Biohacking is an evidence-based approach to health, fitness, energy, and wellbeing so it’s important you know the facts about supplements, vitamins and minerals because not only do many of the myths and misconceptions conflict with each other, believing them could, in fact, be dangerous.
Top supplement myths are:
- Supplements can be dangerous and results are at best unreliable
- You don’t need to take supplements if you have a good diet
- If you take supplements you don’t need to eat well
- It’s better to get nutrition from food and drink as opposed to from supplements
- Most people need to take supplements
- The more supplements you take the better
- Supplements give almost immediate results
- You can’t overdose on supplements
- Supplements don’t interact with medicine
- Supplements are expensive and a waste of money
- All supplements are the same quality
- A supplement will have the same effect on you as it will on everybody else
- Fat burners don’t work
- Fats are bad for you
- Carbs are bad for you
- Caffeine is bad for you
- Salt is bad for you
- You don’t need Omega-3 fatty acid supplements as the body produces enough on its own
- Supplements improve strength and muscle mass without training
- Protein increases muscle mass
- You don’t need to take extra protein even if you’re an athlete
- Too much protein will damage your kidneys
- All protein is the same
- Creatine is a steroid
- Eating often will boost your metabolism
- Supplements should dissolve in water
- Supplements make you hungry
- Always take supplements on an empty stomach
- Organic supplements are better
- Supplements that are “all-natural” are best
- Supplements don’t have an expiry date
- Single supplements are better for you than those with multiple ingredients
- The supplement industry is unregulated
Supplements have become more and more popular over recent years with the increase in society’s approach to health, fitness, and happiness, and people’s desire to look, perform and feel as good as they can.
When used correctly supplements are a hack, a very effective biohack.
On top of this, the publication and ease of access to studies that show certain minerals and vitamins as being superfoods has led to an increase in the purchase and use of the supplementary versions of these products.
Studies, for the most part, are reliable but can be misleading in isolation, so there are many myths and untruths which surround supplements. Read on to discover the top ones as we pull back the curtain and reveal the truth.
Supplements can be dangerous and results are at best unreliable
This myth comes from the fact that in the past there have been supplements on the market which were found to be dangerous.
In 2004 an article published by Harvard Health Publishing clarified that ‘ephedra’ – which was a popular weight-loss supplement – had been removed from the market as it was found to cause more than 16,000 cases of negative health effects and even 155 deaths.
More recently with new supplements like CBD, it’s been shown that some products are not what they claim either.
However, this doesn’t mean all supplements are dangerous. If you stick to reliable and established, well-known trusted brands you should feel safe to purchase and consume these products, but remember to take expert advice, especially if you have allergies or a medical condition.
By sticking to the well-established brands you are purchasing a quality product and you get what you expect, no more, no less.
You don’t need to take supplements if you have a good diet
Supplements are named as such for a reason. They are meant to be taken on top of something else in order to supplement and improve it.
Taking fat burners on their own, taking protein on its own and taking dietary supplements on their own are not how they are meant to be taken.
You have to take action and give them something to supplement in order for them to work effectively.
If you take supplements you don’t need to eat well
That said, simply having a good diet does not mean that you don’t require supplements as even the best food plan and preparation routine doesn’t necessarily provide every single vitamin and mineral you need in the perfect amount.
An individual’s need is unique.
Someone who is 80 years old does not require the same amount of vitamins and minerals as someone who is 16 and still growing.
Those who are vegan are more likely to suffer from a Vitamin B12 deficiency and may, therefore, benefit from a supplement to make up for this deficiency in their diet.
A marathon runner has totally different nutrition needs to those of a bodybuilder.
In fact, that same marathon runner or bodybuilder will have different requirements based on if they’re about to enter a competition or if they’re in the offseason building a foundation from which to improve their performance.
It’s better to get nutrition from food and drink as opposed to from supplements
Some nutrients are actually more effective in supplementary form and others in their natural form. For example, Vitamin k1 isn’t very bioavailable in plants but is more so in supplementary form.
And taking supplements can be a more effective, easy and predictable way to get what you need as the precise nutrients in food can be hard to define and when you need nutrition at a specific time. An example that’s very relevant for me is before, during and after exercise, consuming the right food in the right quantity could be almost impossible and personally I don’t like training on a full stomach and I don’t like eating immediately after training after so supplements are great for me.
