Thursday, March 3, 2016

Why Health and Nutrition Stores Are Anything But...

I don't understand a thing, but I do understand that more than some.  This is the humbleness that is science understanding.  As comedian Dara O'Briain said, that sciences knows it doesn't know everything.  Otherwise it would stop.

One of my talents is not that I possess any superior knowledge over others (I sooo wish I was smarter and could retain more information), it is that I've learned enough and developed heuristics to help spot scams, misinformation and all-around general nonsense.

Health and Nutrition specialty shops I find are lacking in this humility.  Most make bold claims, or at least openly display or parrot the bold claims of the products they offer.  The fact of the matter is that many of the products they sell either don't do anything close to what is claimed (or “suggested”as some make vague and ambiguous claims) or only offer mediocre or insignificant results.

The following is just a small list of things I've seen offered.

Miracle Weight Loss
Some studies suggest that caffeine may have a modest effect on weight.  This alone doesn't sell itself by showing only a weak result.  Now factor in that these studies had very small number of participants (16 for one study)  and are often published in low quality journal.  To say the least, the evidence is lacking in it being effective.

Similarly, raspberry ketone is a weight loss product that has had very little supporting evidence.  The fact that this product was marketed without any human trials is telling (and scary).  Also consider that on one such container of the product it was stated:
“This information has not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, nor has it gone through the rigorous double-blind studies required before a particular product can be deemed truly beneficial or potentially dangerous and prescribed in the treatment of any condition or disease.”

The best advice for weight loss (barring any specific medical condition that might complicate it.  See your physician for the best course of action), is to burn more calories than you take in.  So consume less calories and exercise more.  Slowly build it to be a regular part of your weekly routines.  Exercise doesn't have to be at the gym (where undoubtedly you'll get a lot of advice...both good and bad).  It can be taking the stairs instead of the elevator.  Walking an extra block to work.  The little things can add up to help you being a little more physically active.  If you want to seek exercise advice, do so from a credible evidence-based trainer like James Fell.

The problem with supplements is many people don't need them unless one has a diagnosed deficiency. Most can get their recommended amounts from a balanced diet.   Also add in the fact that a lot of supplements are just new versions of snake-oil (heck some places do sell actual snake-oil!).

Some of the bottles of supplements available simply do not do a thing at all or, at most, have a very weak effect.  Take echinacea for example.

Recently in the past few years it has been coming to light about how many supplements do not contain what they claim to contain and that supplements have been linked to major health problems.   Part of the reason this has happened is because of legislature that has allowed the industry to not be monitored like medicines.

Too much of anything is not good.  Toxicology constantly tells us that the dose makes the poison.  We get enough vitamin C from a single glass of orange juice among the many other food and drink items fortified with the vitamin.  The reality is that with a water-soluble vitamin such as C, any excess is excreted through your bodily waste disposal system.  In fact, too much vitamin C has been linked to nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramps.  Ideally, one should only take any supplement on diagnosis from a medical professional.  Self-medication can lead to problems.  It's also important to know if any supplements will have side-effects or interfere with medicines one is taking.  So again, only take them through counsel with your family doctor.

Homeopathy is a medicine containing nothing...well except for water or sugar.  Seriously!  The main principles of this quackery is that the more dilute a substance, the stronger it is.  Yes so what they are saying is something that has been diluted so much with water that it doesn't even contain an actual molecule of the original substance is very strong, according to its proponents.  This is because they also claim that water has a memory. OOOOkay.  Sometime a drop of this “memory water” is put onto a sugar pill.  That in a nutshell is homeopathy.  Yeah, sure there's more nutty stuff I could share about it, but it doesn't help that case for it.  If you add more nuts to a bowl of nuts, you just have a lot more nuts.

Suffice to say, homeopathy relies on the placebo effect to fool people.  These people will often tell you that they feel better, but "feeling" better is a lot different from actually being better.  Even with that, a recent study has show something even better than homeopathy.

Ear Candling
I've written about this before
Ear candling is a procedure often used by alternative medicine practitioners for reasons they claim including: removing toxins, relieving sinus pressure, curing ear infections, helping with vertigo, improving hearing, purifying blood and much more. There is no scientific evidence to support any of those claims. Proponents often show some nasty discoloured gook in the candle after a session as proof. This stuff actually is the residue from the candle itself. Just burning one without use on an ear has the same exact effect as with use on an ear. Tests have shown that there is not enough suction created from ear candling to cause ear wax to be pulled from the actual ear.
Health Canada considers ear candles to be Medical Devices and as such require licenses for the sale of them. Since they are considered dangerous, Health Canada has not issued any licenses and therefore, the sale, and import of any ear candle is illegal. They recommend if you do have compacted wax to seek a health care professional who will use proper equipment to remedy the problem.

Similar to ear candling above...Oh the shelves are filled with this nonsense.  My favourite detox to debunk is the foot detox baths as they simply are an old classroom science experiment dolled up to look impressive and fool people.  Yup, it's just electrolysis causing oxidation of iron (rust).  No, despite some people having stinky feet, toxins are not being pulled out of your feet.

Detoxing obviously does have a real medical function, especially in circumstances of overdosing.  Beyond the legitimate medical procedures, the off-the-shelf stuff is just silly.  Many detoxes or cleanses are just a dressed up and expensive laxative that cause you to poop.  This is not really getting rid of excess “toxins” as they claim.  It's not removing heavy metals “built up in your body” from the “chemical soup” you are exposed to.  Keep a healthy body and have regular bowel movements and urination and your body is working at peak waste removal.

Other detoxes suggest mechanisms that are either inefficient or just plain insane.  Very little waste material is secreting through the pores of the skin, so sweat detoxes and body wraps drawing out toxins are just silly.  Some detoxes are downright dangerous.  Chelation is one of those.  Many deaths have occurred because of this.  Many proponents of it think it cures Autism.  Of course this is not true, but it doesn't stop quacks from promoting it and preying on people who are desperate.

In Conclusion
This is only the tip of the iceberg of the loads of rubbish that is sold to unsuspecting consumers at these stores.  Calling them a health and/or nutrition store when they rarely provide either is like calling yourself a video game store and all you offer is Scene It.  It's just not quite what your signage suggests.

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