For the past six months I’ve been researching supplements extensively. You see, I am in the process of starting a supplement company. My goal is to only offer supplements that are proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to provide immense benefits for the customers who purchase them. During my research, I stumbled across a guy named Sol Orwell. He has created the first non-biased guide on the subject of supplements. I’m actually using all of the findings in his guide to decide what supplements I want to offer through my company.
Preview: He isn’t a fan of multi-vitamins, fat burning supplements, glutamine, and many other high-selling popular products. At the end, he even reveals what he takes and has his parents take as part of their supplement program.
Question 1: The first thing I did when I read your guide was look up two mega-selling supplements recommended by Dr. Oz. Your research found them to be a waste of money. Why do you think he recommends this stuff?
I recently posted on Facebook that people should stick to their domain of knowledge – the area they live and breathe. For Dr. Oz, that means cardiothoracic work.
The problem is that nutrition and supplementation has nothing to do with his domain of knowledge. Couple that with the media’s drive for sensationalism (the more attention the better), and you get Dr. Oz’s whacky recommendations. It’s in his interest to always have something shiny and new to recommend, regardless of any solid evidence.
I’ll use an example to show how removed from science he is: Dr. Oz has a page on how artificial sweeteners cause cancer. That page links to one study as proof. But if you click on that study and read the actual conclusion:
“In conclusion, therefore, this study provides no evidence that saccharin or other sweeteners (mainly aspartame) increase the risk of cancer at several common sites in humans.”
Yeah. If he can’t even read the studies he cites as his proof, it’s simply not worth bothering with him.
Question 2: I’m taking a stack of Amino acids at night and an hour before working out. It is suppose to boost HGH. I haven’t noticed a difference and consequently, your research proves that these supplements have negligible effects. How can supplement companies get away with exaggerating the effectiveness of a product?
Because concise language (as used in scientific research) does not equate to our every day usage.
An example makes this clear: If I make $100.00 per hour, and I get a raise of 10 cents/hour, I have indeed, technically, gotten a raise. But is the raise actually useful? Nope.
And that’s what’s going on here. Do these products boost HGH levels? Sure. Do they actually boost them in a meaningful way? Nope!
So technically they aren’t lying to you, but they aren’t giving you the full story either.
The other way supplement companies can make such egregious claims is by not telling you what the actual study was. For example, glutamine is a highly recommended muscle builder. In petri-dishes, the more glutamine you can pack into a muscle cell, the more it grows! Sound awesome right? In the real world (aka our bodies), the small intestines and liver horde the glutamine for themselves, and very little actually gets to the muscle cells.
So the marketing talks about how the more glutamine your muscle cells the more they grow, without ever actually mentioning that unless you are injecting it directly, that will never happen!
Question 3: What is a little known supplement that you have found to be effective for fat loss? For building muscle?
Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but just like our previous HGH example, you can find a ton of supplements that make a small difference, but no supplement that legitimately burns fat loss.
For building muscle, creatine is the one proven supplement – it’s safe, it’s cheap, and it works. I even make my own mom take it!
Otherwise, honestly, a good workout program, nutrition, and sleep are critical. It’s amazing how people will go out, get drunk, get 4 hours of crappy sleep, and then come to us asking for a supplement to help them. Get those three things in place first!
Question 4: You have an interesting opinion about multivitamins. Do you mind sharing that?
Multivitamins have two major problems:
1. They tend to underdose stuff you actually need, and they overdose on stuff you are getting enough of already. This is marketing – it sounds impressive to have 10000% of the daily RDA of vitamin C. Does it matter? Nope! Is vitamin C hard to get? Nope!
2. There is also physical constraints. A pill can only be so large, and it can only hold so much of a supplement. Think about it this way – you can buy vitamins A B C D etc as separate pills. And now they are compressing all of those individual pills into one? No way you can do that without underdosing.
We do believe that supplements work, but for specific health goals. For example, if you are diabetic, berberine is amazing – it helps lower blood sugar without ever making you hypoglycemic. Peppermint oil can help with IBS. Bacopa can help with your memory. Dozens of supplements have notable effects in specific situations.
Supplementation should be targeted, not done with a one-size-fits-all approach. That is the way to optimal supplementation (and also not wasting your money!)
Question 5: What supplements do you see a lot of people wasting money on?
Alas, the most popular ones it seems.
Tribulus terrestris – the #1 testosterone booster.
Here’s the thing – when your testosterone goes up, your libido tends to go up. Unfortunately, the inverse is not true – you can have an increase in libido without an increase in testosterone.
And that’s what trib is. It’s actually a virility agent – it helps boost your libido. But it has been repeatedly found to have no effect on testosterone levels.
Glutamine – the most popular amino acid.
As I covered before, glutamine, if you can get it into your muscle cells, helps your muscles grow. But if you consume it does it actually get to those muscle cells? Nope – your small intestines end up hoarding it for itself.
The only time glutamine really helps is if you have severe burns. So severe that you’re in the hospital. Otherwise, don’t bother.
Glucosamine – the most popular joint-pain reliever.
Every time someone says their joints ache, someone will say that glucosamine works.
There is literally no evidence that glucosamine works. Even more damning is that only the sulfate version ever seems to “work,” which leads to the hypothesis that people without enough sulfur in their diet may be getting joint-related pain.
CLA – a fat that is supposed to help burn fat.
While I mentioned how glutamine is a great example on the differences between petri-dish studies and actual human studies, CLA is a great example on the differences between mice and humans – it works potently in rats and mice, but it fails in humans (in fact in a few studies it caused people to gain fat!)
Our approach to supplementation is simple – figure out what health goals you have, and then see which supplements help (and which don’t). The one-size-fits-all approach is not the way to go.
Question 6: Last question. What supplements do you take?
I take (and make my parents and my significant other take):
- Vitamin D (we live in Toronto, which means a lot of rain/snow, and not a lot of direct sun exposure)
- Vitamin K (vitamin K in high doses has been proven to help with artery and bone health)
- Creatine (makes you stronger, and even has neurological benefits)
Those three are cheap, safe, and proven to work.
I personally do not take fish oil because I love to eat smoked salmon. My mom doesn’t, so I have her take fish oil.
When I’m stressed, I do take rhodiola rosea (it’s an adaptogen, so it helps de-stress). This is an example of the targeted supplementation I was talking earlier.
That’s it for me. I also make my parents take berberine and spirulina, as both are excellent general health agents for people who are middle-aged (again, targeted supplementation).
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