In 1986 I had the opportunity to take a look at one of the first multi-level marketing companies in the nutrition industry. The company – United Sciences of America was endorsed by athletes, had vitamins, protein bars, and shakes, and seemed to be something that could have added to my (just starting) career.
I made the decision – mostly financial – not to go with USA. Good thing. They only lasted a few years. However, one thing that struck me was that even in 1986, USA had amassed over 500,000 studies on nutrition for their product development – long before the age of the Internet and instant access to journals. So – even back then there was a plethora of data on the benefits of vitamins, minerals, and protein for good health – and not just in vegetables and steaks, but also in pills and powders.
If you watch the news or read any of the major mainstream publications (Newsweek, Time, or major medical publications), you would think that vitamin supplements are the bane of our existence, killing or maiming thousands of people a year in something akin to a plague on our country. Compared to pharmaceuticals – this is hardly the case. If you read reviews by Gualler and Bjelakovic, antioxidants, minerals, multi-vitamins, and high dose vitamins have no value, and may actually be harmful to those who take them. Of course, a pleasant rhetorical from Frei, Willett, and Ames states that indeed vitamins are necessary for the majority of Americans, and that there are no issues in terms of ill health effects. What is my take away from this? Well – authors such as Gualler and Bjelalovic are liars. They have made up data or twisted the results of studies to fit their narrative – and because they are doctors and researchers, people should believe them. Sorry doctors – but the way things are going with medicine and pharmaceuticals these days, people are becoming LESS inclined to believe doctors when it comes to vitamins.
However, there is another twist in the saga – why are pharma companies buying into vitamins?
Yes, the big players are getting into vitamins – as Boehringer Ingelheim and Pfizer already have nutraceutical lines, and more will venture into the $20B market in the coming years. This tells us that vitamins are not only NOT bad, but have had such staying power that multi-national corporations want to not only sell vitamins, but create patents on botanicals and sell at a much higher price.
So – here we are, 30 years later, and many in the medical profession are still railing against vitamins as being terrible for human health, but at the same time looking at vitamins as a potential investment opportunity. I believe that an industry that prematurely kills over 400,000 Americans a year has no right to wag a finger at an industry that has had 1 death in the past decade. That said, what is the nutrition industry doing to strengthen their position in the market? Simple – medically-based foods.
The rise of the Medical Foods Industry
Companies such as Primus Pharmaceuticals (<http://www.primusrx.com> ), Solace Nutrition (http://www.solacenutrition.com), and Novahue (www.novahue.com <http://www.novahue.com> ) are actually medical food companies – providing nutraceuticals for cardiovascular health, menopause, eye care, anti-aging, and anti-cancer care.
Other companies such as Juice Plus and Purium sell food-based products in a supplement format. In their words – they are not supplements, but food that is in powder or tablet form that is easily digested, and is making its pitch as “super foods” which can not only maintain a level of health – but improve health at both the performance / athletic level, but also in the anti-aging area. There is a difference. Purium founder David Sandoval discusses some of these in his book The Green Foods Bible – where super foods and green plant extracts are becoming the new level of nutrition as opposed to multi-vitamins, capsules, and tablets. 20 years ago Dr. Joel Wallach spoke about the benefits of liquid vitamins as being better absorbed, and using more than what would be in tablet form. I tend to agree with them.
In my career I have spoken on medical nutrition for over a decade, and have developed a following in the health and fitness professions as having a good handle on the global picture of foods – not just from a shopping and growing standpoint, but from a economic (farmer’s markets vs. international trade), minerals vs. pharmaceuticals in healing disease, and detailing common sense to issues related to health (the benefits of drinking water vs. sugar free sodas). That said – here are a few reasons why I am joining the medical foods bandwagon after 30 years in the industry. They should serve as inspiration for those in health education, fitness, and healthcare who may have reservations regarding the use of today’s supplements as “unregulated”, or “too expensive”. They are listed below:
REASON #1 – Conventional foods are still terrible. It is estimated that almost 70% of processed US foods include GMOs. This is outrageous, and the solution is to move away from using the grocery store and shop with companies that make products exclusive to superior health. Walk through a grocery store, and the internal isles are filled with: bottles of salad mixes, Gatorade, sodas, more sodas, diet sodas, and large bottle sodas. Baking items, boxed cereals, muffin mixes, beer and wine, spirits (more booze), crackers, frozen foods in boxes, frozen meats in plastic bags, and cleaning supplies – right next to the pet foods. Seriously.
It is the outside isles that contain the fruits, vegetables, cut meats, and move nutritious foods – but it is these isles that most people don’t spend as much time shopping at.
According to a 2014 article in Consumer Reports, over 48 million people fall sick each year from eating tainted foods. It is from E. coli and salmonella. It comes from poor cleaning and production methods, poor storage methods, and improper cooking in restaurants (and at home). Mostly it comes from large food industry producers such as Tyson and Swanson who produce foods “en masse” that have the most problems with these issues. And it’s getting worse.
REASON #2 – Nutrition products are increasingly being produced as a higher manufacturing level. With increased pressure by medical food companies, and the threat of the big food companies / agri-businesses – nutrition supplements that want to stay in business and grow need to work for their clients at a higher level.
REASON #3 – immune dysfunction and food borne allergies are at an all-time high. According to DD Carlson’s 2009 report on vaccines and food allergies, she states that there is a high correlation between childhood vaccines and across the board food allergies, including specific to milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts. Carlson states that antigenic proteins in vaccines may be the cause of developing immune reactions to eight of these common foods introduced in early childhood. She also states that foods sprayed with pesticides, fungicides, and other contaminants are causing a large increase in the percentage of children (soon to be adults) who are diagnosed and live with chronic food allergies. Carlson recommends a complete overhaul of what is fed to children, along with supplementations as an alternative to antigen exposure from vaccines.
The rise in medical foods will look to heal some of the more pressing health issues in our time – allergies, autism, obesity, diabetes, and cancers. Is it possible to change the course of these disorders through nutrition? In my estimation – it will be the only thing that will change the course of these diseases. It will require us to rethink how we look at eating (three square meals a day, lots of meats, just a small dessert, etc.). In the long run, if a daily shake, food tablets, and a reduce caloric intake with super nutrition can help us work better, perform better, sleep better, and feel better, then the medical food industry (AKA supplements) has done its job to help Americans become healthier, and stand toe to toe against the pharmaceutical industry who wants to promote a poisonous pill for every condition known to mankind. It will be a big job, but those who are the healthiest will be left standing in the long run. The rest of them will be too tired to continue the fight.
Eric Durak is a 30-year veteran of the wellness industry. He has worked in health/fitness, medical research, publishing, and has presented to almost 200 national conferences and workshops over his career. He is a Diplomat with the Medical Wellness Association, and speaks on medical nutrition to their annual conference. Contact him directly at 805-451-8072.
1. Carlson, DD. Food allergies and early childhood vaccines from 1990-2006. 2009. E-dissertation. Managed MotherCare, Inc. Found at: https://www.amazon.com/Food-Allergies-Early-Childhood-Vaccines-ebook/dp/B001QTWISG?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0
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