Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Supplemental's Income

Like many Americans, I have become increasingly intrigued by the promise of “natural supplements.” Just a leisurely stroll through your local CVS, Rite-Aid, or Walgreens will reveal the mindboggling scope of what can be accomplished without the use of pharmaceuticals. Depression, insomnia, and arthritis can all be cured simply by ingesting a few capsules of whatever extract happens to be fairly easy to monetize. Some, such as fish oil, appear to have genuine benefits that can be backed by a respectable amount of research; others appear to have been produced simply because people will purchase them.

My first foray into the world of natural supplement was Melatonin. I occasionally have issue getting enough sleep but did not want to rely on a prescription. Plus I did not want to wake up and find myself in a Delaware Waffle House asking random strangers if my Shetland pony was still wearing my pants. So, my mother suggested trying Melatonin supplements which are marketed as a “Relaxation/Sleep Aid” and can be purchased form any local pharmacy.
The first characteristic that struck me was the meticulously-worded label. In large letters it reassured potential buyers that Melatonin was a “clinically studied ingredient.” This is perhaps the vaguest marketing strategy since “award winning” came into widespread use. Taken at face value, this claims nothing more than someone, at some point, contemplated the ingredient while at least being in physical proximity to something that could be classified as a clinic. What they are attempting to convey are images of fit, bespectacled college-graduates running around in lab coats; but legally-speaking the sentence could just as easily describe an incident where the clinic janitor looked up Melatonin on Wikipedia.

The bottle also featured a disconcerting number of asterisks that inevitably led to small disclaimers on the back. Each reiterated that none of the statements on the front had been evaluated by the FDA, EPA, or USDA and that the product was not intended to diagnose or cure any disease. Despite my initial trepidation, I decided to give it a shot. I will say that the few times I have taken it; I feel that I have slept better. Whether this is due to the ingredients or psychosomatic suggestion is up for debate. 

At any rate, I got on the company’s website to see what other products they offered. Here are my favorites:

Soy Isoflavones – These are “phytonutrients” formulated to provide nutritional support for women “before, during, and after menopause.” In other words, if you have ovaries and are currently living you could benefit from this. And just in case you were wondering, the prefix “phyto” means “plant” in Greek, so you can use it to impress your friends and neighbors by telling them that you have to swing by Lowe’s to get some phyto-food for your begonias.

Milk Thistle (Now with Dandelion) – Using the power of the flavonoid “silymarin” that “helps support the structure of the outer cell membrane of liver cells” this supplement promotes the healthy function of the liver. I really enjoyed how they make note of the inclusion of dandelion. Here I have spent years attempting to rid my lawn of this troublesome weed only to find that it apparently has a street value.

Cascara Sagrada – this buckthorn extract is a natural laxative that promotes “safe & gentle cleansing.” It is recommended that you take the 450 MG with tea and drink 48 ounces of water throughout the day. First of all, if you can choke down 3 ½ quarts of water each day and still drink tea your issue may be diabetes not constipation. Also, the term “gentle” can vary from person to person so I would like some clarification.

Horny Goat Weed (with Maca) – this Oriental herb (normally sold as an impulse buy at truck stops) is known to “intensify desire” and “enhance romance.” The recommended dosage is taking two 800 MG capsules twice every day. I would argue that if you need a 2400 MG dosage of anything to facilitate desire, you may not be physically attracted to who you think you are. Also, what is the deal with taking it daily? There are situations where you might not want to become overwhelmed by “intense desire” (greeting the UPS driver, standing in Toys R Us, etc…)

Most of the other offerings could easily be misconstrued as street drugs (Black Cohosh, Astaxanthin, Echinacea Whole Herb) and all carry labels that make judicious use of asterisks and the prefix “may promote.” Personally, I hope that all of these do exactly what they say they will do so I can save money on health insurance and office visits, but until there is a rigorous system of clinical trials I guess I will be popping Ginkoba Giraffe Marrow on faith. 

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