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Why supplement companies should invest in science

If you make a claim on a label, you absolutely need science to back it up, says Douglas S. Kalman, a researcher who has been involved in more than 200 clinical trials.

Douglas S. Kalman PhD, RD, FACN, has been involved in more than 200 clinical trials and projects within the pharmaceutical, medical and nutrition fields. He is Director, Nutrition & Applied Clinical Research, at Miami Research Associates and Director of the Sports Nutrition Program for the Athletic Department at Florida International University in Miami, Florida.

Fi: Given your long history with the science of supplements, are we as an industry getting more serious about science?

Doug Kalman: Yes, more and more companies are realizing that in order to have a sustainable product, the ingredients have to be research backed and clinically studied in order to also support the typical marketing claims being made. As there is greater convergence with the larger pharmaceutical companies and even investment houses buying dietary supplement companies, the science and sponsorship of clinical trials for product validation will only continue to grow.

Fi: What impact does “borrowed” science have on the industry?

DK: Borrowed science drags down the industry. Companies that employ only a borrowed science approach to product development add nothing to the table or to the growth of the industry out of only wanting to see their products sell, yet spend nothing on true innovation. Borrowed science also sort of insults the customer because marketing makes a product sound unique or special, yet it is really a generic product; over time this makes for a flatter market and a consumer who will not be brand loyal.

Fi: What should be getting more attention than it is?

DK: If every company would earmark even five or ten percent of their marketing budget to clinical research (human studies and lab innovation), the financial return for the company and growth of the sector would be higher than what it is right now. Cognitive health deserves more attention as well as sleep quality and stress-reduction. All quality of life products have an almost immediate effect; you can feel the difference, whereas sometimes with condition specific, it is what you do not feel that matters.

Fi: What advice do you have for companies that think they can’t afford to invest in studies?

DK: This is foolish thought. If you are going to make any claim on your product, than you cannot afford not to do the research to support the marketing. In addition, it is a shame that most companies do not know or do not take advantage of all of the state and federal tax breaks available to them (credits) for having a dedicated R&D unit and for sponsoring clinical trials. This country thrives on innovation. Nutritional companies appear behind the eight ball in using what our government allows to offset costs in R&D.

Fi: Is this what you thought you would do when you “grew up?”

DK: When I was a teenager, I was fascinated by the connection and relationship between foods that we ate and diseases that occurred as well as how to use foods to help recover from or prevent diseases. This coupled with me being a lifelong athlete and always asking “why” and “how” geared me to be interested in reading, doing research and volunteering in academic labs to learn more. As time marched on, familial pressures to become a physician mounted. However, I was more interested in changing the way that medicine looked at nutrition; to help people understand that nutrition is a science, not a religion. This drove me to obtain both the Registered Dietitian credential and the PhD in nutritional and exercise biochemistry. I am still on that same mission to help others understand the science of nutrition and to utilize this method for greater acceptance of what we do, and this passion for the industry and for food and food science drives me daily. I hope to leave a positive impact by the path I choose.

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