Don't believe the hype

<i>Gossip Girl</i> star Leighton Meester spruiks the Vitamin Water brand.

Gossip Girl star Leighton Meester spruiks the Vitamin Water brand. Photo: Getty

Imagine a vitamin and meal supplement that tastes amazing, fills you up, clears your skin, keeps you energised and may even prevent cancer.

Normally I don’t like to promote products on my blog, but in this case I had to make an exception.

It’s the unique combination of properties that makes this product … ummm … well … complete and utter rubbish, actually.

Almost every week I am sent a sample of some vitamin or product making almost exactly those claims, but I’m not planning on writing an article that begins like this any time soon.


The reason is that miracle claims/diets/ pills are almost always bull. Years and years of researchers’ time has been spent assessing vitamins, diet pills and supplements and the basic truth remains that they generally have nothing to add that can’t be gained from a healthy diet and exercise.

In fact, the evidence for vitamins in particular is not only incredibly thin, but it also raises the possibility that supplements could actually have negative health effects. 

Yet in my experience anything to do with weightloss, cancer or "improved vitality" is a quick path to the “most read” section of any website.

If you sat down and soberly thought about the claims being made, chances are you would declare shenanigans on them. Yet companies continue marketing, we continue reading about/buying these products, with nary a sober reflection in sight.

And sober reflection becomes even less possible when the product in question making the health claims is booze (boom tish). That’s right, the next trend in alcoholic beverages is “healthy alcohol”.

“2013-2014 will see healthy alcoholic drinks emerge, including wines instilled with goji berries and ginseng, and lower calorie and more organic options,” industry website beverage daily gushes.

This is classic health spin. Never mind the fact that little research has found health benefits from things like Goji berries. (Or that research that has been done has a link with allergies and even, sometimes, contamination with pesticides. 

Mike Daube from the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth, says the idea that alcohol could be marketed as healthy is ridiculous.

“There is a hugely gullible community out there, and big commercial entities out there that are creating markets based on that gullibility,” he says. “There is no evidence that alcohol is healthy and the difference [from low calorie products] would be absolutely marginal”.

No matter what Coca-Cola tells you even non-alcoholic “health drinks” will do little for you. The Vitamin C in your “Vitamin Water Power C” aint gonna stop you catching a cold.

Oh, and despite these claims from the Australian Beverages Council that soft drinks “provide an energy source… [and] people need energy to move around and to get up from their desk and to do the things that they need to do”, they are not healthy, either.

And when you add in alcohol not only are you adding in an extra 100-200 calories with each drink, but you are adding something that has been proven, over and over, to put you at greater risk of heart disease, cancers, diabetes, overweight and a long list of other nasty things.  

Even the research around the supposed health benefits of wine has been over-hyped.

One of the main proponents of the claim that red wine is good for you, Dipak K. Das, has recently been accused of falsifying his research.

While other, reputable researchers who have examined the link between resveratrol (found in red wine) and aging warn that booze is not the key to health. As anti-ageing guru David Sinclair, from UNSW, says:  “You'd need to have such large amounts from red wine that you'd probably kill off your liver and be drunk most of the time.”

The truth is we shouldn’t need things like alcohol to have health benefits: it’s not the point.

Sometimes we drink alcohol, eat unhealthy foods or take drugs* not because they have health benefits, but because we enjoy them for other reasons. Anything claiming otherwise is probably just trying to sell you something.

*enough with the “marijuana is the cure-all health product" already, pot-heads!