Well meaning modern “snake-oil” supplements – or how to go broke fast!

One of the thing that I often see is, taking it to the absurd, “Turmeric from trees on the south slope of the mountain outside of Chennai , India where St.Thomas’ cave is is the proven to be the best in the world – you must buy that one!”.  In short, some variation of a chemical or specific herb is claimed to be better. My attitude is simple, show me the peer review article that gives me quantitative evidence. Perhaps 1 in 10,000 claims have such evidence.  An alternative health professional may recommend to their patients a certain brand because one or two of their patients had a good response. The problem is that the patients’s response may be due solely to the placebo effect — which is a very real effect but not due to the specific brand. The health professional believes it based on her patient reports.

We now hit the second problem, supplements not containing what they claim! [Article]. My preference is to buy bulk organic herbs and make my own capsules — it’s cheaper and odds are that you will get what is claimed. For example:

  • Turmericb[uk]:
    • 1 Kilo (1000 mg), non-organic,  £4   or $6 US ==> $6/kilo
    • 1/2 Kilo, organic, ,  £9 or $13 ==> $26/kilo
    • Organic Turmeric (120 x 500mg Veg Capsules)  £18, or $26 ==>  $433/kilo

Organic is nice philosophically if you can afford it, but if you have a limited budget it is wasted money!

Reader sometimes asked me to recommend a brand. I have no hard evidence to state that one brand is better than another. If someone claims that to you, challenge them to produce the evidence — you will likely find that it becomes “I read that on a group” or “My doctor recommended this brand” or “My alternative medicine person recommended it (and happens to sell it at full retail price)”. Most of my readers do not have extra cash.

I do have a bias towards “Doctor’s Best“, “Swanson’s” and “Jarrow” – mainly because of the wide variety they offer, not because they are better [and as pointed out in a comment, they get good reports from independent labs that test them]. Of course, the items picked are those that I cannot buy in bulk. When it comes to probiotics — I want to know the precise strains involved and very few manufacturers provide that on their packaging.

An9ther issue that I am asked about is which form, typically:

  • aqueous extracts,
  • organic solvent-based extracts (typically alcohol) and
  • crude (raw) extracts

The reason is that one of them (usually alcohol based) is found more effective in a test than the other. There are a few problems:

  • Many CFSers have low tolerance for alcohol in any quantity (I know some that react just to the breath of someone that had a beer!)
  • The herb or spice has to get to the gut — testing it in a petri disk without stomach acid impact makes the results questionable unless you are treating a cut
  • The cost for commercial preparation can be even higher than custom capsules! (Example – £9 for 100 mls -i.e. £500/kilo)

You can find instruction for preparing your own, for example here.

In short, buy bulk, make your own capsules — change suppliers every time (that way you will get the herbs from different plants and benefit from the natural variations that occurs in nature).

If any one say you should really be using Brand X — ask for the evidence in a scientific journal that brand is superior. Most CFSers are short of funds, do not be victimize by people to “be right (at any cost)”. A special version of Artesmisinin, without evidence is speculation usually based on some form of ideological thinking. Read the label and then go frugal:

So the top one is claimed to be twice as effective.. as a cost of 100x more????

Yes one may be more “refined and pure” – but too often I have read that the key extracts are less effective than the original herb which may contain a complexity of additional chemicals that come into play.