Want to know once and for all if supplements are good? Keep reading and we will tell you everything you need to know to convince your father.
Where does the fear of supplementation come from?
Food supplements have been on the market for decades, although they went through a major trade boom in the 1990s.
If this is the case, why are supplements still seen as ‘bad’ by certain sections of the population?
Figure I. Omega 3 Supplement.
Our parents and grandparents grew up in a time where anything other than classic foods (processed or not), were medication.
That is, for them a food preparation based on proteins, vitamins and minerals (which is nothing more than a set of isolated nutrients, from a food, and concentrated in a container) was used for sick children who needed to regain body weight.
When someone had a deficiency they went to the doctor and they recommended a concentrated source of the nutrient in question to solve the deficiency.
I will always remember an anecdote from a 50-year-old woman who told me that as a young woman she suffered from recurrent iron anaemia due to malnutrition, so the doctor recommended that she consume blood from cattle or boiled equine blood because of its high iron content.
Any reader of about that age (50 or more) will remember with disgust the tablespoons of cod liver oil given to them by their mother as a child to provide essential fatty acids and vitamin D3 to prevent rickets.
Figure II. Children queuing up to receive a dose of cod liver oil by a nurse to prevent rickets.
One of the big problems, and the main reason no one can say “All supplements are safe for everyone”, is that there is no unit regulating the sale and distribution of these products worldwide, so each country has different regulatory criteria.
Figure III. FDA and EFSA logos.
What’s the relevance of this?
It’s relevant in that the meaning of “supplement” (food supplement) is quite unanimous, however the categories encompassed by this concept are not, and because of this, the criteria that regulate the sale of certain assets are also not.
Let’s use a simple example: Melatonin
Everyone has heard of Melatonin, right?
It is a good aid for treatment of secondary sleep disorders, especially jet-lag.
It has been shown to be safe in the long term, it does not produce tolerance or dependence, and the margin between the effective minimum dose and TD50 (meaning toxic dose) is so large that it is virtually impossible to be poisoned by melatonin.
Well, this very safe supplement:
- In the United States and Europe it is sold as a food supplement (in Spain up to 1.9mg)
- In Canada it is a Natural Health Product (NHP) and is under a different regulation.
- In Australia it is considered a medication at any dose and should be prescribed by a physician for dispensing.
Well, in Europe it is a food supplement. And who’s right?
We don’t know, each organization sets out its reasons to classify it like this, look at the regulations and keep the one that suits you best.
Not to mention the assets that are allowed to be sold in certain countries and in others are directly considered a restricted or controlled use substance: such as Yohimbine or 1.3-DMAA.
Figure IV. Former UPSLABs Jack3d, famous for its DMAA content.
Common sense is the key
In Spain, under the control of AECOSAN and the audit of EFSA, the food supplements marketed are subject to a strict bibliographic review and quality control process, so the presence of illegal substances or contamination is very low.
Assets that have demonstrated strong efficacy and safety for human use have been subjected to a strict control process to determine their validity:
- Mechanistic research into the potential benefits from the consumption of a particular asset.
- In vitro research.
- In vivo research in animal models.
- In vivo research in human models [Phase 1 – Phase 2 – Phase 3 – Phase 4].
Figure V. Graphic representation of the development process of a newly marketed drug.
So always go for the compounds whose validity has been thoroughly evaluated and carefully review foreign production products that have labels that resemble this:
Figura VI. Labelling of a “natural pro-hormone” of a foreign company.
Requisites for sale
- Approval of the asset by the competent authorities after a bibliographic review of the clinical evidence.
- Evaluation of adverse effects reports.
- Search for GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) sealed supplies that ensure proper treatment and control of the raw ingredients.
- Control of labelling indications.
- Reflection of contraindications and dangers.
Whether the product is suitable for our particular situation
It is important to note that although a supplement X, which contains a particular asset, has been considered safe at certain doses, there are certain pathological conditions and medications that can interact negatively or can be undetected with the compound.
Caffeine consumption is strongly discouraged in people who have had a cardio-vascular or cerebral issue; and if using it, it should be under the careful control of your cardiologist, as in certain people with these issues, a safe dose of caffeine can be potentially lethal.
