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The Complex Case of Dietary Supplements and What Are They in Reality

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With the recent boom in the health industry, dietary supplements have become increasingly common. Whey protein supplements, casein protein, vitamin A, C, D, pre-workout supplements, post-workout supplements, late night protein supplements, creatine, branched chain amino acids, and the list is endless. There is a plethora of products in the market, with very attractive offers selling food supplements to consumers, and possibly misleading them into believing false facts and rumors. An average consumer is bombarded with countless articles, options, advices from gym trainers, and sports stars supporting a ‘dream supplement pill’, which makes it impossible for a consumer to not buy into these baseless arguments. There is a lot of mistruth surrounding dietary supplements for increasing athletic performance. There are a few bizarre claims like whey protein supplements must be taken within thirty minutes of concluding a gym workout for optimum benefits. There are other products in the market that claim to promote burning fat in the body, while keeping muscle mass constant. Reading about such gimmicks by the food supplement industry has made me very curious to investigate the truth behind supplements, and how effective they are. What is even more important to know is, whether they are even good as they are claimed to be? Does an average healthy person eating a balanced diet really need dietary supplements at all? The only way to answer these questions is to look into research papers that have conducted double blind randomized trials. This would eliminate any kind of bias, placebo effects, and would enable us to find the real truth behind dietary supplements. What follows is an analysis of the efficacy of food supplements. I start off by discussing about the studies that favor food supplements, and this is the general consensus in the market and the industry that food supplements are required and good. I later move on to argue about studies that dismiss the efficacy of food supplements altogether. Following that, I intend to talk about how most of these food supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and could possibly contain dangerous and life threatening substances. I believe no one really talks about these studies. Talking about the negative studies will help me draw a comparison between the positives and negatives of this disputed topic, and will help my final goal of showing that food supplements are not the “holy grail” for improving your body and performance.

Most of the studies that I would be investigating are randomized double blind controlled trials. A randomized control trial is often considered a gold standard in clinical clinical trials. A blinded study is one in which the information about the experiment is masked from the subjects of the study. This reduces bias and rules out placebo effects on the participants. A double blind study is one in which both the tester and the subject are blinded. It is a well known fact that a randomized double blind study gives credible results, and will help answering most of the untruths about the food supplement industry.

Across most of the studies that I will be investigating, I have found that the subjects

of study are fairly diverse in terms of age, nationalities, ethnicities, and BMI (body mass index). BMI is defined as the weight of an individual in kg divided by the square of their height in meters. Majority of the subjects were between the ages of 18 and 55, with differing BMIs. Due to the diverse range of participants in these studies, it is safe to assume that we have ruled out any bias related to age, gender, ethnicity and other related issues.

A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that a high whey protein and vitamin D enriched supplement did aid in preserving muscle mass in obese older adults during a resistance training program. (Verreijen 286). The subjects of this study were obese Dutch men and women over the age of 55. Obesity is defined as a BMI of over 0.30 and a waist circumference of 0.88 cm in women or 0.102 cm in men. The subjects were put into a 13 week randomized controlled double blind study and divided into 2 groups. One of the groups consumed a high whey protein, vitamin D enhanced food supplement while the other group was given a substance that was meant to serve as a mockup of the food supplements that group one was taking. All subjects were asked to strictly follow food guidelines laid down by the experiment, and a list of possible food items to be consumed was handed out to everyone. Each of them was required to comply by the rules and maintain a very strict diet. Furthermore, all the subjects were asked to train under the supervision of a qualified health instructor for a period of 13 weeks. Starting with 10 minutes of warm up exercises and moving on to 20 repetitions of 10 exercises each, which included various body parts, each training session would last for an hour and would be performed thrice a week. All parameters were carefully measured and doubly verified by experts. At the end of the study, it was found that appendicular muscle mass was preserved in group one, while the other group lost some muscle mass. Given that both groups were taking the same iso-caloric diet, and following the same 13-week resistance training program, it is reasonable to conclude that the only variable was the food supplements. Group one saw a significant increase in skeletal muscle mass in obese older adults. These findings support currently accepted consensus that increasing protein intake will aid in gaining muscle mass during a resistance training program.

Let’s now look at some studies that dismiss the fact that whey protein supplements are effective at all. This study “Effects of Whey Proteins and Carbohydrates on the Efficacy of Resistance Training in Elderly People: Double Blind, Randomized Controlled Trial.” was published by Arnarson A in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Like the previous study, this study was performed on older men and women. A total of 161 people participated in this controlled double blind randomized trial. Like the previous study, all variables were normalized and monitored strictly. For instance, the two control groups had been asked to follow a strict diet, and had to undergo a rigorous 12-week resistance training program. Towards the end of the program it was found that both groups added significant muscle mass on their bodies. Body fat percentage dropped, and lean muscle mass increased, with no added benefits being seen in the control group which was taking whey protein supplements. This study uncovers a very startling discovery that whey protein supplements may be overrated. (Arnarson 5)

Consider examining the nutrient profile of whey protein versus that of whole foods like Chicken. Chicken is known to contain lots of B-vitamins like vitamin B1, B2, B3 and B5; Selenium, which is a natural antioxidant; Phosphorous, which is essential for strong and dense bone growth; Iron, which is important for red blood cells; and zinc which is vital to the human immune system. Although whey protein has a higher content of protein than chicken, it is clear that chicken has a well balanced nutrient profile which can be very useful for anyone looking to get enough of different essential nutrients.

