At the end of 2014, the U.S. sports supplement industry was valued at a whopping $5.9 billion, more than half of the global market. Read any sports magazine and the amount of advertising for supplemental products is overwhelming. The supplement industry is hard at work promoting powders, pills and shakes that will make you bigger, faster, leaner, stronger with their “proven effective” and “safe” product and banking off of it. Sports are supposed to be competitive, and athletes are always looking to perform their best. This is what supplement companies rely on when marketing their product. It is their job to reel you in, and make you believe you NEED their product.
From the perspective of a registered dietitian, you should always strive to get your nutrition first and foremost through the food that you eat. When you end up short consistently in your diet, then it may be time to discuss with your physician and registered dietitian (not your fitness trainer or fitness-enthusiast friend) if you should use a supplement. A supplement is supposed to do just that, supplement your diet, not replace the food that you should be eating.
Before handing over your hard earned money, read up on what you need to know before choosing to use a supplement.
Part One: The Law
A dietary supplement may seem like a harmless health booster, and while some have proven benefits, most do not.
What counts as a dietary supplement?
- vitamins and minerals
- amino acids
- animal extracts
The marketing claims that are made are often based on theory instead of actual proven scientific research. Some of those theories are simply bizarre.
Supplements can come in forms of capsules (pills), powders or liquid. While they may seem like drugs and even have drug-like effects, but they are very different. There is no “pre-market approval” process for a dietary supplement. No one checks to make sure that it is legit and safe. Any supplement you purchase from a Walgreens, supermarket, GNC is not required to prove that it works and that it’s safe. Is it just me, or is this deeply concerning?
The supplement company is fully responsible for ensuring its safety. Some companies do a great job, these are the companies whose primary goal is to produce the best products that will improve the health of their consumers in full compliance of the law. Other companies may try really hard but:
- They don’t understand the laws and may manufacture or label products incorrectly, or make illegal advertising claims.
- They make manufacturing errors that cause the wrong ingredient and/or the wrong dosage to be applied.
- They purchase adulterated ingredients unknowingly and may or may not include illegal ingredients. Plus, they don’t have the expertise to identify this.
At the other end of the extreme, there are companies that knowingly add illegal ingredients and it may take a long time before the FDA investigates their harmful product.
Source: United States Anti-Doping Agency; Federal Trade Commission
Next blog post in the series? What are “red flags” to recognize on supplements that can indicate it may pose a risk? Stay tuned.