Q: What are the hottest supplements on the market right now?
A: At least from a buzz perspective, superfruits continue to be huge. That includes acaí and different berries and fruit extracts purported to do magical things for your body. The antioxidants in superfruits are not like laxatives. And they don't produce weight loss, help you grow hair or remove fat from your body. They're an insurance buy. You're hoping that 20 years from now they will deliver some manifested benefit. But almost without exception, all the products available contain test-tube antioxidants. Here's the problem with that: Although something may be a wonderful test-tube antioxidant with a massively high ORAC score, it may not work in the body. It's the difference between chemistry and biology.
Q: How can retailers tell which products are backed by good science?
A: It's a simple, five-minute call to the company. Ask them, "Do you have any human studies done by reputable researchers on your actual product—not an ingredient?" If they can't deliver that study in an e-mail, it's smoke and mirrors.
Q: Are there any new ingredients that should be on our radar?
A: There's a significant thrust to find sources of plant-derived omega-3s that are more effectively converted to the forms found in fish. This will give people in the vegetarian community a benefit similar to what they would get if they were eating fish or fish oil capsules. One other big thing to consider will be nonanimal sources of gelatin for capsules. That's continuing to be a big thrust on the encapsulation side. Most capsules out there now are derived from pig or cow gelatin.
Q: With the new Food and Drug Administration staff, there is some talk that supplements law might change—any hopes as to how industry regulation will change during the next few years?
A: I hope that there will be sharper teeth that have more bite force to prevent [supplements makers] from making claims they can't substantiate. Like driving on the interstate, lots of people speed, but that doesn't mean there aren't speed limits. There just aren't enough policemen to pull people over. We've tried for so long to self-police—and that's a complete waste because it's not like there's a little fringe group making unsubstantiated claims. It's virtually everyone. I'd like to see that if you're going to make a claim, you have to study it in humans.
Q: How can manufacturers and retailers work together to better promote the industry in an authentic, transparent way?
A: To me, it starts with the people who promote the actual ingredient in the product. For instance, an Intel processor is an ingredient in a computer, but Intel markets to the consumer because it wants the consumer to look for computers with Intel processors. Second, the marketer of that product needs to communicate that the particular product has been shown to do X, Y and Z in human studies. Now that's a problem, because let's say you have two products like that and 84 not like that. How is that going to look? Either you have to create a separate brand or you say, "Independent of our 84 products, we still need to communicate to the consumer that this product is special. And it's not special because of the colors on the label but because it works." Ultimately, consumers buy dietary supplements or functional foods for the biology—the benefits.
Finally, the retailer can't contribute to the misinformation. Obviously, if you had a store that sold only products shown to work better than placebo or equal to a drug in humans, you'd have maybe 25 products. So you need to integrate that into the way you sell and talk to consumers. If they ask for your opinion on the best way to treat a condition, direct that person to an evidence-based product. Show him the other ones, sure, but tell him that this one has the evidence. Then it's your customer's choice, but you have directed him to the product that has the highest chance of repeat sales, and you've instilled confidence and have provided valuable information.