The Supplement Industry
The supplement industry is big business – in fact, estimates for industry revenues range from 3.8 billion and beyond. They are projected to surpass 60 billion by 2021. According to a CNN report from 2011, half of the American population uses some kind of supplement; from multivitamins to fish oil, and even unknown “magic” powders sold on the internet. As you can see, business is booming! The first question consumers should be asking is, “are supplements safe?”
Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education act in 1994, which keeps the FDA at arms’ length from the supplement industry. Manufacturers only have to provide the FDA with “reasonable exception of safety” and absolutely no proof of efficacy. This leniency already put us off to a bad start: basically it’s completely unregulated.
Here is a quote from a study conducted after the FDA made a recall on dietary supplements in 2004: “One or more pharmaceutical adulterants was identified in 66.7% of recalled supplements still available for purchase. Supplements remained adulterated in 85% of those for sports enhancement, 67% for weight loss, and 20% for sexual enhancement. Of the subset of supplements produced by US manufacturers, 65% remained adulterated with banned ingredients.” This information comes from the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Chemicals which are used to make pharmaceuticals are commonly found in supplements without the consumer’s knowledge, some of which are also known to contain dangerous chemicals, anabolic steroids, and other toxic compounds.
Synthetic vitamins are just that, synthetic, or not natural. In nature no single nutrient is ever isolated, which should be a clear indicator that isolated supplements are not appropriate for human health. In order for an isolated vitamin to work properly, its needs other naturally derived compounds and nutrients present which will aid the body in breaking down, absorbing, and assimilating the nutrients effectively. Isolation of a vitamin renders it chemically useless, which makes it unavailable for a living cell to absorb. Remember that everything in the body, like in nature, works in synergy.
Whole Food Supplements – The Good
There are some small companies that use organic, whole food sources for their supplements, and this would be the way to go if you’re looking to add supplements to your diet and exercise regimen. Whole food supplements, made from concentrated whole foods, are extremely complex structures which consist of various enzymes, coenzymes, activators, trace elements, polyphenols, antioxidants, and a host of other undiscovered factors working together in synergy, to be broken down and assimilated into our bodies.
Nothing in nature works independently; all nutrients aid others so that our bodies can properly break down and absorb them. When shopping for supplements, always look for third-party testing by NSF, ISO, ECOCERT, AOAC, and QCS. Make sure the supplements are also non-GMO and that they have a USDA organic seal.
Real Food – The Best
Real food is always your best option, but food is not as nutritious as it once was. Soils vary by geography, climate, and ecosystem, but some soils are heavily depleted of important minerals. Whenever possible, it’s best to grow your own vegetables, or buy produce from local farms. Nature’s own multivitamins are always the best nutritional option, period. Nothing can replace grass-fed bone broth and vegetable broth; grass-fed and finished meats/organs and fats; raw, grass -fed organic dairy; organic, raw, green leafy vegetables; organic garlic; and last but not least, organic mushrooms.
Even the highest quality supplements are not intended to be substitutes for healthy eating. In fact, your body won’t optimally absorb and process the nutrients in the supplements unless your body is healthy itself. Always rely on real foods for optimal nutrient intake, but when necessary choose a whole food-based supplement to complement your diet.
Join the conversation: do you take supplements and, if so, do you always check the ingredients? Will this article make you think twice about trusting what’s on the label? When you do take supplements, what is your goal – better health and nutrition, or a diet and fitness related goal?