Dr. Cate Shanahan, a former biochemist from Cornell turned doctor and author of Deep Nutrition, spoke at the Real Food Conference 2013 discussing the supplement habit and how it takes people away from real food which is where we should get our nutrition. Worse yet, most supplements feed pathogens in the gut, gradually causing a decline in health.

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Supplements without starches, sugars and fillers should be used to supplement the diet if something is missing, not as food in the diet. Protein powders are the perfect example as a supplement used as a food instead of actual food. Your body will absorb nutrition better from real food. 

Dr. Cate says companies use tricks to sell their products. For us to be wise consumers we need to be aware of what we are buying. 

Trick #1 Companies use chemical modification of a natural product.

The perfect example of this is the green coffee bean for weight loss. It works because caffeine helps to burn fat, suppresses the appetite, decreases the blood flow to the intestinal tract allowing more blood flow to the brain. Cate says the green coffee beans are the reject beans for coffee. Inside the bean is chlorogenic acid so they sell the chlorogenic acid, bonded to another molecule within the bean. 

Dr. Cate said, “When your body metabolizes the chlorogenic acid it breaks the molecule the caffeine is bonded to, releasing the caffeine. An 800 mg capsule has somewhere around 300 mg of potential bound up caffeine that gets released once you digest it. If you look on the label it says 20 mg of caffeine because that’s what it has in nature.” 

A cup of coffee has 120 mg of caffeine. This means one bean could have up to five cups of coffee within the bean. However, since your body has to digest it to obtain the caffeine the release is slower. People on medication or those with irregular heartbeats are potentially in a dangerous situation with this type of marketing.

Trick #2 They compare themselves to a placebo. 

Drug companies compare the efficacy of their product to a placebo, a sugar pill, essentially nothing. When they compare the product they are saying our product is more effective than nothing. 

For example protein powders are compared not to meat (for protein) but instead to fructose. Protein powders come from whey 

from the cheese industry. In making cheese whey is released as a liquid, it is skimmed off or strained and sold to protein powder companies very cheaply. Dr. Cate says since it is not the full protein chain containing the branch chain of the amino acid,  “It is not as complete of a product as the actual food.” Plus you get no other mineral sources, mitochondria, nutrients, no sugar sources, no fat sources she says, “You really aren’t doing much for your muscles.”

“When you eat food you have the ability to develop the entire muscle cell.” She says, “You’re going off on a fool’s errand when you’re trying to increase your mitochondria and you’re looking only at what a supplement can do for you. It’s not the big picture.”

She goes on to say, “One of the big tricks that enable us to do that is by comparing it to nothing. It’s better than nothing. It’s better than starving after your workout. It’s better than sitting there hungry. It’s also better than licking lollipops. Because some of the studies have shown that it’s better than maltodextrin. Some of the studies compare it to maltodextrin (highly processed GMO corn) because they have to have something when they have human studies. They have to have something to actually feed people so they can’t tell the difference between the placebo. They can’t know what they’re getting.”

Trick #3 Unfounded claims in an unregulated industry 

Dr. Shanahan says, “The supplement industry is unregulated, unmeasured and completely unaccountable.”

In the supplement Opti-men (second best seller on amazon) Dr. Cate added up the claims listed on the bottle and divided up each pill based on the weight of the bottle. She calculated each pill would have to contain 1640 mg of something but the math doesn’t add up to the weight of the bottle. Assuming no weight for the capsule and no weight for the filler they claim there is actually 4 times the stuff that is actually possible to have in the pills.

“They don’t have to have in there what they say is in there because it is unregulated,” she says.

To make money you need a product you can patent. For example you can not patent estrogen for women going through menopause. Chemical modification of a natural product allows a company to patent it and profit. The company modifies the base by tacking another molecule onto the bond allowing the patent. This is a huge profit zone. 

Trick #4 Hidden active ingredients

In the supplement Red Yeast Rice the,”Active ingredient is a molecule that the drug companies use as a base to generate the entire statin industry. So it’s a statin that you’re taking when you’re taking Red Yeast Rice.” Since you can’t patent the natural product they modified it slightly. “When they analyzed the Red Yeast Rice supplement for content to see if they actually do have the active ingredient which is called the monacolins, many of these supplements don’t contain much of a dose of it at all.” She goes on to say she’s, “Not sure that it’s accomplishing anything at all.”

Trick #5 Dangerous knowledge


Dr. Shanahan, says when you have just enough knowledge to become dangerous to yourself it’s potentially hazardous. The perfect example is Vitamin E, or tocopherols, which claim to reduce LDL cholesterol. Vitamin E is said to prevent oxidation which causes heart attacks but it’s not true. She says, “Vitamin E has been found to promote LDL oxidation in some circumstances. The whole antioxidant industry can is loaded with supplements that can be really good because they’re balanced right or they can be really bad.” In addition, oil supplements like these are filled with additional vegetable oil as filler.

There’s Vitamin E and there’s Vitamin E. Be sure to chose a Vitamin E that lists d-alpha tocopheryl acetate, or d-alpha tocopheryl succinate on the label, not dl-alpha tocopheryl acetate or dl-alpha tocopheyryl succinate.

Trick #6 Natural products

When supplements first hit the market they actually contained more active ingredients than today plus the ingredients were natural. The mindset is, “If it’s natural it has to be good. This is staging and showmanship which gave people hope that they would feel.” The truth is some of these products don’t necessarily have any benefit. She goes onto say, “There’s not enough solid research being done and almost no clinical research being done. A lot of it is on animal models or self studies.”

“I’m seeing a lot of taking advantage of the consumer.” She says, “No one ever questions should they stop taking (supplements). Very much like the prescriptions so that by the time they’re 60 or 70 I have so many patients on 9, 10, 15 prescriptions because nobody says should you actually be taking them, are they really benefiting you.”

She says the route you want to take instead is through life giving natural foods such as fermented foods, meat on the bone, fresh food and organ meats. To learn more click here.




5 Responses to The Scam of Supplements

  1. […] The Scam of Supplements | Nourishing Plot Good read – I usually just take krill oil supps __________________ 1st time iHerb users – get 10% off using my code – YAQ580 […]

  2. Great post. Would love for you to share this at this week’s Healing With Food Friday.

  3. I love this! Too many of my clients are spending money on supplements that are doing more harm than good and you used some of my favorite examples of this in this article. Thanks so much for sharing this at Healing With Food Friday! We hope you will come back this week: http://peelingbacktheonionlayers.com/healing-with-food-friday-8/

  4. Amy Daniels says:

    Then the ad on your page is for a supplement…i agree with your point but how do we address the issue of declining nutrient content in our soil and food? Buying organic helps but the nutritional content of any fresh food declines with time from picking. Fermenting is great but many folks don’t have time or skills. I grow food and love harvest time…and i long for a greenhouse. Many many people do not get adequate nutrition even when they get calories in excess of their needs. Sometimes vitamins are necessary.

    • Becky Plotner says:

      Amy I agree with you it sure is so much work to get it right! Compost is so important. It’s funny that you say that because the punch you get out of probiotic ferments is incomparable! Very well worth learning. LOL, I threw out my first batch of kraut, which I feel is pretty common. The fear factor learning curve was huge for me but I’m so glad to be able to do it – so beneficial!

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