Friday, April 19, 2013

Bad Argument: Pixie-Dusting and "Cool Ingredient" as "evidence" of efficacy

Lingzhi or Reishi
Lingzhi or Reishi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One way the nutritional supplement industry attempt to talk up its efficacy is to claim its product(s) contain ingredients that is allegedly good for you. However, such suggestions are usually left very vague, leaving it up to you to convince yourself that taking their product will improve your health when they promised no such thing through weasel words like "support" or "enhance".

This is often now done by adding some magic ingredient derived from Eastern medicine (previously it's always some sort of Asian superfruit. We've done Noni juice, then Mangosteen Juice, then special FORMULATIONS of such...)  Some of the more recently hyped ingredients would include gandorama and cordyceps, both were exotic ingredients in "Chinese Medicine".

Gandorama Lucidem, which usually goes by its Chinese name, Lingzhi mushroom, or the Japanese name, Reishi mushroom, is indeed, a mushroom that is revered in Chinese medicine for almost magical qualities due to long stories in old Chinese literature. Modern science have slightly confirmed some of the qualities, but not that much. That doesn't stop companies from claiming their coffee or pills with Lingzhi are good for you, of course. Pharmacists believe a daily dose of Lingzhi should be 1250 to 2000 mg. So how much Lingzhi does a typical serving of whatever contains? Try 250 mg (and I had to really really dig for that number, as it's NOT advertised anywhere!)

Another one is Ophiocordyceps Sinensis, cordyceps for short, better known as "catepillar fungus". This is another exotic ingredient that is valued in Chinese medicine due to its "duality" nature of being both animal (catepillar) and plant, or both ying and yang. However, what sort of therapeutic value does it have? Plenty of somewhat confirmed effects, but not widely accepted (except in China). That doesn't stop some western companies from sticking some in coffee and sell it to you at inflated prices. And there is NO indication just how much cordyceps do you get per serving.

This brings up TWO separate problems with this sort of "super-item"...

a) Unbalanced usage -- Chinese herbal medicine is based on balance of ying and yang in one's Qi (Chi), and how to restore it by ingredients, while balancing the effects with yet more mundane items, such as dates. Thus, sticking merely ONE item with nothing else to supplement it that's NOT tailored to the "patient", then mix it with coffee or tea or whatever, is just lame and wrong. It's like picking one guy in a team and thinking if you have him the game's all but won. It doesn't work that way. (Though to be honest, Chinese tea companies do this too, but to a much lesser extent, and at much cheaper prices)

b) Pixie-dusting -- this describes the phenomenon of adding a tiny little bit of the ingredient to the product, just to be able to list it on the ingredient list, but too little to have any actual effect. When the marketers don't list the amount of each ingredient, how would you know if you're getting "enough" to have the right effect?

Combine both, and you have the makings of "woo", i.e. stuff that sounds great, but nothing useful or effective.

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