Supplement sanctuary, supposedly

With dietary supplements exhibiting all kinds of bold claims, it is crucial to do your research and keep track of exactly what you are putting into your body. (Courtesy of Bhabna Banerjee, Creative Director)

There’s no doubt about it—the 21st century is an amazing time to be alive. Sure, it has its hiccups and complications (the entire 2020 year so far), but never has there been as much comfort, convenience, and access to information as there is now. 

Industries are developing so rapidly that some of the products we see these days feel like they are straight out of a movie. We have self-driving cars, apps that deliver food to our houses in minutes, and over-the-counter supplements that can completely change our bodies in just a few months…wait, does that last part sound right?

Well, it shouldn’t—the fact is, it couldn’t be further from the truth. The supplement industry has gained infamy in recent years for being unreliable and not exactly delivering on the promises advertised. It’s clear, however, that this lack of trust is not stopping consumers from purchasing products, as the global supplement market size was estimated to be around USD $123 billion in 2019. 

So, if these products do not perform as advertised, how are they able to make it to market? 

   A Canadian study revealed that of 44 supplements tested, one in three did not even contain the ingredients advertised, and also contained filler additives which were unlisted.

In the U.S., the biggest reason is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate supplements. They don’t fall under the category of ‘drugs’ and there are simply too many over-the-counter supplements for the FDA to keep track of, allowing for thousands of products to hit shelves on the basis of what is essentially an ‘honour code.’ This honour code, however, leaves a lot to be desired. The current FDA rules state that supplement companies must have evidence that their products work, but are not required to show anyone – not very effective, to say the least. 

Canada also has its own shortcomings. Though Health Canada claims to ensure supplements are “safe, effective and of high quality,” there is research to show otherwise. 

When it came specifically to herbal supplements, three different studies estimated that product mislabeling occurred 14 to 33 per cent of the time. These studies were published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, Science Direct, and PubMed Central.

A Canadian study published in 2013 revealed that of 44 supplements tested, one in three did not even contain the ingredients advertised, and also contained filler additives which were unlisted. Even multivitamins, the most common supplement in the world, lack strong and consistent evidence that they actually improve one’s health in any facet. 

Additionally, CBC’s Marketplace, Canada’s only investigative consumer program, revealed in 2015 that Health Canada approved 90 per cent of all supplement applications, with Health Canada acknowledging they only require “weak evidence” for general health claims made. Approval can be granted in as little as 10 days, and the investigation further showed that regulation inspectors received numerous complaints about the poor quality of some products. 

    We as human beings crave shortcuts, and this mindset is exactly what leaves us vulnerable to gimmicky advertising from supplement companies.

This is not to say that all supplements are bad. There are plenty that are proven to have huge benefits for us, such as vitamin D, fish oil, and ashwagandha. However, details do matter. Research the company that is selling them. Consult with your doctor. Talk to people who have used what you’re planning to buy and see how their experience was. 

These are all steps that will allow you to supplement the right way. Because on the path to a healthier life, falsely advertised supplements will only stray you further from the ultimate truth. 

And that truth is this: there simply is no magic pill. We as human beings crave shortcuts, and this mindset is exactly what leaves us vulnerable to gimmicky advertising from supplement companies. The best ‘supplements’ in your life won’t cost you a dime, but will require some effort and consistency on your part. 

So, the next time you get excited about a bottle on the shelf screaming out to you that it can increase cognitive function, expedite weight loss, or boost testosterone – pause for a second and think. 

Remember the fact that there is no product in this world comparable to a good night’s sleep, hard work in the gym, a healthy work-life balance, staying hydrated, getting fresh air, maintaining a diet plan suited for your body, and a healthy mental outlook on life.

About the Author

By Shivam Sachdeva

Health Editor

health@excal.on.ca

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