read the paper and look at the data you see that the effect amounted to just fractions of a pound over 6 months. You’d find the same thing in these two reports, when researchers have found a statistically significant effect of probiotics on weight loss, it is a pound at most http://www.fasebj.org/content/31/1_Supplement/965.38.short and http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0882401015302060) over several months.
And what they won’t show you are all of the studies or meta analyses that showed no significant effect like these:
Or studies that concluded that probiotics can cause weight and fat GAIN, like these:
For Americans, the National Institutes of Health sums it up beautifully: “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not determine whether dietary supplements are effective before they are marketed.” https://ods.od.nih.gov/HealthInformation/DS_WhatYouNeedToKnow.aspx
Side effects are common from taking dietary supplements, even when taken as directed by the label. Most frequently, they aren’t dangerous and are merely uncomfortable, things like stomachaches or cramps, dizziness, constipation, headaches, unpleasant breath (like fish burps), tingling, flushing or lightheadedness. If you take more than is recommended, the risk of these discomforts increases. It’s also worth remembering that the food you eat may also provide some of the same compounds in the supplement, and total may be higher than the safe limit even if the supplement wasn’t. For example, your diet plus your supplement can lead to an excess of Vitamin A, giving you chronic headaches and weakening your bones. Eating iron rich food plus taking a multivitamin with iron could overload you on this mineral, causing nausea and vomiting, plus harm to your liver. https://ods.od.nih.gov/HealthInformation/DS_WhatYouNeedToKnow.aspx
The risks of dietary supplements also include that they can deactivate or interact with a medication you’re taking in numerous ways. Birth control pills, cancer chemotherapy, blood thinners, blood pressure medications, and antidepressants can all be rendered less effective by pairing with the wrong supplements.
As scary as it sounds, there’s also a fair chance that your dietary supplement doesn’t contain what it says it does, or that it contains substances that aren’t declared on the label. I’ve read many reports of supplements which were labeled as containing only all-natural herbs actually being found to contain prescription medicines such as statins or Viagra. Muscle building supplements, sexual performance enhancers and so-called testosterone boosters are notorious for having undeclared steroids in them.
Any measure of energy that goes into purchasing or forming the habit of taking a supplement is energy that would be better spent on your eating behaviors. One of our roles as professional nutrition coaches is to focus every client’s mental and physical effort into avenues which will give them the biggest payoff. When a trainer, nutritionist or other coach tells you to put your effort and dollars into supplementation before they have examined and optimized your eating patterns - take it as a signal that they do not mind frittering away your money and time or that they don’t have enough expertise to know what gives the best results over the long run.
If you’ve tried traditional diet and exercise programs only to have them fail, it makes to want to do something different, but don’t let that steer you down the row of pills in the drugstore. You can do better. We’re dedicated to empowering people with what actually works in the real world, forever. It’s not following a limited diet or taking supplements, it’s new skills. So think about the skills you’d like to pick up, rather than a bottle of empty promises.
Want to know what skills WILL make a difference in your body, permanently? Here they are. Most people are already good at some of them, but have plenty which they KNOW they need some improvement on to see results. And getting better at those skills is like anything else you want to get better at, you break it down to a level that fits where you are at NOW, and practice. If you need a hand, coaching offers the added direction and accountability to get you maximum results for your effort.