Friends we live in a culture that is obsessed with health. Of course this is mostly because we do so many things that are really bad for us but I don’t want to get off topic. I want to talk about health supplements.
A lot of people take supplements, heck I’m one of them. And that is the reason why I feel I should let you all know that supplements are bullshit, and they’re going to kill you.
Supplements are massively popular for a variety of reasons and they come in a terrifying array of forms.
As our eyes travel down the aisle past one-a-day multivitamins and “low fat” margarine (a substance made almost entirely out of fat) to rest at last on the “wholewheat white bread” (whose mere existence makes the very laws of nature scream) we can but wonder: why are all these things in the same aisle? What kind of shop is this?
And right after that we might wonder: is all this shit actually good for me, or what?
Most people will say “yes” or “mostly” or “well you really have to try them for yourself” but all of these answers are false. The only right answer is: we actually have no fucking idea.
You see friends nutrition science (which, unlike nutritionism and nutritionists, is an actual science with real scientists) is nowhere near finished. What I mean by that is that if you ask a real nutrition scientist to list all the nutrients the human body needs, and the amounts in which it needs them she will be unable to answer, not because it’s a long fucking question and she’s got work to do, but because we simply don’t know.
Nutrition science has made massive progress over the past century. I mean we only discovered vitamins in the 1920s and 30s, and they are fairly important (as you may have heard). More recently we’ve come to realise how important other nutrients are. The vital importance of the Omega fatty acids for example, was only quite recently discovered.
The point is that we are still finding things that the body needs, and we are still trying to work out how much of them we need.
It’s no coincidence that health advice keeps changing. First we were told that eggs are a wonder food and that fruit can cure almost anything. Then we were told that eggs cause heart attacks and fruit has so much sugar in it that you might as well just stick your head in a bag of the stuff and start sucking. Then we were told that cholesterol might not be as bad as we thought and that no one eats enough fruit anyway.
And all the while we’ve been growing fatter.
Likewise, when we found out how important Omega 6 is everyone panicked and started putting it in everything. But shortly afterwards we discovered that the Western Diet (as it’s called) contains so much Omega 6 (cooking oil has grams of the stuff) that by eating more of it you are basically stabbing yourself in the intestines and waiting to die.
Yet more recently we’ve found that Omega 6 and Omega 3 compete in the body to see which gets absorbed, so the more of the one you take the less of the other your body can use, and Omega 3 is also vitally important for health.
So how much should we take? No one fucking knows.
And let’s be clear: these scientists aren’t screwing up. They are working as fast as they can it’s just that this crap is so hellishly complicated that finding anything takes ages.
Think about this: let’s say you wanted to find out if more calories are bad for your health. How would you test that?
The simple answer is that you should have 2 groups, and you should give one group fewer calories than the other and then see who dies first. Easy.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work because you can’t just give someone “calories”, those calories have to be in some sort of food. So if you reduce calories for one group by cutting down on their fruit, for example, have you just proven something about less calories, or something about less fruit? What if less calories is good but less fruit is bad, will those two cancel each other out?
These are the questions that plague nutrition scientists and that’s about as simple as a study can get. If we start asking nutrition scientists things like “if I cut down on my cooking oil and take an Omega 3 supplement does that mean it’s ok to drink alcohol and eat red meat” they are probably going to start crying.
So even though we know a bunch of stuff about human nutrition we are nowhere near to knowing precisely what we need to consume, or how much of it.
Remember this the next time you see a vitamin pill that claims to have “everything” the body needs. If you go into it with any depth they will change their tune to “in line with most up to date science”. This may be true, but since science doesn’t currently know what the body needs…you might be better off saving your money.
Now apply this learning to pet foods that claim to have everything your cat or dog needs. Do you think animal nutrition science is in better shape than its human cousin? Not likely.
And lastly apply this learning to the hated scourge that is baby formula.
That’s right friends. Science doesn’t currently know all of the nutrients the body needs so how can baby formula claim to give them all to your child?
But they do it anyway.
And this touches on a much larger problem: companies are allowed to make completely unsubstantiated claims about their products simply because those products are foods and not drugs, even though the results of eating the wrong food can be just as bad.
So if you do take any supplements make sure that you find independent research that substantiates their effectiveness.
Because as much as I enjoy a good placebo effect you should really base your health on something more than “I think I can! I think I can!”
[Standard Disclaimer: this post was entirely my own opinion and was not paid for in any way, directly or otherwise, by anyone or anything that stands to gain in any way from the ideas expressed herein.]