How to Choose Nutritional Products and Supplements
1. Understanding need and purpose. In order to choose what kind of supplement to take, you need to understand its intended use and the specific benefits provided. Claims to give you healthy skin, eyes, heart, joints, etc. are too vague? What do these claims really mean? Other claims are too good to be true. Curing cancer or arthritis? Really? Most of us won’t fall for these. But what about more energy, less depression, pain relief, better athletic performance, less anxiety, more focus and concentration, better sleep, better sexual experiences, prevention or relief of cold symptoms, and the like? These claims are rampant, but the scientific evidence to support them is virtually absent.
2. How do you know a product will live up to its claims? The first question you should ask is what’s the scientific evidence? Some actor, sports star, or supermodel coming on TV to say it works for them is NOT evidence. An interview with some person off the street, made up to look like an average Joe, with an interesting story is NOT scientific evidence. Companies do this because they know it sells product, and it’s the best they can do since they have no scientific evidence.
To spend the money and make the commitment to taking something every day, we must insist on top-notch scientific evidence. OK, what is scientific evidence? The easiest way to explain it is to give a simple example. Say you want to prove a supplement prevents colds and flu. Give 50 people the supplement, and another 50 people a sugar pill (placebo) during cold and flu season. Neither the subjects nor the researchers know until after the study who got which pill, so there’s no bias. If the people taking the supplement got less cold and flu, then, and only then, can we say that it works to prevent cold and flu.
The placebo part is absolutely necessary, since normal people, being the way we are, may start, when beginning to take a pill, doing other things to prevent colds, such as washing our hands more often. This is fine, but without placebo, we don’t know if it’s the hand washing or the supplement that’s preventing colds. So if the supplement still group still gets fewer colds, even if everyone was washing their hands more, we can say the supplement works! Easy, huh?
Yet many companies will try to claim cold and flu prevention without doing such testing. They’ll say their product will kill viruses in a test tube or boost the immune system in a test tube. They’ll say it works in mice, or in monkeys. This type of research is a good basis on which to start human trials, but certainly not a substitute! Think about this: we can cure just about every case of cancer test tubes and in animal experiments. We all know that does not translate into human cancer, the second biggest killer on earth. So don’t accept test tube and animal work when we don’t know if it will work in humans.
Companies will say their product works for Aunt Jane, or that it’s approved by some supermodel. Don’t accept this nonsense! For you and your family, you want to see good human clinical trials, and accept nothing less! Otherwise, you’re wasting your time money. Here, we’ve shown you how to tell the difference between real science and hype, but you can be assured that any product with the NSRI seal of approval is all about real science, without the hype.
3. What about quality control?
Sound manufacturing and agricultural practices, and testing of ingredients are essential to ensure a safe and effective product. It is sometimes difficult for consumers to be sure about quality. Here’s how you can protect yourself. Look at the label. Know what the active ingredients of a supplement are, and what they’re supposed to do.
Know how much active ingredient should be in the supplement to get benefits. Here’s a good example. In 2007 there was a huge hype about resveratrol lengthening the lifespan of mice. This substance has been found in wine, and has been touted as the reason why wine is good for you. First, wine has a lot of other healthy ingredients. Second, the amount of resveratrol that was given to mice was the equivalent of drinking about 20 gallons of wine per day. Can resveratrol really be the main reason wine is good for you, and should you take a supplement that is the equivalent of drinking 20 gallons of wine per day?
The best way to be sure of getting the benefit you seek is to be familiar with clinical trials and which product was actually used in the clinical trials to give the benefit. That way you’ll be sure of getting the benefit and also of being aware of any side effects that were reported in the trial. If you find a product that has a different amount, or different source of ingredient than was used in the actual clinical trial, you can’t really be sure you’re getting the benefit.
If a product has the NSRI seal of approval, you can be sure it meets manufacturing and agricultural standards, and has the purity and quantity of active ingredients claimed on the label.