In “Part I: Prevalence of dietary and supplement use” I outlined the growing national interest in personal use of supplements and health products. The supplement industry has grown from a $20 billion dollar industry in 2004 to a staggering $120 billion in 2016. In 2026 it is estimated to more than double to a $278 billion dollars!
The topic of dietary and herbal supplement use is complex, and involves more than just being familiar with a proposed benefit of a certain product. It’s even more involved than looking for a good price online after reading the reviews about it on Amazon. I may sound like a skeptic after you read this 2 part article, but I’m actually an advocate of supplement use when it’s used responsibly AND in the context of fundamental lifestyle choices and action. As promised, a brief discussion on important aspects of dietary supplement use includes the following:
Quality Assurance: This is such a fundamental factor that asks “Are you getting what you paid for?” Not so easy to answer, because the manufacturer could provide exactly or better than what’s on the label, but the delivery and storage process may be out of their control. Think of hot warehouses, delivery trucks, and shelf life, climate, and so on. Supplements that are delivered to the vendor directly, or to your provider’s facility directly from the manufacturer or distribution centers are likely to utilize a climate controlled and storage/delivery protocol that can ensure quality by the time it arrives at the designated facility. You might find it cheaper online, but has your product been exposed or degraded?
Potency: Every person’s ability to metabolize food, and therefore, supplements and medicine is highly individualized, though generally predictable. Too much of anything can cause the body to reject it or become toxic, stressing internal mechanisms and organ function. Too little and you don’t have a desired outcome. Labels are meant to provide an estimated dosage that helps the greatest amount of people across the a certain spectrum such as age or body weight. It does not consider medical history, lifestyle, stress patterns, or use of other foods or supplements that may affect the consumption of their product.
Validity of research: One aspect of research design is the subject and subject pool. Consider this… you are human, and the research performed may have been on animals. Even if research was done on humans, they are still not YOU! They have a different medical history, lifestyle, and hundreds of other variables that make them different from you. Another consideration regarding study outcomes, whether it supports a hypothesis or not, is that the study design and the parameters surrounding the research is highly specific, contained, and therefore mostly controlled. How much of our lives are contained, controlled, and monitored on a regular basis?
Vendor reputation: Sometimes the vendor gets judged because they want to make a profit. I wouldn’t hold that against them actually. There are many vendors who (in good exchange) desire profitability while delivering honesty, reputability, and consistency at the same time. Has a vendor or producer been in the business for 5, 10, or 20 years? It is reasonable to think that vendors having been in the business for a “long” time are equally concerned for their reputation and integrity in manufacturing their product. Not to say that new companies couldn’t offer this integrity, but they don’t have a history in the marketplace to prove those attributes.
Relevance: The idea that you can take a pill or dietary supplement and solve your health problem is as flawed as depending on your medications when lifestyle choices should be the solution. This is not to say that medications should be avoided, or to advocate altering your prescription without your doctor’s advice. But many people are dependent on prescription medication when life choices and
action could have been addressed earlier in life. Life choices have consequence and there is a cost to ignorance. Supplementation may give marginal gains now whereas life choices even at the present time could produce leaps in health gains. It’s vital to ask…”What makes the most change in my situation…lifestyle, food, supplements, toxic situations?” Maybe it’s all of the above.
Risk: Many herbal and dietary supplements can be taken without your physician or provider’s consultation. Many consumers do their own research and conclude that a certain product can provide a solution. Though this may be true, an experienced provider should have the responsibility to consult in the patient’s best interest in the context of that patient’s history, symptoms, and desired clinical change. An experienced provider is invaluable for assessing the risk and benefit of supplementing. The reality is that there are far too many products for any provider to grasp their ingredient list fully, though diligent research can solve this information gap. Even the way food reacts within your biological system is highly unique for each person, which is why risk vs. benefit varies from person to person.
There is an ocean of information out there, and a discerning consumer will be less distracted by the hype, less persuaded by packaging, and cautious of celebrity endorsements. Seek advice from your professional providers, and if they are unfamiliar with your product, perhaps it’s time to for them to also get current.
Dr. Adrian Pujayana has been providing drug-free solutions for health and wellness to adults, athletes, and youth since 2000 through his private practice at Family Chiropractic Center of South Pasadena, a place for strength training and nutrition based health care.