Monday, December 31, 2012

Are Nutritional Supplements Helpful, or Placebo?

It's a big question... are nutritional supplements for real, or just big placebo? 

Seems every person who sell the supplement swear by them, often with fanciful words such as "fountain of youth".  Here's one example:

Yes, this guy's talking about a nutritional supplement... something that had to do with hydrolyzed collagen and "custom matrix of special fruits rich in anti-oxidants". 

The reality? Contains tiny amounts of super-fruits in a custom blend of juices. Here's the ingredient list off one of their own sales sites:

Note that 60 ml serving (which is like 2 sips), but there is NO EXPLANATION HOW MUCH OF EACH juice. Which may be a violation of Federal Supplement Labeling laws.  However,  what you need to know is the labeling law requires you to list the stuff by "decreasing weight". In other words, the most plentiful ingredients in this product are apple juice, grape juice, and strawberry juice

Those you can find cheaply in any supermarket. 

So how much are you pay for all the other stuff? And how much are you getting? No idea. 

Ever heard of the term "pixie-dusting"? 

Pixie dusting is a method of developing a product with as many ingredients as possible in it in order for the label to be more marketable. Basically, they take a small amount of every ingredient relevant to the product (and many that aren’t) and pack it all into a pill or scoop. Then they list all of these ingredients on their label in their proprietary blend so it looks like they have a superior product. Their goal is to take every ingredient that they can dig up and have it on the label as a competitive advantage over the other brands. These all-in-one products are often called “kitchen sink formulas” because they have everything in there but the kitchen sink. This way when a consumer is looking to see if their product contains a specific ingredient, they see it there.
Sourced from

Also note that "all the fruits are kosher". 

The label also has a logo of their "special blend collagen", and "we donate proceeds to non-profit orgs" and other sales pitch stuff. (not shown, but visible on the linked PDF)

The facts are clear: you are paying an extra ordinary high price for a sip of what is mostly common fruit juices. 

Here, Ben Goldacre, in one of the TED talks, explain how pharma (and nutritional supplement personalities and companies) use subtle tricks to gain credibility. 

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