Fact or Fiction: Dietary Supplements Edition

by Madison Cavallaro

 The glorious year 2020 (and 2021, for that matter) heightened the public's interest in self-care and promoted better health and beauty practices. Our interest in self-care also spiked the interest in many brands capitalizing on products we are told will be life-changing. But can supplementing collagen and other supplements into our smoothies and protein shakes really make a difference? Stay tuned because I'm about to dive into this and let you know; is it fact or is it fiction. 

As easy as it is to just trust everyone to consider the best interest of your health, there are certain things to evaluate before starting a new supplement. That is not to say they don't work because numerous dietary supplements do. To be safe and reduce any risk, you should always notify your doctor when you start a new supplement. Many supplements have active ingredients that can interact with medications you may be taking or impact a health condition. It is also important to note that the FDA (federal drug administration) does not monitor supplements, nor does it define the effectiveness of a supplement. This doesn't mean there is no regulation for these products. The FDA established GMPs (good manufacturing practices) that the company must follow to guarantee their supplements' strength, purity, composition, and identity. Each facility has to pass this quality testing.1

So what does this all mean? It means dietary supplements are supposed to be an addition to your diet; they will not diagnose, treat, or cure any condition or disease. With that in mind, it's crucial to view supplements as optimizers rather than a miracle pill. 


Collagen: Fiction 

What keeps skin looking young and plump is a protein called collagen. It is a building block for bones, skin, hair, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Our bodies make this protein on their own, but it is true that as we age, the production of collagen decreases. Many people have added collagen powders and supplements to their diet as an anti-aging regimen. As many doctors like to say, "The jury is still out on taking collagen." Meaning, at this time, there is no reliable scientific evidence that once we ingest collagen powders, capsules, or liquids, that they are absorbed into the bloodstream. It's unclear if the stomach acids break down the collagen entirely.2

Luckily, there are other ways to promote anti-aging through topical methods. Retinol, tretinoin, and antioxidants like vitamin C, creams, and serums are scientifically proven to stimulate collagen formation and reverse inflammation that causes damage to collagen. Wearing sunscreen daily is also vital in preventing collagen breakdown.2


Weight loss supplements: Fiction

*Insert Twitter meme of what society would look like if..* Yes, society would 100% look like the futuristic Twitter meme if diet and weight loss pills actually worked. Sadly, despite numerous types, mostly all of them are not sensible or sustainable ways to promote weight loss. Common ingredients among these supplements are herbs, plant components, dietary fiber, caffeine, and minerals. There is little to no scientific research on these supplements and whether they are effective or not. Some weight loss supplements have the potential for physical harm since some include ingredients that may interfere with other conditions and medications or serve as a mild laxative and disrupt the digestive system.3 The best way to manage weight is to create a healthy relationship with food and exercise regularly.


Chlorophyll: Fiction 

Liquid chlorophyll took off on tik tok as one of the newest wellness fads. But what even is that green liquid? Well, it is a pigment in plants known for giving them their green color. Chlorophyll also plays a critical role in photosynthesis, helping the plants absorb energy to create sunlight. Even though humans share about 60% of DNA with bananas, we are not photosynthesizing plants. Meaning, we don't need to be taking chlorophyll to help our bodies in any way. Chlorophyll's reputation of preventing cancer, treating acne and skincare, healing wounds, and promoting weight loss has been debunked as a cure-all for these issues. But research shows there are specific antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.4 

While there is no known harm in using liquid chlorophyll in moderation, you'd be better off spending that money at the market on green vegetables.


Stress relief: Fact

It is no exaggeration that stress, burnout, exhaustion, irritability, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues were exacerbated due to Covid-19. Because of this, many individuals sought out mental health care and different ways to cope. Many individuals tried supplements to aid their moods and help manage stress. Rhodiola Rosea, is an herb known for stimulating the stress response system to increase resistance. Many studies showed improvements in symptoms of anxiety, exhaustion, irritability, and chronic stress. When taken by mouth: Rhodiola is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken short-term. Twice daily doses of rhodiola extract have been used safely for 6-12 weeks. Rhodiola might cause dizziness, dry mouth, or excessive saliva production. There isn't enough reliable information to know if rhodiola is safe to use long-term.

Another Herb, native to India, acts similarly to Rhodiola is ashwagandha. Research on this herb shows its well-tolerated, safe, and compared to a placebo, was associated with significant reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression related to its effects on cortisol levels, the stress hormone. Other hormones, vitamins, and amino acids include melatonin, B complex vitamins, glycine, and L-theanine, promote relaxation and regulation of stress, sleep, and alertness.5 Supplements containing any of these ingredients will most likely benefit you if you have noticeable symptoms of stress, fatigue, anxiety, or depression. 

Being skeptical of dietary supplements and doing proper research before adding them to your regime is not only just being consumer-conscious. It is also the best way to promote optimum health. Prior research may save you money, but it also will help you understand food and nutrition better. Many of these supplements are unnecessary, and some don't work. Others are not conclusive in effect, but that doesn't mean supplements are a no-go. It's essential to do what makes you happy. There is no harm in adding something to your diet as long as you make sure you notify your doctor and follow the serving size.

Sources: 1 NIH / 2 Cedar Sinai / 3 NIH / 4 Cleveland Clinic / 5 Health Line / Webmb


Meet our Contributor

Madison is an Eating Disorder Consoler in Los Angeles. She graduated from Emmanuel College and Northeastern University in Boston with a B.S. and M.S. and specializes in health science and nutrition. Throughout her career, she has aspired to impact the nutrition field in a positive way. With her background and interest in sustainability, health, and wellness, she aims to address limitations in health by making these top

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