Designer Supplements Worth the Price?
I’ve often laughed at how expensive it can be to be organic, health conscious, and to fight this good fight against pesticides, GMOs, and big box brands. However, in my journey from poor, small-town college kid to big city career woman it’s been hard not to see how the health-forward trend attracts a specific demographic. And when I say “demographic” I mean young, professional, college educated women who spend $165 a month on their Equinox memberships, buy $6 organic, cold pressed juices from their neighborhood Whole Foods, and worry about free radicals and facial wrinkles in their early twenties. I’m not hating on these people, because in many ways I am them. However, if the goal is simply to be better to our bodies by raising our awareness of the foods we eat and the activity we do, does it really have to cost so much?
For that reason, I want to delve a little deeper into designer supplements.
If you’re anything like me, you may fall into the trap of taking shortcuts. Instead of eating a salad to get my daily vitamins and fiber, I’d sometimes rather take a supplement. Instead of drinking less milk (read coffee), I’d love to take an enzyme that helps me with the bloat. I’d always rather take some fish oil than stink up my house. I’d just rather. And if a supplement promises me that it can detox my liver, give me clearer skin, and pump up my daily energy… well, I might just want to believe it.
But as a savvy consumer, we need to ask ourselves some questions.
What’s really in these supplements?
Do I have to pay an arm and a leg for them?
With a balanced diet, do I even need these supplements at all?
First and foremost, I’m not going to tell you not to take your vitamins. According to my last check-up, all people age 25 and up should be taking a multi-vitamin. What I want to discuss is whether or not those $25/month isolated or specific designer supplements are worth the money, the convenience, and the pretty packaging. I’ll do this by identifying some of the main ingredients in these supplements, discussing where they can be found naturally occurring, and what they do for our bodies.
Common ingredients in designer supplements
The following are commonly used components of supplements promising to boost your beauty, energy, and health.
Gamma linolenic acid or GLA: an omega-6 fatty acid which can be found in hemp oil, olive oil and safflower oil. This ingredient is said to improve skin conditions and give lustrous hair.
Alpha lipoic acid or ALA: an omega-3 fatty acid that is essential for human growth and development, according to WebMD. It can be naturally found in nuts, vegetable oils, and in red meat and dairy products. WebMD states that ALA may be effective in reducing risk of heart disease, preventing hardening of arteries, and reduce risk of hypertension.
Sunflower seed oil: this nut oil has been shown to be moderately effective in lowering total and bad cholesterol levels (LDL). It may have some moisturizing benefits if applied externally.
Vitamin E: this vitamin is found in vegetable oils, cereals, meat, poultry, eggs, fruits, and vegetables. It has been found to have possible uses in many areas of the body. It may help slow memory loss in those with Alzheimer’s disease, help menstrual pain, help with male infertility, lessen inflammation in sunburns, and help in pain relief for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, to give some examples. Vitamin E deficiency, while rare, is connected to many health issues.
Zinc: this mineral belongs to a group called trace minerals, meaning we only need small amounts, which we usually consume in our diets, to stay healthy. It is important for immunity, healing, eyesight, and enzyme activity throughout the body. You can find it in whole grains, fish, and meats.
Selenium: this is a trace mineral which can be naturally found in broccoli, cabbage, celery, onions, garlic, whole grains, and organ meats. Selenium is important for good health, but it’s functions are not well understood.
Calcium: we get this essential mineral from dairy and leafy greens. It is important for our bones, teeth, nerves, muscles, energy, and our immune system.
Copper: a trace mineral found in nuts, fruits, shellfish, and organ meats that is important for the production of collagen, elastin, melanin, neurotransmitters, and hemoglobin.
Manganese: this trace elements functions in our body aren’t well understood, but it seems to be important for optimal health. It can be found in whole grains and nuts.
Potassium: this is a macro mineral, meaning we need significant amounts of it to stay in good health. It can be found in fresh veggies and fruits, and is important for muscles, nerves, and energy production, among other things.
Magnesium: we get this mineral from leafy greens, nuts, beans, fish, and whole grains. It is used in every biological process.
Blue-green Algae (spirulina, chlorella): there’s been a lot of buzz around this plant-like organism from the water, but research isn’t sure it lives up to the hype. It is thought that this algae may be a good source of protein but, according to the experts at WebMD, it has no more protein than meat or milk, and it much more expensive than either of those.
Rhodiola Rosea: while there is insufficient evidence of these benefits in humans, this adaptogen is thought to help the body adapt to stress chemically and physically. It can be found online and at health food stores.
Melatonin: this is a naturally occurring hormone in our bodies that helps to regulate our sleep cycles. Melatonin supplements can be found at any health or grocery store and has been found to be effective in treating sleep disorders of all kinds.
Biotin: biotin is an important component used by the body to break down molecules like fats and carbohydrates. Those who benefit most from biotin are those who are biotin deficient; these people can see dramatic improvements in their hair growth and luster, nails, and skin. Similar results are not common for those who get enough biotin in their diets.
There are many possible combinations of vitamins, minerals, oils, acids, enzymes, herbs, and adaptogens. Some of them may give you positive results. However, as we can see here, many of them are already being ingested by you daily in your diet. We can see that instead of paying $25-$40 for a beautifully packaged supplement containing green tea extract, ALA, and zinc, you could just order a salad and drink a green tea. By doing your research, asking questions, and just being aware of the diet that is going to help your body function optimally, you can save yourself a bunch of money on vitamins that may just pass through your body.
Staying healthy, active, radiant, and beautiful can mean many different things. By focusing on what really matters, pursuing health of mind, body, and spirit, and staying aware of what you put in your body, you’ll do more for yourself than any $40 supplement can. No shortcut needed.