Do supplements really work?

Expert Insights From Dr. Pope

The supplement market has exploded in the United States in recent years, with one survey showing that over 77% of all adults in the US take at least one supplement. What’s spurring this growth trend in the past several years is an increased focus on health and wellness. Consumers have been looking for dietary supplements to help support their immune system, aches and pain, metabolic deficiencies, aging, and a host of other reasons. Then Covid-19 hit and the pandemic further increased the demand for supplements as consumers were looking to boost their immune systems and better support their overall health.

The question is do these supplements really help?

The short answer is it depends. It depends on a number of variables specific to the patient and to the supplement itself. Some individuals will have a deficiency in certain minerals and vitamins and supplementation is a key to help correct this. Other consumers may find that certain supplements do help with energy, stamina, sleep, etc. Some of these supplements have good supporting evidence for specific benefits, others do not. There is also the placebo affect, which means that the consumer’s belief and intervention itself is somewhat therapeutic regardless of what the therapy itself is.

Do consumers actually get what is advertised?

There are so many supplements on the market that cleverly advertise in a way that it appears that they “treat” or “cure” a variety of chronic conditions. They cannot outright make health claims without clinical trials showing efficacy for their specific product. It takes a lot of time and money to perform those trials, which most supplement manufacturers cannot afford to undertake. There may be a lot of existing evidence for a specific ingredient and a supplement may be offering that ingredient, but they cannot specifically claim that their supplement has the effect, as their formulation may be different than what was studied, or it may be the same but the FDA has no way to know without data specific to the supplement maker’s product showing that effect. Hence, the manufacturer cannot make a specific claim even though one may exist. In the end, some supplements provide exactly what they suggest through clever marketing, others may not.

Multi-level marketing: a novel way to sell supplements

Another tactic some manufacturers have used, is to incentivize a sales force to market and sell their product. They do not directly employ them, instead offering discounts and a percentage of sales. This allows the company to avoid liability for anything their sales force may claim regarding the supplement. These individuals may hold house parties or pop up events where people can come and learn more about the product. The individuals, who happen to have an incentive to get you to buy the product, can make all kinds of unsupported claims, and there is really no way for the FDA to regulate what is being said or claimed, since the company can claim they had no knowledge of what was said or they are not responsible for what individual may claim about their products. There is a reason why many credit processors will not provide services to these companies. There is large risk of less than scrupulous behavior and very little accountability.

The Proprietary Blend

Many supplements manufacturers will advertise a number of ingredients in their formulation, and then when you look at the list of ingredients it will have the cumulative milligrams listed but then list the ingredients underneath the total without listing the milligram dosing for each ingredient. Some supplement companies will do this as a way to maximize the cheapest ingredient while minimizing the more expensive ingredients. They can still technically advertise that all ingredients are listed but they may have sub-therapeutic doses and often just trace amounts of several ingredients.

Dose matters

Many supplement makers will provide the milligram doses for each ingredient, unlike the one mentioned above. Kudos! The problem is that often, the dose they include in the supplement is only a fraction of the dose that was shown to have any benefit. The consumer will take a given supplement thinking they are going to get a certain benefit that the supplement may have some evidence to support. The problem is the dose is too low. It would be like taking 10mg of tylenol for a headache. We all know that is too low of a dose. Most adults have to take 325-500mg for them to notice any benefit. If a consumer doesn’t get benefit from the product, it may be due to the dose being too low instead of the specific supplement not having any benefit.

What is a consumer to do?

In general, a consumer has not choice but to educate themselves and do some research on the specific supplement they are considering taking and what the purpose is? Make sure there is evidence to support taking it. Then, if the evidence is good, look at the dose required show the effect seen in the research. After that, then the consumer can look for specific products that advertise the correct ingredient and dose in a transparent manner.

How is BlueFire Supplements different?

We only include ingredients that have proven research showing benefit. Furthermore, we only use the therapeutic doses that were shown to be effective in the research. No compromises. We are transparent in our dosing and ingredients. We also try to provide the best value, in that we will combine as many proven ingredients into a supplement that we can reasonably include to maximize the benefit to the consumer for a given condition that they are hoping to benefit. We hope to earn our customers’ business through honesty, transparency, and offering quality products.