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Health Supplements: Separating legitimacy from hype

vitamins minerals supplements

Since the adoption of many towards the internet as their main source of information, an explosion of health supplements have come on the market. The vast majority appear with grandiose claims, especially in the area of weight loss. While many people will be drawn to these, especially those struggling to loose weight, or struggling with another difficult or sometimes impossible to cure medical conditions, it should be noted that legitimately helpful supplements are hard to find, and the research behind most supplements on the market to back up their health claims leaves them often showing to be barely effective, or not effective at all, from a western medicine standpoint.

A majority of supplements claims are entirely based upon their reported traditional medicine usages, not western medical research, which can often mislead consumers as to their effectiveness.

In this article, we will look at some common tricks of the trade when it comes to supplements, and hopefully lead you, the consumer, to gain a better understanding in order to make better choices as to where the money you spend on your health is invested.

Beware of Branding

Beware of supplements with wording which may imply a pharmaceutical type name, or have a name very similar to known prescription drugs which have a well known and legitimate level of effectiveness.

Many supplements are named in a way which makes consumers believe they contain newly found pharmaceutical drugs, this can trick buyers into the belief the supplement is an exclusive formulation and likely to work. The fact is that a majority of supplements contain nothing more than common ingredients or ineffective or unproven plant extracts, these constituents when researched often turn out to have no basis in western medicine in assisting with health and well-being.

Take note that the term ‘proprietary blend’ often does not imply anything special, sometimes it can even mean nothing at all. Proprietary blend is a term used to describe a few ingredients the supplement contains which they are not willing to list on the ingredients. This term serves two purposes, firstly it makes the supplement seem exclusive, and secondly it boosts the idea that the product contains new and never before seen ingredients, enhancing it’s attractiveness to buyers.

The truth is most proprietary blends when researched, have turned out to be nothing more than very common ingredients, some do contain rare and unused plant extracts, critically however the majority of these ingredients can contain absolutely no known health benefits.
Sometimes supplement companies will even list their ingredients, then following these on the ingredients label claiming the product also contains a ‘proprietary blend’, a lot of times this term literally means nothing, and the supplement has no further addition to the already listed ingredients, in other words, their ‘proprietary blend’ can be nothing more than the already listed ingredients themselves.

Below I have listed and researched ingredients commonly found in ‘proprietary blends’ for weight loss, along with some information on each:

Chromium polynicotinate

Chromium Polynicotinate is an essential trace nutrient in the human diet. A tiny amount is needed from external sources to maintain proper health, from which mainly comes from food. Low amounts of Chromium in the body results in issues with blood sugar control, depression and cholesterol. In sports nutrition it is taken as part of a supplement regime to improve athletic performance and increase energy levels.

Individuals with a varied healthy diet should already have enough Chromium in their bodies, hence they are unlikely to have a deficiency or any health issues associated with a lack of available Chromium. However, when a deficiency exists, supplementing chromium is a good option to improve the areas of health mentioned above.

Taking low doses of Chromium supplements when the body already has enough available Chromium is not known to be harmful, however, if not required it will be excreted in the urine. Excessive amounts of Chromium in the diet, mainly via excessive supplementation contrary to the maximum dosage recommended on the label, can cause renal dysfunction.

There is some potential positives regarding this ingredient, two studies have shown that Chromium Polynicotinate supplementation combined with diet and exercise can assist weight loss over placebo, and when compared with a similar compound (Chromium picolinate), Chromium Polynicotinate was found to be unique in its weight loss assistance, meaning that other forms of chromium do not necessarily contain the weight loss assistance profile.


Caffeine is probably the world’s most well-known stimulant. It has been used in a variety of weight loss and metabolism stimulant products for over 100 years. There is no doubting that caffeine has a minor ability to provide a small boost to metabolism, along with some stimulation to the central nervous system which promotes alertness.

Decaffeinated Green Tea Extract

Decaffeinated Green Tea Extract is a common extract of green tea which contains high levels of Epigallocatechin gallate, a constituent found in high levels in green tea. While there are a number of one-off studies showing EGCG may have health benefits, few follow up trials have taken place, hence EGCG is currently classed as having no known health benefits in western medicine.

There is not enough reliable information available scientifically in western medicine to prove that this ingredient has any health benefits. There are however a lot of reports from consumers claiming it has some benefit, though more studies need to be undertaken before any health benefits can be claimed as scientifically proven.

Ashwagandha root extract

Ashwagandha root extract comes from the plant Withania somnifera, better known as Indian Ginseng. The root extract produces significant amounts of alkaloids which have a chemical structure similar to that of animal hormones, which has given rise to the popularity of this supplement in the area of body building. No reliable scientific evidence exists showing any benefits to body builders, and there is a general lack of reliable scientific evaluation for other health claims from the plant in western medicine.

Ayurvedic medicine (Traditional Indian medicine) has used Ashwagandha for a variety of conditions over hundreds of years. The main uses in India are to treat tumours, tubercular glands, carbuncles and ulcers. In Yemen, where the plant is also used medically, the dried leaves are ground into a paste and applied to burns and wounds.

Ashwagandha Root has been shown in some studies as potentially having the ability to lower stress and anxiety levels at a minimal level. It may also promote a minor release of more thyroid hormones, however the two studies mentioning these potential effects are only primers for more research, so no scientific or health claims of this extract can be taken as fact at the present time.

Sphaeranthus indicus

Sphaeranthus indicus is a plant known as East Indian Globe Thistle, and extracts from this plant have been noted as possibly lowering blood sugar in rats. No further study in western medicine has been completed at the present time, so there is no proof this ingredient has any effect on humans.

Garcinia mangostana

Garcinia mangostana is the botanical name for a south east Asian plant known as purple mangosteen. It produces a fruit which is eaten in various countries, however it is not very popular in the west, and its use as a food in its native regions is fairly limited too. It is however gaining popularity as a health niche drink, but almost no scientific evidence exists regarding the plant or fruit containing anything significant to promote better health. The plant has been used in traditional medicine in its native region by tribes which accounts for its usefulness in treating skin disorders such as eczema, urinary tract infections, gonorrhoea, thrush, diarrhoea, menstrual disorders, osteoarthritis, dysentery, along with providing a general boost to the immune system and mental health.

Some claims exist about Garcinia mangostana being used to treat cancer and tuberculosis, but these are also within the natural medicine setting. So far western medicine has not been able to validate its effectiveness in any of these areas.

As you can see, multi ingredient supplements often contain a lot of either well known ingredients, which if evaluated on known effectiveness then purchased on their own, would work out much cheaper than buying an unknown ‘proprietary blend’, or unknown ingredients claimed as ‘proprietary blends’, which once the actual contents of this claim are found out, can turn out to contain nothing special at all.

Before purchasing supplements based on the marketers claims, the public hype, or the name of the product itself, always try to find further information on what the product likely contains, and assess each individual ingredient via searching the ingredients name and reading abstract study results from a reputable source, one such resource is the large repository offered by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a part of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

A little research often goes a long way.

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