Most people need to take supplements
For some people, supplements can help to make up for deficiencies they may have in their diets, but that’s not true for everybody because we don’t all want and need the same nutrition or have the same health, fitness or lifestyle goals.
Most adults who are happy to be reasonably healthy can get all the nutrition they need by eating a well-balanced, healthy diet that’s specific to them. Unfortunately, even government guidelines are far from suited to most people.
But the danger is that because most people don’t have a good diet this myth has become used by people who sell supplements and sometimes this who add supplements to common foods too, for example, breakfast cereal and yogurt often feature added vitamins and minerals.
Supplementing has its place but must be tailored to each individual. And what I would say is that we can all benefit from the right blend of food, drink, and supplementation
The more supplements you take the better
You should take the minimum effective dose of something and that will depend on what you are looking to achieve, any more is not just a waste, it’s potentially detrimental too.
You should also be aware of how much of a specific vitamin or mineral you can effectively use at any one time too because that should determine how much you take and you take it.
Supplements give almost immediate results
The fact is they don’t, although I accept we’d all like immediate results.
Some people think that if a supplement doesn’t offer noticeable results in a couple of days, or worse still in their next training session it doesn’t work.
Each supplement will take a different amount of time to be effective and produce the results, just like going to the gym and doing abs once doesn’t give you a six-pack.
Good nutrition and supplement advice should always give guidance on how and how much to take and over what period of time because each supplement is different. And even with a supplement when you take advice based on your personal situation, not just the generic advice given on a website or bottle, you will discover different things too.
You can’t overdose on supplements
The fact is toxicity can occur from taking too much of a vitamin or mineral. But it’s not just a supplement threat, the same is true whether it comes for a supplement or from food and drink.
Each vitamin has different side effects from overdosing. For example, overdosing on Vitamin C can lead to diarrhea and an upset stomach. Whereas, overdosing on Vitamin B-6 can lead to a much more serious side effect of nerve damage.
Don’t stress too much however because water-soluble vitamins B and C are often excreted through urine if they are consumed in excess.
However, most ‘fat-soluble’ vitamins (A, D, E, and K) are able to be stored in fat and therefore are the biggest threats in terms of toxicity.
Supplements don’t interact with medicine
The truth is some supplements can interact with medicines – especially herbal ones, in fact, I had an adverse reaction to a nootropic, nothing serious but certainly not expected or something that I want to happen again.
Always consult with your doctor before adding new supplements to your diet. The packaging of most if not all prescriptions and supplements should warn of any potential interactions. Nonetheless, always consult with your doctor
Supplements are expensive and a waste of money
What one person sees as expensive another sees as good value in every product or service because it’s personal. And there is some truth in the phrase you get what you pay for.
Not all supplementary products are of the same quality and in truth, some have inflated prices that are justified by fancy packaging, celebrity endorsements or other irrelevant branding tricks, but that doesn’t make them a waste of money.
And supplements for some people are a shortcut to results, for others an insurance policy for health and performance, so make up your own mind, don’t accept what others think, it’s just their opinion.
All supplements are the same quality
Just like other forms of nutrition, supplements vary in quality and the price is not the best way to determine this.
I always look at what’s in the supplements I take and how they process and test the products too.
In simple terms, supplements come in different categories: medical-grade, pharmaceutical grade, cosmetic or nutritional grade, and feed or agricultural grade.
You need to balance perceived quality, actual quality, with pharmaceutical-grade the highest level, cost, availability and your country’s laws, for example, there are something I can get here that you can’t in the USA but equally this works the other way round too.
A supplement will have the same effect on you as it will on everybody else
How you respond to a supplement is unique because we are all different, all have a different goal, exercise differently, have our own lifestyle and eating habits and even where we live affects this.
Never assume what works or doesn’t work for one person will do the same for you. That’s why expert advice is key.
Fat burners don’t work
The expectation with fat burners is that you take a pill or drink and instantly begin to start losing weight.
Unfortunately, a miracle product like this cannot and does not exist no matter what people say, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.
Fat burners are ‘supplements’ for a reason. They are meant to be used in conjunction with regular exercise and a healthy diet in order to work.
Fat burners contain a variety of ingredients which stimulate your metabolism and therefore increase your release of fat and your ability to burn fat as a fuel, which is why, if you choose the right one and the right diet and exercise plan to go with it, they can be very effective.
But if you’re expecting a miracle you’ll be disappointed.
