Updated August 20, 2013
Some of us still remember when “regular” people were dressed, coached, prompted and edited before they were allowed to appear on any wide-reaching media — on TV or in newspapers or magazines. Almost everyone on TV looked and sounded exactly alike and were probably clones of each other kept in a basement at CBS Studios and rented out to ABC and NBC. But they were polite and proper and gave you the idea that Americans were good people and that our educational system worked, darnit.
Now we know better. Now we have the internet. Somehow Americans got the idea that if they can type, their opinions matter. (Let me be clear here — except for one obnoxious industry shill, I have no complaints about MY commenters.)
Here are ten irksome points that keep showing up on discussion forums whenever the topic turns to nutritional therapy.
1. “That health issue is genetic, so nothing you can do would help.” Now replace “that health issue” with “diabetes” — see how stupid that sounds? Just because your mother/grandfather/great-aunt didn’t figure out the problem doesn’t mean you can’t.
2. “Vitamin/mineral XX has nothing to do with [bodily process].” Each nutrient has a ton of responsibilities. It isn’t just calcium for bones and potassium for dehydration and vitamin C for colds.
3. “Vitamin/mineral XX doesn’t work for [health complaint]. I tried it and it didn’t work.” That’s right! All ailments have ONLY one cause, all people have ONLY one nutrient makeup, and the exact same thing must be behind all symptoms in all people! And all broken legs are caused by tripping over the dog at the top of the stairs!
4. “Vitamin and mineral supplements don’t have side effects.” Supplements can indeed have unexpected and undesired effects. All the nutrients in our bodies interact in a gazillion ways, and how you react depends on your body and nutrient status. What supplements don’t do is bludgeon your systems into submission the way prescription drugs do, wreaking havoc in ways that the manufacturer often does not understand or is aware of or will admit to.
5. “Vitamin/mineral XX always/never has that effect.” See above.
6. “PubMed/ncbi said so.” PubMed is like the Bible. You can find proof for whatever theory you want to believe in. For every study that says zinc prevents vampirism, there will be two that says it doesn’t. If you know a lot about study design and sample size, and are willing to look up what entity sponsored the study, you might have more faith in these sites.
7. “The supplement didn’t work but I didn’t want to waste my money so I kept taking them.” You’d be surprised at how many people are not embarrassed to say this.
- Our soils are depleted, a fact Congress has been made aware since the 1930s at the latest.
- We don’t eat enough calories, because we don’t move around enough anymore. (See Chris Kesser’s post on the Victorians and their 3-4,000 calories a day vs. our 2,000-calorie diets.)
- We don’t get out in the sun enough, or are sunblocked from it.
- Toxins in the environment are messin’ us up all kinda crazy.
Which isn’t to say that I believe anyone knows which supplements can stave off age-related disease or prolong your life. All I know is that when your health goes awry, cherchez la deficiency.
9. “Make you sure you consult your doctor before starting a supplement regimen.” Okay, yeah, if you’re taking a prescription drug or have a health condition you’re worried about, you should ask the doctor about interactions and contraindications. But if you believe your doctor is going to have any interest, never mind knowledge, in what nutritional supplements can do for you and how they work together, you’re either very, very lucky or woefully deluded. I think a lot of people say this when they have nothing else to contribute to the discussion but want to participate anyway.
10. “If a supplement works, it’s just a placebo effect.” The placebo effect refers to the phenomenon wherein a reliable percentage of patients will report improved results from a medical complaint when they are given an INERT substance such as a sugar pill or salt water injection. Presumably, then, just expecting that a treatment will work creates a psychological response that makes you feel better.
Some day I will compose a brilliant, epoch-shattering expose of the moronic misuse of this concept, even by doctors. For now, I’ll just point out that if you’re on a discussion forum for a certain medical issue or supplement, it’s probably because you’ve tried other treatments and they’ve failed. You are not the type of person who is going to experience the placebo effect.
The idea that only a medical professional or scientist, never mind some random online commenter, can judge the accuracy of your own experience, of what goes on in your own biocontainer, is asinine. No one but you (or the researcher or doctor who actually gives you a sugar pill) can decide if your reaction is due to the placebo effect. Which is why you use the scientific method in your self-experiments, right?