Do Supplements Really Work –
Or Are They a Waste of Money?
Some sceptics claim that supplements are a waste of money. That their benefits are overhyped, and consumer fears are exploited by the cynical industry for profit.
As a supplements company, we strongly disagree. And not just because we are in the business!
Here is the list of reasons why such negative opinions exist – and why we think otherwise.
Supplements work over the long term
Take a painkiller and your headache goes away. So you know instantly that it’s been effective.
Most health supplements don’t work like that.
Their benefits are not immediate. They only become apparent over time.
(One exception to this is supplements for fasting and Keto flu. These regimens can create an electrolyte deficiency with obvious and unpleasant symptoms. Electrolyte supplements make these symptoms go away pretty much instantly. There are other examples of fast-acting products like exogenous ketones.)
Supplements don’t have the same effect on everyone
The efficacy of a supplement can vary by individual – sometimes dramatically so.
There are many factors at play that interact with your supplements. For example, your diet, lifestyle, genetics, other supplements and medicines you take…
We are all different, so the outcomes are not uniform.
If you happen to have a twin with an identical lifestyle to act as a control variable, you can run your own experiments!
For the rest of us, we just have to accept a certain degree of variability in how the supplements may affect us.
Not all supplements are created equal
For most supplements – especially vitamins and minerals – there are multiple possible source ingredients.
For example, elemental magnesium can come from different electrolyte salts like magnesium oxide, magnesium citrate or magnesium malate. Each one has different properties in terms of absorption rates, bioavailability, interactions and side effects.
Then there is the obvious question of production quality.
High-quality supplements are produced in controlled manufacturing environments in accordance with strict quality standards such as GMP or MHRA. This ensures their safety and purity.
But sometimes products sold in the EU come from less regulated countries (don’t want to point any fingers, but looking at you, China!) – or from less scrupulous local manufacturers who don’t bother with quality-assurance certifications.
Therefore, two supplement products on the same shelf could have identical titles – but very different quality and efficacy.
Supplements are not magic pills
It is true that sometimes the benefits of supplements are hyped up beyond what’s rationally possible.
Unfortunately, some of us do want to believe in magic cures. So “snake oil” salesmen will always exist.
Despite the more outlandish claims out there, supplements CANNOT magically make you thin, turn you into a genius or protect you from cancer – or from coronavirus.
But supplements CAN improve your health and well-being. They have many tangible, scientifically-proven benefits.
Supplements are more like concentrated foods
Supplements are classified under the umbrella of food in most countries. Their original purpose was exactly that – supplementing your nutrition.
Unlike medicines, they don’t always provide immediate obvious results. But – also unlike medicines – they don’t come with risks or dangerous side effects.
Think of supplements more like concentrated foods – and an easy way to boost and optimise your nutrition.
So how to choose a new supplement? Here’s a quick checklist.
Area of concern
Identify your main concern – maybe your diet is not varied enough, or you are worried about your heart health, or you want to boost your immune system
Find products that claim to help with this problem, and check whether these claims are backed by science. Don’t dismiss anecdotal evidence! If a supplement or a remedy has been used for a long time by lots of people, it may well be effective – even if there is not much research yet to back it up.
Provenance and quality assurance
Do these supplements have a certification like GMP to ensure safety and purity?
Reputable companies will always provide this option because they know that supplements don’t work the same way for everyone
Monitor your response
Take the supplements and track how they make you feel, both in the short term and over time