On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Evidence Needed for ‘Marketing Scheme’ Supplements

DEAR DR. BLONZ: You tend to go negative about products sold through network marketing. In my view, if a particular product has health benefits, these marketing programs allow people to join a company, help their friends and others, and make a profit at the same time. It is such a natural way to help and participate, and I am troubled by your typical rejections. -- S.T., Casa Grande, Arizona

DEAR S.T.: Any nutritional product sold should be able to support its claims with published research in real-world situations. I search for evidence that the directions for use and amounts provided are consistent with the claims being made. These claims are the ones that tend to attract prospective customers (and network marketers) in the first place.

Consider the regulatory context -- namely, that there is none. There is currently no regulatory requirement that dietary supplements demonstrate they are safe, or that they work as claimed, before they are marketed. If misconduct is suspected, the companies can be challenged by those charged with consumer protection, such as state attorneys general, the Federal Trade Commission or the Food and Drug Administration. But the up-front bill is paid by the taxpayer, as these challenges occur AFTER the product is already on the market.

I consider it a red flag when there is no objective evidence, but plentiful praise from those profiting from the sale. We must decide for ourselves, and mine is not an automatic condemnation. If you or a loved one has taken a product and it has appeared to have worked, it would be reasonable to consider joining the company and spreading the word. Ideally, a profitable business entity of this type would invest in independent (not in-house) research to test all their claimed effects. I encourage you to inquire if this has been done at the company you are considering. For more on network marketing, check tinyurl.com/q9dw95b.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I have had a run-in with health issues, and I am attempting to make changes. I recently began taking a statin, but I confess to craving meat, eggs and cheese. With the pills, my cholesterol numbers have improved, but I am not confident that things are actually getting better. -- S.E., Hayward, California

DEAR S.E.: I have heard many express a “craving” for certain foods that had a central place in their diet. Many are successful at slowly transitioning from one style to another as they integrate a big-picture understanding of the connection between diet, activity, health and longevity. I am not talking about your physician telling you to cut back on meat or fat as an end in itself; I refer to gradually gaining an appreciation for how eating a healthful variety of foods contributes to health.

We are so over-specialized in this country. While there are exceptions, dietary changes usually don’t have to be all-or-nothing. What we have become good at is throwing a pill at a problem to make it go away. There is a definite interconnectedness that needs to be understood, and once you gain that essential bit of savvy, you will realize that you can eat the foods you love as long as your diet and lifestyle are in good shape. My advice is that you take the time to educate yourself. Read more about nutrition and health. Stick around, and I will attempt to push you a bit further along on that road.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.