Voodoo Supplements: How Supplement Companies Trick You… And Why I Still Buy Useless Pills

I have an embarrassing secret.

When I’m awfully tired, I take a little pill called “Rhodoila Rosea”. It’s a supplement called an “adaptogen” – meaning it’s supposed to boost mental acuity and recovery by increasing the body’s ability to handle stress. The Chinese ( and a few other cultures) have hyped this herb up to mythical levels… literally.

If you’ve been following me at all, you’ll recognize that I dislike woo science, that cheeky type of science that is questionable at best, and dangerous at worst.

Yet despite contrary evidence to how useful Rhodoila Rosea is for adapting to stress, I can’t help but feel like it does something. And for that reason, I continue to take it in times of stress, where it calms me down.

But wait… I’m not even sure it does anything. So why continue to spend money on a possibly pointless supplement?

The Rise of Voodoo Supplements

Supplements with a questionable scientific backing that we take because it’s on the fringe of science and has exciting benefits, I call “voodoo supplements”. They’re the pills you read a few studies about or hear some celebrity doctor that rhymes with Dr. Snozz hype up on his nationally published show. They’re your raspberry ketones, your fat burners, your “superfoods”, your teatoxes, you name it.

These are herbs, pills, and foods that are supposed to pull off miraculous swings of health just by eating them. And they’re always backed by a cadre of studies, or a fanclub that swears that they changed their lives.

Deep down, we probably realize these things are overpromising, but we get a tinge of, “What if?” in the back of our minds. So we try it anyways, in hopes that maybe it’s worth the hype.

The industry wants your money, and science wants to explore fringes that haven’t been explored before. When the two worlds collide, “miracle” supplements are born.

But… sometimes you swear they work. You take that pill, and like magic, you feel a headache go away. Or you feel yourself revitalized with energy.

Should I Take Supplements With Only “Potential” Benefits?

To summarize, I’ve said that voodoo supplements are normally not necessary. That by excluding them, you would miss out on little in the way of actual ingredients. And yet I suggested that, if you felt they did something for you, that you take them anyways. Why?

Because think about it this way. A bottle of 90 Rhodiola Rosea caps is about $10. I take maybe 1 a day, whenever I feel stressed out. After I take it, I feel more prepared to tackle difficult problems and I feel like I have a clearer mind.

Was it the Rhodiola Rosea that did it? Or was it a placebo effect? Or, does it even matter?

You see, maybe it’s the rhodiola. Maybe it’s the placebo effect. But I’m paying for $10 for a bottle of pills that help me adapt under situations. If it’s NOT a placebo, then I’m getting my money’s worth. If it IS a placebo, then I’m still getting the same effects because my mind is tricking itself into higher performance. I feel it.

A rational person would laugh. But an even MORE rational person recognizes that paying $10 to utilize the placebo effect – one of the most powerful effects observed in causal science – is totally worth it.

Does it matter if a pill’s ingredients actually add 10 points to your IQ, if taking an intert substance with the belief that it was helping you added 10 points to your IQ anyways? If you’re taking it for the effect, then I say no.

Now there’s a catch to these sketchy supplements we seen sold everywhere. Science still supports the fact that health and fitness are best managed with exercise, diet, and recovery time. Never buy into the hype that a supplement ALONE will do something that you cannot do without it. You can burn fat without a “thermogenic”. You can build muscle without a “androgen booster”. You can sculpt a lean body without a “nutrient repartitioner”. But if these things help (via physical change, or via placebo, or BOTH), then decide whether the effects you think you feel are worth the cost, and go from there. Learn more about the science, but don’t become dogmatic about whether it’s “right” or “wrong”.

Just do what works for you, and be conscious about the decision.

Oh, and don’t underestimate the power of placebo. Make it work with you.

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About the author

Aaron Dear

Aaron Dear is a fitness advocate, bodyweight athlete, and product manager from Berkeley, California.

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