Evaluating Health Products
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | August 15, 2006

One of the most frequently asked questions we get at Better Life is “What do you know about brand X exercise device (or supplement, or juice, or new diet)? They claim that …” Those questions are what inspired the “One-Hit Wonder” Newsletters.

With infomercials and the Internet, there are many experts claiming cures for diseases, weight loss without dieting, and much more. After thinking about it for a long time, I decided to give you some guidelines that you can use to evaluate almost any health-related product. We’ll be here to help you if you can’t find enough information, but if you use the approach in this Newsletter, you may be able to weed out the claims for yourself--and knowledge is power. So let’s get to it.
  1. Check the language of any ad or website very carefully. Do they use words such as “cure,” “miracle,” etc? Along with that, are there testimonials from people who have used the product and claim amazing results? That should immediately make you suspicious. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission have severe restrictions on what can and cannot be said in any ad for a health product and “cure” is not on any list I’ve ever seen. You tend to find these words on the websites or ads of people who distribute these products, not on the manufacturers’ websites. The manufacturers know better, but individual people may tend to exaggerate the benefits of any health product.

  2. Check to find a Nutrition Facts label on the website. That includes products promoted in infomercials--there should be a website where you can buy the product. If the nutritional product doesn’t have a Nutrition Facts label, why not? It always makes me suspicious, because even if a company manufactures a specific formulation known as “proprietary,” it should still give a basic Nutrition Facts label as required by law. It’s not required on the website, but it should be there so you can check what ingredients are in the product.

  3. Evaluate any proprietary formulas. It’s not as hard as you might think, providing the Nutrition Facts label is present. While the manufacturer will not give specific amounts of each ingredient in the formula, there will be a list of ingredients. They’re usually listed in order by the amount in the formula but not always. For example, a product designed for colon health I recently examined had 575 mg of a proprietary formula, and the formula contained 22 different ingredients. That means there could have been 500 mg of one and virtually nothing of the rest--or equal amounts of each ingredient, which would render it virtually worthless because no amount would be high enough to be physiologically meaningful.

  4. Check the science. Many products state that there is research to back up their claims. To check it out, you need to know the researcher’s name, the journal it was published in, or the scientific name of the plant or herb. Use a medical journal search engine such as PubMed to check. You don’t have to be a scientist to be able to understand the results. You’ll be able to see whether the research was done, and whether it was done on humans, animals, or tissue cultures in test tubes; sometimes the research simply provides an analysis of plant components. Many promoters list properties of their products on websites as though research had been done on humans, but often it’s far from the truth--especially with novel fruits and herbs from other parts of the world. As I’ve said before, it doesn’t make them bad--just incomplete with a lot more science required to back it up.

  5. Don’t be impressed by patents. They make the product seem more trustworthy, but they really don’t mean much when it comes to exercise equipment and formulations of products unless there are human clinical trials to back them up.

  6. Finally, and most importantly, do a gut check. Very simply, do the claims sound reasonable? That’s probably the best test you can apply. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Let it go.
There are more ways to continue the evaluation process, but you can leave that to me and the Better Life staff. As I said, this can at least get you started in the right direction. When you know more, you can do more for yourself. That’s the path to better health.
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