Supplement This!

For $23 billion a year, Americans must be getting a lot out of dietary supplements! Right?

March 20, 2010

How much of the younger, healthier, happier, more beautiful you is waiting in a bottle at the health food store? Behold: a beautiful infographic from David McCandless and Andy Perkins, with the answer.

The graphic is a “balloon race” – the more positive evidence supporting each supplement, the higher it floats.

There are several reasons to love and admire this infographic. You can make quick comparisons and learn a lot fast (eg. unless you’re just eating those Flintstones Vitamin-C tablets for the taste, you might as well ditch them for some beta-glucan). And wouldn’t all of life be better with a “worth it” line?

The interactive version takes it to the next level by allowing you to see the indications for each supplement by moving your cursor over the bubble; you can also use the pop-up bar on the right to view supplements for one indication (eg heart disease) at a time.

McCandless went through the abstracts of 1500 studies to create this graphic, and he used discretion with his sources:

We only considered large, human, randomized placebo-controlled trials in our data scrape – wherever possible. No animal trials. No cell studies. Many of the health claims made by the $23 billion supplements industry are based on non-human trials. We wanted to cut through that.

He also provides a link to the Google doc he used to generate the graphic. In the document, each supplement is assigned an effectiveness score, from one to six. Since he’s clearly trying to make his process as transparent as possible, I think it would be nice to see how that score was generated. Does it reflect the size or number of studies conducted? The consistency of the results? The size of the health effect, or the percentage of subjects for whom the supplement was effective? The number of times the paper has been cited, or where the study was published? Given the amount of work McCandless and his researchers did, I assume there were multiple factors that contributed to each supplement’s rating—I’d like to be able to see them.

Considering the enormous amount of money Americans spend on nutritional supplements,* I’d also be interested in seeing this graphic with the cost of each supplement included or, better yet (but harder to determine), the amount of money we spend on each. Maybe along the horizontal axis? Is that pushing it?

Even without the visual emphasis on cost, it’s clear from this graphic that what Americans need is a new, truly magical supplement to cure us of our pathological spending on everything below the worth it line.

*McCandless quotes $23 billion/yr, a figure that probably came from the Nutrition Business Journal. A 2004 report from the same source, quoted by the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, estimates Americans’ spending at over $20 billion.

About the Author



for me, spending is a waste of diet

Clint blumer says:

I am glad to see that more and more scientific research is being performed on dietary supplements. The more research that is performed, the more positive results will be shown, just as is done regularly with scientific research. Repetition may be monotonous, but necessary if the real truth is to be known. this also helps to eliminate bias.

The reason that the dietary industry is growing is for several reasons, but as the old cliche goes, “the proof is in the pudding.”

Two words overwhelm a human mind, “health”, and “Herbal”. Not surprising therefore it is to see dietary industry has manipulated people’s minds and pockets, for years, especially in USA. Great as it is to avoid pharmacological treatment, it is bad to be drifted by unscientific information. Therefrom it proves how crucial it is to scientifically pursue data, to avoid harmful misconceptions.
I believe the American poulation were most vulnerable in this framework because of their notoriously unhealthy diet that was reinforced over years by the plethora of food availability, save for the last decade. The bottom line, eat a healthy diet- Mediterranean diet currently the most eligible, and you avoid manipulation.
Thanks for a crucial article
Dr Hana Fayyad ( Maria Jasmine Freeman)

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