It’s extremely important to be able to read supplement advertisements with a critical eye. Your health depends on it! With this article you are going to learn how to decide if a supplement is legitimate or not and what kind of questions are good to ask. First, start with common sense. Ask things like:
- Does this sound too good to be true?
- Does the add use lots of fancy terms and make big promises?
- Is it expensive?
If the answer is “yes” to any of those questions, you should be suspicious. Then, ask more questions like the following:
- What kind of research was done on the product? Was it done by a company NOT owned by the manufacturer? Was it a double blind study?
- Has more than one study been done? Did any studies show the product NOT effective?
- Was any of the research published in MAJOR peer-reviewed science journal (Journal of American Medical Association, Journal of Clinical Nutrition)
- Is this product being promoted primarily by testimonials instead of scientific research?
- Have there been any risks or side effects identified with use of the product?
- Were the studies done on animals or people?
If an advertisement references clinical studies that have been done on their product, they are trying to make it sound like hard core, irrefutable studies have been done. You need to find out. It’s important to know who PAID for the study to be done. Results are more believable when studies are paid for and conducted by people who aren’t related to the product being studied. This removes the bias. For example, if I am Gatorade and I have a new product that is supposed to help people run faster, I want to do research that actually yields this result. I am not interested in research that might say it doesn’t work. So I would do the research and studies myself. Hmmmmm….questionable. However, I could hire a company to test my product for me. That would be much less questionable. See the difference?
The design of the study contributes to the validity of the results. It’s important to point out that studies done on animals is cheaper and less complicated than using people. Usually, products have to be tested on animals before they can test on humans. The bigger the study, the more complicated, the longer, the more control, the better. These are more expensive, though, and take much more time. A random trial, or study, is preferred. This means the people in the study receiving the product were picked randomly and not pre-selected. Even better is a double blind study. A double blind study means that the people in the study do not know if they are actually being given the product being tested, as well as the people conducting the study do not know who is being given the actual product. This is the best, but much more complicated and difficult to implement.
When a product has been well tested and has nothing to “hide”, it will be published in scientific journals. Not just magazines, but highly respected journals that are peer reviewed. This is important, because a journal that is peer-reviewed means that very strict criteria have been met by the article before it can be published. It has been reviewed, or looked at, by other professionals and has been thoroughly critiqued. This means the professionals have asked questions about the design of the study and the interpretation of the results. The author(s) of the article have to defend it. Once it is satisfactorily defended, only then will the peer group recommend it for publication. This is really, really important. Journals that do this are probably not ones that you read, but that you have heard of. JAMA, or Journal of the American Medical Association, is one. JCN, or Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is another. Popular magazines do NOT do this. So, just because you read about something in a muscle or health magazine doesn’t necessarily mean you should accept it as fact. It means you should look for more information to back up what you have read.
Perhaps most importantly, you need to find out if the studies that were done showed any side effects (or death!!) to use of the product. Many times studies will say that no serious side effects were experienced after 6 weeks, or 6 months. But it is extremely important to know if there were any side effects after 1 yr, 5 yrs, 10 yrs, and 20 yrs! That means they have to study it for a really long time and spend a LOT of money to do it. That’s why many of the products in the supplement industry are questionable. They have not put the time and money into showing the safety of the product over a long period of time and at variable dosages.
So, based on what you have read here, you should have a pretty good comfort level with being able to assess whether or not a supplement is worth considering. A few easy ones to start with:
- Is this too good to be true?
- Has it been independently studied? On animals or people?
- How long was it studied for ?
- What journals has it been published in?
- Side effects?
When products can show that they have been independently researched, well published, and that the studies have produced consistent results, then you can start to consider them seriously. Everybody wants a quick answer, but quick is rarely wise.