The three supplements you should never buy – Popular Science
Is there any way to know what you’re getting?
It’s extremely difficult, if not impossible from a consumer’s perspective to know for sure what’s in their products. If you’re going to buy them, definitely do research on which brands have been tested, and stick with the bigger brands. And definitely stay clear of sexual enhancement, body building, and weight loss. Those are the three categories that are adulterated the most with truly dangerous substances.
Even with vitamins, there are issues where they put overages into the vitamins or more of a vitamin than they say is on the label. They want to make sure that by the time you buy it, it has the dose it says. But they’ve had issues where that’s resulted in there being too much vitamin A, which can be toxic.
The best I can say is go to one of several websites where they’re actually testing things. The best one, in my mind, is ConsumerLab.com, which requires a subscription. You get a really good breakdown of what the research is and what it does and doesn’t show, and has products pulled off the shelf that are tested—not paid for by industry.
But it’s kind of crazy that you have to send somebody to a subscription-based website to get a true answer as to whether or not the product that they just spent 50 dollars on actually is what it says it is.
Given that you have Type 1 diabetes, have you ever been tempted by supplements?
I never really did go down that route. But I have, as an experiment for the book, gone into a supplement shop and said, “I have diabetes, what can you give me?”
They aren’t supposed to give you advice, because that’s medical advice. But they always have a whole selection of these various herbs and concoctions that are supposed to be helpful for blood sugar, which is dangerous. If a supplement product makes your blood sugar go very low or interferes with any of your medication, you could die.
Some of these things probably do have an effect on your blood sugar, so it’s scary to think that there’s no scientific evidence of what dose does what. There’s no guarantee of concentration in what you’re buying. There’s no warning about how it can interact with anything.
I lived abroad for a while, and one of the things I noticed is how less vitamin-obsessed people are overseas. Why do you think that is?
Something that we don’t recognize as consumers is how these 13 chemicals—and the way that they were marketed in the early part of the 20th century—completely revolutionized the way we think about food today.
They are miraculous because we need them to prevent diseases, but that was really taken advantage of by food marketers and the dietary supplement industry. Thy applied it to a much wider array of products—including not just pills, but also foods. I think you really start to see that in the 60s and the 70s with the natural food movement, and then when you fast forward to today you still see it in every single food trend that we have. It’s the way we think about food.
Michael Pollan (the author of Omnivore’s Dilemma) was the first person to really enunciate this in an eloquent way, but the reductionism that we use when we think about food is very remarkable and very, very, American. We don’t think, “is this bread delicious for my sandwich?” We think about how many nuts and seeds it has, and that flax seed has omega 3 fatty acids in it and omega 3 fatty acids are supposed to be healthy because they’re advertised on everything.
We basically break food down into components, and then we think about what effects those particular components are supposed to have on our health. We try to turn our meals into these nutritional math problems. And it leaves us so susceptible to things like the GOOP vitamins, or the idea that InfoWars is somehow going to be able to help our health.