Benefits of Natural Products and Supplements

The benefits of natural products, supplements and foods cannot be overstated. Literally millions of articles, studies, and all forms of advice have been published and circulated for millennia.

We don’t need to look far to discover that a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, fish, grains and limited meats (along with the elimination of processed and fast food, and limited alcohol consumption) are the best path to overall good health. Today there are also excellent apps available which can help track diets, recommend herbs and supplements with various health properties, and so on. And grandma certainly knew what she was doing when she gave her grand kids a cup of chamomile tea and chicken soup…

Unfortunately, too often people look for a “magic pill” to solve health issues, when in many cases using natural herbs and products go a long way to alleviating common ailments. A good example of this is the common headache. Personally I find that in most cases, a headache can be cured by drinking a large glass of water and inhaling some menthol — instead of reaching for the “band-aid” of an over-the-counter drug. [of course if headaches regularly persist, it could be the sign of a more serious condition]

Indeed we are inundated with advertising promoting the quick-fix, when often it is a simple matter of knowing the natural remedies that are widely available.

[Again, this is not to say that medications and pharmaceuticals do not have their place and are essential for many medical conditions, and it is NOT the opinion of the Nutra Foundation that natural products and supplements are cure-alls.]

What is the case is that natural remedies should be at least tried, instead of always reaching for medications. And it is worth discussing the reasons for this.

Natural products are preferable to pharmaceutical medications for a few simple reasons:

1. Since natural products are indeed found in nature they have limited side-effects — the most common being stomach upset or possibly allergic reaction (which is the case with any food). All one has to do is listen to the laundry-list of side-effects on pharmaceutical commercials to be reminded of the sometimes severe side-effects.

2. Pharmaceutical solutions to common problems often are simply covering up or alleviating a more systemic issue in your body.

3. Pharmaceutical solutions can in some cases lead to dependency and even addiction.

Of course it is always worth noting that even natural supplements and herbs can have negative effects on certain people. The reality is that the human body is very complex, and each of us is an individual. One person’s wonder-herb can be another’s placebo or allergy…

Natural Products and Side Effects

Surely virtually everything we ingest or take medicinally has potential side effects. Just consider those who cannot drink milk (lactose intolerance) or allergies. And who doesn’t know someone allergic to nuts of some kind.

Still, truth be told, natural products and supplements simply have less side effects than pharmaceuticals. Anyone who debates this is either uninformed, or totally biased.

The most common side-effect of any product (or food for that matter) that we ingest is stomach or intestinal upset — which only serves to reason. Rarely are these side-effects extremely harmful, and most often using a smaller dosage or taking a product with food alleviates these symptoms.

We are all aware of food allergies, and basically natural products and supplements can be thought of as foods. Allergic symptoms typically take the form of skin rashes, vomiting, headaches, etc. As with any new substance we introduce in our bodies, it’s always prudent to be aware of potential adverse effects.

Having said all of this — the overwhelming evidence supports the assertion (and fact) that natural products have far far less potential side-effects than pharmaceuticals. One only has to listen to drug commercials to be reminded of this fact.

Natural Product Scientific Studies

A plethora of scientific studies have, and continue to be conducted on a wide variety of natural products, supplements, foods and so on. Quite frankly, even for those individuals who make a concerted effort to read and use these studies to make decisions on what foods and supplements to consume — become quite confused.

This confusion is very understandable due not only to the difficulty in sometimes comprehending the scientific jargon and methods utilized. In addition, many studies are contradictory and a times report completely opposite results.

Unfortunately, some of this confusion is the result of inherent biases of scientists — or more aptly put, the biases of the organizations funding the research. In fact, many studies are indeed funded by the very companies who produce the products and supplements themselves (I know this from personal experience). At times, companies even fund studies to directly refute other studies for natural products of their competitors — or products which could replace products the company produces (pharmaceuticals vs. nutraceuticals).

In 2003, the Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed results of 370 clinical trials to determine any bias in drug company-sponsored research and concluded that industry-sponsored studies were significantly more likely to reach conclusions that were favorable to the sponsor than were non-industry studies.

I recall a study published in 2012 (which shall remain nameless at this time) which concluded that Resveratrol was not effective in improving the health of otherwise healthy patients — you read that right! That’s akin to saying that a pharmaceutical or drug is ineffective in patients who don’t have a particular disease. And guess who funded the Resveratrol study? I’m sure you can figure that out…

So What’s the Consumer to Do?

Nutra recommends the following for consumers who are indeed looking for scientific studies (which they should be) to verify the reported health benefits of natural products and supplements.

1. Consider the SOURCE of the study — particularly the organization which funded the study and their inherent biases

2. Generally TRUST sources such as Universities and Government-funded laboratories (though surely they have some biases also)

3. Read MULTIPLE studies, and believe the results which most of the studies have in common, and are consistent.

4. Be WARY of studies funded by producers of specific products, conducted on their own products.

Natural Products, Nutraceuticals and Supplements

Throughout the Nutra Foundation website, a variety of terms are used which are in most cases interchangeable.

Natural Products is a catch-all for any product (or food/mineral/etc.) which is produced inherently in nature and has defined medicinal properties and positive effects on overall heath. Some people might also include Organic products in this category, though this term tends to refer primarily to foods.

Nutraceuticals is a relatively new term coined by the natural products industry to connote the fact that in many cases these products can be viewed on a parallel level with pharmaceuticals.

For example, a highly renowned MD and neurosurgeon that I am acquainted with in Pittsburgh, PA treats a considerable percentage of his patients using Fish Oils (Omegas) to reduce pain and inflammation — in addition to, or instead of, using pharmaceutical products.

Supplements generally refer to those products sold in natural product and drug stores for a variety of uses. Vitamins are a sub-category of supplements.

Whatever the term used, they all have the same thing in common — these are products and elements derived from natural sources to treat and alleviate a plethora of ailments and illnesses.

Natural Products and Anti Pharma Bias

It is often the case that people in the natural products industries and even some naturopaths seem to have a strong bias against using pharmaceutical products. Each of them has their own story about the harmful effects of pharmaceuticals.

Unfortunately, this has caused “camps” to develop in a seeming war of nutraceuticals versus pharmaceuticals.

It is the belief of the Nutra Foundation that nutraceuticals (and natural supplements and products) are often simply overlooked as cures to a variety of ailments — or as prevention to ailments ever developing. While some blame medical schools and pharmaceutical companies for pushing drugs on people (and Nutra will not deny that this practice exists) — it can also be said that natural products companies push natural products as cure-alls in some cases.

Nutra falls somewhere in the middle of this debate, albeit with some emphasis on natural products. However, in the case of acute illness (i.e. heart attack, cancer, organ failure) anyone would be hard-pressed to not default to a pharmaceutical cure. This is not to say that nutraceuticals do not play an important role even in these extreme circumstances, and most people are aware of stories of others being cured by (or aided by) the use of natural products.

In Nutra’s opinion, the “war” has been created by companies on both sides of the aisle who produce propaganda and marketing materials to suit their needs and maximize their profits. Unfortunately, this has created mass-confusion on the part of the consumer, when the truth is that BOTH pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals have their place in the world of medicine.