There are rare polymorphisms, which people do not know about because normally no one gets a GWAS or performs genotypic determination tests, which can affect the metabolism of certain compounds and produce organic toxicity; case studies have shown liver toxicity from consumption of Kava Kava, an unusual but existing phenomenon.
The company manufacturing the product has quality guarantees.
It is important that the company from which the supplements are purchased has external accreditations that certify the contents of the supplements.
I’m sure you’ve heard things like protein is doping, or that pre-workout formulas carry amphetamines or other sympathomimetic drugs; well, this is not true, but what is true is that:
Between 12 and 58% of food supplements marketed worldwide contain banned substances currently considered as doping (Martínez-Sanz et al., 2017).
Of course, this data is significantly altered by products marketed in countries where quality controls are much more lax, such as India, the US, the UK or the UAE.
To prevent this from happening, as it is a dangerous practice on the part of the company whether it is intentional or not, and puts the health and sports career of an athlete at serious risk:
It is important to purchase products from a company with audits that certify the total absence of potential contaminants.
Among them, and the most prominent in literature is the GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice):
Figure VII. GMP.
It describes the minimum standard that drug producers must comply with in their manufacturing processes.
However, because food supplements are not legislated for like medicines, many companies do not have them.
Figure VIII. Bureau Veritas GMP/HACCP Certificate.
Declare the content of the product on the labelling in a sufficiently detailed manner.
This is an extra detail, especially applicable to herbal extracts.
As we know, herbal extracts have biological activity thanks to bioactive compounds that are naturally present in certain parts of the plant.
When it is treated, concentrated and extracted, the assets are presumably concentrated, allowing that through the consumption (usually) of milligrams of extract we can obtain ergogenic benefits.
Few companies certify the bioasset content of their herbal extracts, as it is an expensive process of determining compounds by HPLC, and if the raw material is acquired from a cheap producer, they may not have this information.
Figure IX. Information about the Monacolin K content of HSN fermented red rice yeast.
This is certainly very important, not only because it assures you as a consumer that the physiological activity of the supplement that you are consuming is good, but you can also select raw ingredients that are free of toxins naturally present in the plant that are also concentrated in its extracts.
For example, fermented red rice yeast has a mycotoxin called citrinin that is produced by the action of the fungus Monascus purpureus that ferments the food.
If you don’t know what composition of the raw ingredients of the red rice yeast you sell is, how can you know it is safe?
This happens a lot because many supplementation companies use the cheapest raw ingredients on the market and do not have technical experts who are able to alert those responsible for selecting the ingredients to these possible situations.
- Maximum information, highest quality, maximum transparency; no traps or pitfalls.
- You are number one, and caring for your health is one of our top priorities.
So when your father asks what are those pills that you take, you can tell him:
“Dad, this is cod liver oil, like what you took when you were young, but now it is encapsulated to avoid its bad taste.
I bought it from HSN, a company that has external certifications that certify the quality of its products.
And I use it because it is a food supplement that has been considered safe by international reference authorities and in my case it is perfectly suited to my needs”.
- (CONTAM), E. P. on C. in the F. C. (2012). Scientific Opinion on the risks for public and animal health related to the presence of citrinin in food and feed. EFSA Journal, 10(3), 2605.
- Dwyer, J. T., Coates, P. M., & Smith, M. J. (2018). Dietary supplements: Regulatory challenges and research resources. Nutrients, 10(1).
- Institute of Medicine (US) and National Research Council (US) Committee on the Framework for Evaluating the Safety of Dietary Supplements. (2005). Dietary Supplements: A Framework for Evaluating Safety. In Dietary Supplements: A Framework for Evaluating Safety.
- Martínez-Sanz, J. M., Sospedra, I., Ortiz, C. M., Baladía, E., Gil-Izquierdo, A., & Ortiz-Moncada, R. (2017). Intended or unintended doping? A review of the presence of doping substances in dietary supplements used in sports. Nutrients, 9(10).
- Supplements recommended for Diabetics at this link.
- The Best HSN Supplements, according to Saúl Craviotto. Visit the link.