Fats are bad for you
There are good fats and there are bad fats.
The good fats are necessary for your health, but you need to manage the consumption of them because they can have quite a high-calorie count, but even so, it’s a good idea to incorporate monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet naturally or from supplements.
Also, be careful how you consume them too because as you cook you can change their properties and make good fat bad.
Carbs are bad for you
Carbohydrates are not necessarily bad for you.
There are all sorts of research in this area and even with these people believe that a low carbohydrate diet is best, just look at trends like Keto. But in reality, different people have different responses to carbs.
Carbs don’t make you gain weight, there are carbs in various foods some of which have a good reputation like fruit and vegetables and some like white bread and pasta that don’t. And supplements contain carbs too.
Generally, carbs that are high in fiber and fun of nutrients are best.
So don’t avoid carbs, they have their place for most people when they want to have a healthy and balanced diet and the latest research says that you need to test personally what carbs work for you, even white bread which isn’t necessarily bad for you.
Elite athletes use a technique known as carb cycling to help them train and race, so don’t just assume they are bad, especially when you can biohacking with them.
Caffeine is bad for you
Used correctly no, caffeine isn’t bad for you.
Yes, caffeine is a stimulant, increasing blood pressure and heart rate, but some times that’s beneficial which is why it’s used in supplements and as a biohack.
Caffeine is quickly absorbed from the gut to the bloodstream and has an effect on the brain, which is why it’s a way of staying alert or awake. It’s also a way to help use fat as fuel, it improves muscle contraction and muscle’s ability to resist fatigue too.
So too much caffeine has many benefits as a supplement as long as you use it in the right way and in the right amount.
Salt is bad for you
No salt’s not bad, it’s just misunderstood.
Salt is a natural mineral and has a part to play in nutrition. The fact is that too little or too much salt can be a bad thing, but as mentioned in with other myths we are all unique, so don’t just eliminate it for your diet.
The other thing is that if you exercise you lose sodium as you sweat and need to replace it if you want to maintain your hydration and performance levels, which is why sports drinks contain it.
You don’t need Omega-3 fatty acid supplements as the body produces enough on its own
In fact, our bodies do not produce enough omega-3 fatty acids on their own.
These fatty acids are often stated as being essential, often we get them from the foods we eat (specifically fish) such as:
However, those who are allergic to, do not eat, or simply do not like fish are unlikely to be consuming enough omega-3 fatty acids in their diet.
However, fish oil supplements can make up for this deficiency.
Supplements improve strength and muscle mass without training
Supplements are just that, they’re not miracle workers as users seem to expect. They have to have something to supplement in the first place. Ensure a good, consistently undertaken workout plan is in place before taking and judging protein supplements.
Protein increases muscle mass
Many believe that taking protein powder will magically grow their physique and they will have large muscles following a few shakes or bars – it doesn’t.
Protein in all its forms, in food and supplement, is simply helping your body. when you consume the right amount of protein you are helping muscles repair and grow so maintaining or increasing strength and mass, but without the exercise, protein doesn’t build muscle mass.
There are also various views on when to take protein Is it best to take it before, during or after exercise?
Think of your primary reason why you are taking the protein and the type of protein, for example, to build muscle, lose weight, preventing muscle loss, aid recovery and then decide how much to take and when.
You don’t need to take extra protein even if you’re an athlete
Some people do need more protein and taking a protein supplement can be a great way to consume what you need when you need it, as food can’t always do this on its own.
Research has shown that even the best athletes can do with some extra protein. Protein helps the body to repair and rebuild the tissue that is damaged during exercise so if you don’t take enough you don’t repair the damage.
Protein is also good for your bones, reduces hunger and your appetite, can increase your metabolism and therefore helps burn fat and lowers blood pressure, so making sure you have enough is key and a very effective biohack.
Too much protein will damage your kidneys
This myth came from studies that had the idea that due to the increased excretion of calcium through urine following an increased protein intake.
From this, it was then assumed that these two things were linked. However, further studies have actually linked dietary protein to the promotion of dietary calcium absorption.
For kidney damage, a 2018 study showed that there was no link between protein intake and kidney function.
All protein is the same
Not all for protein in food and supplement forms are the same, just as protein in food is not all the same either.
You can also get protein supplements in drink and solid form. I personally don’t particularly like protein powder drinks, so bars and cookies tend to be my go-to items.
