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!

12 comments

  • I completely agree.
    The one I've seen popping up lately is the organic beer. It seem counterproductive to worry about pesticides and the other farming chemicals while you're simultaneously poisoning your liver and other organs.

    Commenter
    Porter
    Location
    Adelaide
    Date and time
    April 04, 2013, 9:44AM
    • I have yet to taste a nice organic beer. Waste of time and money seeing as they charge ridiculous prices for them anyway!

      Commenter
      BB
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 04, 2013, 1:52PM
  • Thank you Amy for being the discerning voice of reason! There are so many different health claims around that a few years ago I began to be interested and believe there must be something to them - otherwise how could shops even sell hugely expensive goji berries in 5kg jars - however I began to realise so much is over the top, and if generation upon generation has had healthy people live long lives without these, why can today's society not do the same? Seeing people follow diets zealously that claim rice is on a list of banned foods yet caramel pudding is not, and so they eat pudding when they dine out instead of rice (true story!), or being told carbs like potatoes were not to be served for dinner by guests on a diet who then proceeded to polish off a box of barbecue shapes before each dinner and drink copious amounts of alcohol and look down on me for a eating a "fatty" ice cream when the children did, just makes me wonder where logic is in it all. Many Asians have been eating rice as a staple food for years and are not high obesity countries, so why would Australians suffer such ill-effects? I would love to see "miracle products" support their claims by answering a list of skeptic's questions regarding why they do not believe it. If they are able to answer both sides of a coin, their claims would be far more credible.

    Commenter
    Sam
    Date and time
    April 04, 2013, 10:11AM
    • Ithink its about cutting out the bad foods, the white sugars especially,which are usually substitud into "low fat" foods to provide flavour.And its great revenues for sugar cane States.Diabetes is a great profit maker with insulin needed daily forevermore in some cases.Twenty years ago there was much talk about the creation of a diabetic dependency in health arenas,and its imposition through the low fat fad.

      Commenter
      Kane
      Date and time
      April 04, 2013, 4:13PM
  • There is absolutely no healthy substitute for a lifestyle of sensible eating, regular exercise and the omission of bad habits and addictions.
    Congratulations Amy Corderoy. This is as valuable an article I have ever read in any newspaper or mag. It should precede every article or ad that claims a product has wonderous health benefits but no evidence to prove it. Unfortunately there is no chance that TV's current affairs bulldust programs will take your lead on this?

    Commenter
    Yachtie
    Location
    Maroubra
    Date and time
    April 04, 2013, 11:00AM
    • “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” - Michael Pollan

      Fact is, lots of fruit and veg is good for you. We've known it for ages, and nothing much has changed. But who can make money out of "nothing much has changed'?

      Anti-oxidants? Don't seem to do a whole lot now we've had a good look - lots of little things, sure - but it turns out that vegies are high in the stuff. So the healthy people who had high levels of anti-oxidants? They were the ones eating lots of veggies. But who buys a paper that says "breaking news: veggies are totally good for you!" ?

      Instead we got: New wonder-stuff makes you live forever!!!!@!#@@!@

      Maybe if the general reporting of science wasn't so unutterably awful, we'd do better. They often take a paper's discussion / guidance for further research as the result, or first-results (almost always overturned when we try to replicate - science is all about making mistakes then fixing them) are reported as The Truth.

      Commenter
      Magpie
      Date and time
      April 04, 2013, 11:44AM
      • No virus can grow in a system which is ph correct ,mildly alkaline,the same as sea water, no virus can pass through from one cell to another.Diet can maintain the correct ph in the body ,just like a swimming pool,with the skin being slightly more acidic than the internals and blood.However in order to maintain requires discipline,although the body will ,through homostasis ,balance itself.But with a varied diet,constantly changing ,and the overabundance of acidic foods promoted it is almost impossible.Clean water ,drunk in small quantities frequently is a convenient natural stabiliser.

        Commenter
        Kane
        Date and time
        April 04, 2013, 2:20PM
        • I call BS on you Kane. Prove it. You sound exactly like the type of people this article is mocking

          Commenter
          Jules
          Date and time
          April 04, 2013, 4:21PM
        • That's very funny Kane. Are you practicing your show for the Comedy Festival?

          Commenter
          vj
          Date and time
          April 04, 2013, 9:03PM
        • Actually Kane, viruses are very happy to grow in physiological pH conditions (about 7.35 to 7.45). Our bodies are remarkably good at maintaining a narrow pH range; but it's more likely exogenous factors (such as drugs - both medicinal and recreational) and diseases (e.g., smoking-caused lung problems) which stuff up this pH balance. Acidic foods are handled by healthy bodies just fine!

          Commenter
          Addy
          Date and time
          April 05, 2013, 12:52AM

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