You can take supplements to support your general health, but you’ll often see supplements marketed to treat a specific condition as if they were a quasi-drug.
There’s no limit to the different health conditions you can buy a supplement for. Eyesight, muscle building, and constipation are some of the most common uses, but the specific conditions are increasingly more esoteric.
I do believe natural ingredients can be used to treat various conditions, but frequently pass on supplements that treat specific syndromes in lieu of high quality general supplements.
Why? Because they’re often trimmed down versions of the original thing, but attached to a higher-value use case in order to justify a higher price.
Less Ingredients, Higher Price
To illustrate my point, take a look at the label of a vitamin specifically designed to improve eyesight:
As you can see, it contains vitamin A, C, and E. These are important nutrients, but you’ll find these in any multi-vitamin or fortified food. Usually in copious amounts. There’s nothing unique about the formulation and as far as I can tell. The ingredients are probably sourced from the standard oligopolies that supply most synthetic nutrients.
In short, it’s an entirely average source of nutrition. But it costs $33, well above a centrum or other standard daily vitamin.
Here’s another example of a vitamin designed to improve cognition:
The ingredient list is more extensive, but I’d guess most people wouldn’t be able to distinguish between it and a good One-A-Day that includes the majority of these ingredients and many more.
So in short, the common denominator among many of these products is they have more targeted ingredient lists, but not necessarily better ingredients, or even more of the ingredients you’d want to fight the condition.
You’ll often find you can buy the individual nutrients in far greater quantities on their own.
Supplements Aren’t Drugs
The basis for many nutritional products is that supplements are weaker forms of drugs. You can use them to act on specific molecules for specific conditions to the same effect as prescriptions but with lower cost and less side effects.
This can be true, but it depends on what condition you’re taking the supplement for.
It’s important to distinguish between conditions that are acute and conditions that are syndromes. Acute conditions are due to very specific malfunctions. These can usually be improved with an over-the-counter product that has an ingredient that acts on the specific problem in your body. One cause, one solution. Examples include vitamin deficiencies, constipation (psyllium husk), or some cases of gout (cherry juice).
It gets tricky when you’re trying to treat something that doesn’t have a specific cause like weight gain, metabolism, cognition, or certain types of fatigue. These are caused by interconnected feedback loops, which means anything you take that initiates a change will cause another activity to counteract that effect.
If you’re taking a supplement or vitamin to treat this this type of issue you’ve got deeper problems to deal with. You’ll want to save your money on the vitamin and begin to think carefully about adjusting your lifestyle.
If you do buy a supplement it’d be a good idea to get a multi-purpose one that promotes general health, because the syndrome you suffer from is merely a symptom of a combination of deeper problems that are bubbling up to the surface.
It’s Hard to Predict What Something Will Do In Your Body
The following graph does a good job of illustrating the difficulty in using specific foods for drug-like purposes: