Supplements: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I’ve written here multiple times about medical snake oil.

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Green coffee extract (debunked), garcinia cambogia, forskolin, caralluma, you name it: It’s all smoke and mirrors… but that doesn’t stop Dr. Oz and others from making a fortune promoting it. What’s next, portland cement?

On that note, have a look at the two following screen captures. The first, hawking Garcinia Cambogia, I published on 23 December 2013, about a year ago. The second, shilling for Forskolin, came from a spam link that showed up in my email yesterday. The third was added as an edit on August 21, 2015.

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Edit: The last one, above, was harvested from a spam email received on 8/21/2015, two years after the first one above. The affiliate marketers just recycle the same old text with another “new miracle.” Do you really trust yourself to do business with people like this?

If you look at the body text of all three samples, you’ll see it’s essentially identical copy. What you see here is a good example of the dark side of affiliate marketing, which you can read about in detail over at The Atlantic. One salient quote:

The downside to affiliate marketing is its astonishing rate of fraud. Because affiliates put up their own money to pay for ads pushing these products, they have a strong incentive to dupe consumers, so they can recoup their investment. If you’ve ever clicked an ad or a “sponsored link” about, say, a spectacularly effective new weight-loss scheme, which then leads you to a fake news article (or “farticle,” in the industry parlance) filled with sketchy scientific findings and constant entreaties to buy a product “risk free,” then condolences are in order: you’ve likely stumbled into some affiliate’s trap. “Affiliates are the most creative bunch of people you’re ever going to find, because you’ve got 5,000 people promoting the same product, and they’re all trying to get an edge,” Jim Lillig, an Illinois-based affiliate-marketing strategist, told me. “So of course you’re going to have people pushing the envelope. Some will do anything and everything to promote a product they think they can make money with.”

What brought this on today is that while waiting for “Mockingjay, Part 1” to begin at our local theater in Payson, Utah, I saw an advertisement for a product called Q96. This has been and is being marketed in Canada and now the US as a natural product that allows people with severe mental disorders to stop taking their meds – and that’s just wrong. A little research turned up a comprehensive article at Salt Lake City Weekly, which is not terribly complimentary about Utah or Mormons when it comes to the MLM and nutritional supplement industry, but which tells the story of Q96 in a straightforward and reasonable way.

Now I need to clarify something: I’m not anti-vitamin or anti-natural-remedy by nature. Look at aspirin; if it weren’t for the efficacy of willow bark in reducing fevers, people might never have done further research to isolate the active ingredient. I strongly believe that many herbs, roots, and natural substances have beneficial properties, some which have not been discovered yet. But when I take something, I want there to be science behind it, or at least a proven track record among users for a given benefit.

There’s a really good article at Consumer Reports which lists 12 ingredients we would probably be better off not messing with, as well as a few old standbys that are most likely beneficial. For a quick reference, the ones to avoid are:

Aconite, Bitter Orange, Chaparral, Colloidal Silver, Coltsfoot, Comfrey, Country Mallow, Germanium, Greater Celandine, Kava, Lobelia, and Yohimbe.

Beneficial supplements are:

Cranberry, Fish Oil, Glucosamine, Lactae, Lactobacillus, Psyllium, Pygeum, SAMe, St. John’s Wort, and Vitamin D.

Further information and greater details can be found at the CR article.

My wife grows comfrey to make tea out of; she’s an herbalist and swears by it. For now, I’ll be chary about using it until there is more science on the subject. Tragically, herbs cannot be patented, and so there is no incentive for science to do a lot of research on natural substances like this unless someone funds the study.

I’ve written previously about my own ideas about how to proceed with weight release at the end of this article about the Açaí Berry: low-glycemic eating, exercise, and high quality vitamins and minerals. There are not many companies out there that offer really good supplements that meet all the requirements of completeness, availability, purity, potency, and safety – only about five that I know of – but there is certainly a lot of junk out there that will do you just about as much good as eating pebbles.

Do your research, and watch out for those who would love to separate you from your money and give nothing, or even harm your health, in the process.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

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5 responses to “Supplements: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

  1. The other thing I worry about with supplements is “side” effects and whether it’s safe to take with my other medications. Those are things it can take decades to find out.

  2. Pingback: The Next “Miracle Weight Loss Herb” – Caralluma Fimbriata | Playing in the World Game

  3. Pingback: Rachael has now dropped sixteen dress sizes. | Playing in the World Game

  4. Pingback: Selling Snake Oil with Name-Dropping. | Playing in the World Game

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