It seems every blogger I follow is currently promoting Examine.com’s Supplement Goals Reference Guide, even those that generally don’t promote supplements.
Credit where credit is due, Seth Orwell and the team have certainly put the work in, both in the production of their website and the book, and their efforts to promote it. My little blog is small fry in the scheme of things, but they still took the time to contact me and ask if I’d promote their book.
Personally, however, I decided to decline their offer, as I’m still with Krista over at Stumptious as to what you should do with supplements… (sorry mum), and here’s why:
1) They Will Not Improve Your Life
There are lots of claims made for various supplements, meal replacements, and performance aids – product x will reduce that, increase this, etc, etc.
Now, I could spend hours looking into the science behind all these individual claims, but frankly, I don’t really give a damn!
To me, the the only questions worth asking should be:
- Will it increase longevity?
- Will it improve quality or life/happiness?
I would possibly add, “What impact does it have on other people/the planet”, though this really feeds back into question number 2, as if it had a negative impact, I wouldn’t really be very happy about it.
To my knowledge, there are no supplements that have been shown to reliably have a positive effect on either.
On the contrary, all the big, longer term studies of vitamin and mineral supplementation at best show no effect on longevity, at worst show reductions!
As the majority of supplements are manufactured in factories, using chemical processes, in countries with poor working standards, packaged in plastic, and transported thousands of miles, you can be willing to bet there not having an overly positive effect on the rest of the planet and its inhabitants.
2) Nutrients Are Essential, Not Supplements
Whenever people jump to the defence/promotion of supplements, they invariably begin touting the importance of the nutrients contained within.
I am not contesting that vitamin D, omega 3, magnesium or any other essential nutrient is important for health, nor that a deficiency would be seriously bad news. What I am questioning is whether a supplement is either necessary, or in any way superior, to obtaining those nutrients by other means.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Luddite, and I don’t have anything against the concept of supplements: I don’t subscribe to the logical fallacy that everything natural is good, and everything man made is bad.
Perhaps one day we will get to the point where we no longer need to eat – everything you need will come in the form of a pill or shake, and we’ll never have to eat tasty, delicious, sustainable, locally produced food ever again… We can but dream.
We are still, however, a long way off that point yet,
unfortunately. For example, although fish oil capsules showed early promise, they’ve simply not lived up to expectations. Yes, omega 3 fats are essential, but eating them in isolation is no substitute for eating the entire fish.
3) Supplements Enable Sub-Optimal Choices
If you spend 90% of your time indoors, eat a nutrient deficient diet of processed junk, and fail to cope with stress resulting in poor sleep patterns, taking vitamin D supplements, vitamins, minerals and omega 3, and sleep aids, will no doubt make you feel better, and may possibly improve your life.
Is this really the best option, however? Or are they just enabling you to continue making poor lifestyle decisions?
Personally, I’d rather ensure I spend enough time outdoors to produce optimal levels of vitamin D, as spending time outdoors, particularly in nature, has many other additional benefits on top of simply preventing cancer and rickets.
I’d rather eat a varied and nutritious whole food diet than pop pills – not only are real foods consistently shown to be greater than the sum of their parts, they taste great, and can be produced locally and sustainably.
I’d rather sleep like a baby, because I’m happy and content with life, not because I’ve had to knock myself out with some dubious concoction because my head is swirling with fears and worries.
4) Supplements: They don’t do exactly what they say on the tin, and may not even contain what they say on the tin!
So, the claims for supplements are at best over-blown and over-hyped, and invariably any benefit claimed can be obtained in a cheaper, more sustainable, more complete, tastier package in the form of real food or time in the fresh air.
But creatine is harmless, you might say, and I don’t really care about the conditions of the factory workers, where the plastic tub might end up once I’ve thrown it away, or the chemicals and fossil fuels used in its production, and it might, possibly, if I’m lucky, help me do the occasional extra rep, which in turn might help me build muscle that little bit faster, which will make me really really happy and fulfilled in life.
Well go for it my friend, but before you do, ask yourself, can you be certain it’s actually creatine in that tub?
The supplement industry is notoriously unregulated, and there have been numerous cases of widely available sports supplements being found to contain illegal and often dangerous chemicals not listed on the label (though I suppose on the bright side at least some of these might actually work).
A new report from Canada which tested 44 different “herbal products”, found less than half to actually contain any trace of the herb it was claiming to be made from on the label.
Worse yet, many use unlabelled fillers such as wheat and soy which can cause reactions, unlabelled herbs and chemicals which can have severe side effects, and even heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic!
(NB – In the interests of objectivity, and as someone is sure to point it out, it should be noted that even the whole foods industry is not exempt from unscrupulous individuals making false claims on labels. There have been numerous cases of cheap vegetable oils being passed of as extra virgin olive oil, battery farm eggs as free range eggs, pesticide laden fruit and veg as organic. This is much rarer however, easier to spot, and you don’t really have the option of not eating anything at all just in case it’s not really what it purports to be, so there’s little point in fretting over it).
One Possible Caveat
The one possible caveat to my anti-supplement stance could be for dark skinned people living at northern latitudes working long hours indoors.
I still wouldn’t recommend indiscriminate guzzling of vitamin D tablets however.
My first recourse would be to get as much sun exposure as possible, coupled with plenty of vitamin D rich foods such as free range pork products, oily fish, grass fed butter and so on.
If despite this, you still think or feel you may be deficient in vitamin D, get your levels tested.
If your levels do prove to be low, then in this case temporary vitamin D supplementation would probably be wise, while you read the 4 Hour Work Week and plan your escape to somewhere nearer the equator…