Whey protein powders are also highly processed in order to extract them from dairy products. While this processing is done, a lot of impurities, fat, cholesterol and other unwanted substances can get concentrated in the protein. Now whether synthetic substances are good for health or not is a different debate altogether, but it is very reasonable to say that all the contents and nutrients in chicken are naturally occurring and haven’t been processed or enhanced.

The efficacy and safety of many supplements is unknown. The truth is that there have not been enough research studies conducted on each of these supplements available in the market. What is worse is that these supplements are promoted as ‘natural’ and that appeals to the consumer. This leads to the consumer being enchanted by the word ‘natural’, and believing that it is good for their health. As a matter of fact, most of these supplements haven’t been regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. This is because supplements have been treated as food, and the FDA has limited control to regulate the entry of new foods into the market. There are so many products entering the market, and it is a gargantuan task for the FDA to keep track of each of these new products in the market.

In a study sponsored by the company GlaxosmithKline, who had been given a clearance from the FDA for a weight loss supplement, about 3,500 Americans were surveyed. They were asked about their use of food supplements to enhance weight loss, and whether they thought such supplements were effective at all. The results were startling. Most Americans who participated in the survey thought that weight loss supplements were safe to consume and approved by the FDA. Some even thought that these supplements were better and more effective than over the counter drugs and prescription drugs given by doctors. (Pillitteri 794)

Companies target different people and tell them lies, thereby making them buy products which they may not need at all. Consider vitamin supplements for instance. Companies market vitamin supplements for children stating that it will assist in brain development and thereby make your child smarter. The reality is that there is no clear research and study that proves this fact that vitamins will make your child smarter. In fact, it is not even clear if vitamin supplements help a perfectly healthy child at all. (Moyer 462) It is widely known that vitamin deficiency can cause ailments, but odds are against vitamin supplements helping out a perfectly healthy person. If you get all of your vitamins by eating fruits and vegetables, there is no need for vitamin supplements at all.

It is also well known that dietary supplements cost much less than prescription drugs, and this makes the consumer attracted to dietary supplements more. This means that if the FDA were to approve each food supplement that entered into the market, the price of these supplements would rise. The consumer would then have to pay for the cost of randomized double-blind trials such as the ones mentioned above. Hence, the lower cost of food supplements drives the people in a lower income bracket to buy these products more. I think all of this boils down to a complex game, in which uninformed and ignorant consumers are preyed upon by the industry’s marketing techniques.

There have been some very dangerous reports and revelations too. Consider for example, it is known that some companies modify the chemical makeup and structure of supplements in order to avoid being classified as a drug. This in turn doesn’t give FDA a chance to screen the products produced by these companies. There have been many death cases reported out of a gym workout booster drug called “Jack3d”. It is known to contain dimethylamine, which has been known as a notorious “synthetic stimulant similar to amphetamines.” (Singer 2)

Here’s what Meamer and Meracy, who published a study in the Iranian Journal of Nursing & Midwifery Research have to say. It is strongly advised that there should be some concerns about possible supplement-induced liver injury in all bodybuilders or other athletes. Available supplements are unchecked and not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. More studies should be designed for a better and precise consumption of each supplement in athletes.

It is very clear that we need to educate ourselves about what kind of food supplements we have been taking and whether we need them at all. There are multiple red flags and these issues cannot be taken lightly.

Through this investigative report and through the lens of scientific research, I believe that there are a lot of challenges in the lack of regulations in the food supplement industry. The need of the hour is that consumers educate themselves on the content of the supplements they take, and form a general perception of how healthy they are. If they are generally in good health, they may not need supplements at all, and thereby they can reduce the chances of any drug induced problems in their bodies. Knowing that the dietary supplement industry spans over such a large domain, and has great breadths and depths, we should be cautious and buy only those products that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration. As Joanna Sax puts it in her article “Dietary Supplements are Not all Safe and Not all Food: How the Low Cost of Dietary Supplements Preys on the Consumer” published in the American Journal of Law & Medicine, “Given the breadth and depth of the dietary supplement industry, a one-size-fits-all approach may not make sense.”

The supplements approved by the FDA can be considered safe to consume since they passed rigorous clinical trials and gave positive results. Lastly, it makes so much more sense for the average consumer to believe research backed by scientific articles, and not fall for the trap laid by these companies on their websites to lure them. The articles published on most websites lack credibility and are not worthy of taking nutrition and health advice from. Hence in conclusion, we can reduce these long arguments into a few very simple rules of thumb. Get most of your nutrients from natural sources and not supplements. If you do use supplements, choose the ones that are approved by the FDA, and do not seek nutrition advice from websites over the internet that have no credibility. Given the breadth and depth of the dietary supplement industry, one needs to be very cautious in the products one chooses to buy and ingest. Through the lens of scientific studies, this article challenges the lack of scientific evidence behind certain food supplement products and should make the reader aware and knowledgeable enough to decide for himself on what course of action needs to be taken.

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The Complex Case of Dietary Supplements and What Are They in Reality. (2019, January 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 30, 2020, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-complex-case-of-dietary-supplements-and-what-are-they-in-reality/
“The Complex Case of Dietary Supplements and What Are They in Reality.” GradesFixer, 03 Jan. 2019, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-complex-case-of-dietary-supplements-and-what-are-they-in-reality/
The Complex Case of Dietary Supplements and What Are They in Reality. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-complex-case-of-dietary-supplements-and-what-are-they-in-reality/> [Accessed 30 Oct. 2020].
The Complex Case of Dietary Supplements and What Are They in Reality [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Jan 03 [cited 2020 Oct 30]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-complex-case-of-dietary-supplements-and-what-are-they-in-reality/
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