Currently, on the market, you can find different types of protein and even variations of a specific type too. Example protein types are:
- Whey protein
- Egg protein
- Casein protein
- Soy protein
- Hemp protein
- Pea protein
These products all have different contents of carbs, fat, cholesterol, and calories whilst also differing in their actual absorption and digestion times which is relevant when you have a specific goal and reason for taking protein, especially in supplement form.
Creatine is a steroid
Creatine is not a steroid, it’s an organic compound naturally found in the body and food like red meat and fish.
The confusion comes from the fact some people, even well-respected health and fitness websites say it’s a “legal steroid” and use this to promote the effect it can have.
If you follow the correct scientific definition of a steroid, which you should, because creatine is a compound made up of three amino acids it does not possess the steroid backbone it needs to be classified as a steroid.
Also, creatine is not illegal and it doesn’t influence hormones in the way scientifically defined steroids do.
Eating often will boost your metabolism
It’s true when you eat your body’s metabolism can speed up but it doesn’t give you an all-day boost.
The other danger is that by eating more frequently you actually consume too many calories. If you have 2,000 calories a day in 6 meals you boost your metabolism a little bit six-time, if you have the same calories in just three meals you increase fewer times but more each time.
Supplements should dissolve in water
Supplements don’t need to dissolve in water to work.
Your stomach acid contains one of the most corrosive compounds hydrochloric acid, it’s not just water, so your guts can deal with and break down things that water just doesn’t
Supplement companies have a variety of tests and standards to make sure they work and dissolving in water is not one of them.
Supplements make you hungry
Some supplements can make some people more hungry, for example, zinc or fish oil, but others do the opposite, like green tea extract or coffee.
Always take supplements on an empty stomach
Some supplements should or work best when taken on an empty stomach, like probiotics and magnesium.
But most supplements are better when taken with food because this reduces the chance they will upset your stomach, especially as many are quite acidic.
Sometimes taking vitamins and minerals with a full meal is best but other times a small specific snack is best.
Check individual supplement guidance or get advice from a professional to see when and how to take vitamins and minerals to get the best possible results to form them because timing can be an effective way of maximizing the effects.
Organic supplements are better
There are benefits to eating organic and supplements fall into this category too, but sometimes it’s just not possible to have the most effective supplement in an organic form.
You should always avoid unnecessary components in your vitamins, minerals, and supplements – lookout for fillers and check when the term proprietary is used what that actually means and what’s included, but don’t assume they are all bad.
Non-organic or synthetic components made by reputable firms under strict conditions in line with regulations, can boost the purity, increase the nutrient density and also reduce the cost, so there can be benefits.
Supplements that are all-natural are best
Like the organic is a better myth, sometimes all-natural is right for you and sometimes it isn’t.
The other thing is best is a personal thing, so make up your own mind, don’t take other people’s word for it, especially if they are making or selling them.
Supplements don’t have an expiry date
In some cases and markets supplements are not always required to show an expiration date and it’s assumed, if stored correctly, they have a shelf life of two years or more, but that’s not an assumption you should make.
Most reputable companies do provide a use-by date and personally I not only follow this but see it as an absolute limit because I don’t want to take risks unnecessarily because eve if you correctly store then who knows what’s happened beforehand in transit or in the store.
Single supplements are better for you than those with multiple ingredients
This totally depends on what you need and your lifestyle, but never assume it’s best or realistic to just take single supplements.
Things like multi-vitamins or super green juices have real value and are quick and easy to incorporate into your daily routine and cost-effective too – which is why I take both every day.
But having individual supplements are also great too, this way you can have the right supplement “stack” for your specific needs.
And the best supplements are the ones that are right for you and that you take, as opposed to forgetting or leaving in a cupboard or draw because taking them is inconvenient.
The supplement industry is unregulated
In most countries, the supplement industry is regulated, but not nearly as regulated as it should or could be.
The issue is that some supplement companies are not in control of their production, value profit over quality and therefore don’t follow the rules and care about you.
Always check the quality of supplements you want boo to take and don’t think the most expensive is best, or that good value vitamins and minerals are low quality either.
Do your own research, and learn and buy from websites, companies and certified experts that have your best interest at heart.
There are too many supplement myths and they are not helping people make informed safe decisions.
Always be careful about what people say when it comes to supplements.
Purchase reputable, well-established products after you’ve done the research, use them as directed and you should be safe and get the benefits you expect.