Supplement Perspectives

Generate Legitimate Science to Build Your Brand

<p>Mark Becker starts our look at R&amp;D with a sobering look at why so many&nbsp;studies used by supplement companies&nbsp;are wobbly. </p>

Science, according to an abbreviated Oxford dictionary definition, is the activity of observing the natural world, through systematic study and experimentation. Most people still value the word “science” and want to use it to justify their own personal beliefs. But in doing this, many of these efforts are eroding its true meaning. 

I love the natural products industry. And I truly love when I see compelling new science generated on a natural compound that has a dramatic impact on the people that take natural products. And I genuinely believe the science our industry generates is unsurpassed. Big Pharma can’t hold a candle to us!

That said, during my more than 20 years in the natural products industry, I have seen my share of copycat products. I worked at Jarrow Formulas for a decade and I consider that company to be a leader in generating new science and creating innovative products based on that science. I can’t tell you how many times I saw products—at industry events or online—that were alarmingly similar to some of Jarrow’s best sellers. Frankly, it’s upsetting and not right.

I understand that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But, at the end of the day, the almighty dollar drives some to push the envelope.  The vast majority of new product launches will be marketed as “backed by solid science.” That may be true. But many companies rely on “borrowed science” to market their new products.

In other words, companies often cite references that show that an ingredient in their product has a desired effect.  But are they actually doing studies with their product? And, if they are, what would be the course of action if the product didn’t work? If a product does not show efficacy in a clinical setting, it shouldn’t be marketed, despite the money spent on the study, which, by the way, is very, very expensive.

We all remember the when Merck Inc. pulled the arthritis drug Vioxx off the market in 2004. The company’s one-time best seller became closely associated with patient heart attacks. Some even allegedly argued that the company hired writers to create medical publications that their scientists are believed to have written. Many of these publications claim to be based upon the same scientific evidence that supposedly documented the safety of the drug in order to obtain approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for distribution. Is this considered real science or marketing science?

What do I mean by “marketing science”? In an effort to generate a Return on Investment (ROI) as soon as possible, some companies will do a clinical study with their products, but design the study solely with marketing in mind. They create an outcome so they can make a marketing claim. This marketing claim will often have a direct impact on sales. This is a practice that is more common than many realize. I understand the rationale. But don’t claim to be a science-based organization if you are cutting corners to make a buck.

I have taken a wide range of supplements for decades, including probiotics, CoQ10, multivitamins, protein powders, nitric oxide boosters, adrenal formulas, joint formulas and many, many others. Thankfully, I have the background to make smart supplement choices. Many of those choices are made by my meticulous review of the science.

However, to many consumers, keeping track of the research on vitamin supplements can be an exercise in frustration. Different studies on the same dietary supplements often present conflicting information.

Consider taking a closer look at the study design. This often reveals inconsistencies. The Harvard School of Public Health offers the following that may help you put conflicting results into context. (These are things manufacturers need to keep in mind as well when promoting their products.)

What vitamin doses did study participants take and for how long: The most obvious source of conflicting study results is that different studies test different doses of supplements, for different lengths of time.

Study participants and lifestyle choices: We all know that exercise and healthy eating positively impacts health and that smoking negatively impacts health. These lifestyle choices can also have a profound impact on how the body absorbs dietary supplements. A supplement is called a supplement because it supplements your diet. Dietary supplements are only useful to people whose diets are lacking in that specific nutrient. Therefore, a randomized, placebo controlled trial utilizing dietary supplements on people who eat well may generate deceiving results.  

Time of consumption: A supplement may only be beneficial at a particular stage of a health condition. So, studies done at different stages of a particular health condition may yield inconsistent results.

Measuring efficacy: Studies often differ in how results are measured. For example, what conditions associated with heart disease did a study using CoQ10 impact: heart attack, stroke, or vascular disease? Or did the study measure CoQ10’s impact on heart disease in general? You see my point.

A supplier can firmly cement its reputation as a legitimate natural products player by generating science that is truly unbiased and science-based. This will not only build immeasurable brand equity but will provide the desired result: a genuine natural health solution with proven efficacy. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about?

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