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Why Many Supplement Forums and Retail Sites Contain Misinformation

One of the most significant technological advances in my generation has been the rollout of the World Wide Web (internet). Information, products and services are now available to us with a few clicks of a keyboard and mouse. The internet can provide an endless supply of quality learning material but can also drop you into a bottomless pit of misinformation and bad advice.

Internet forums – Home to the worst offenders

If you can think of a topic then chances are good that there are internet forums designed to chat about it. Unfortunately, chances are also good that you might find better advice and information by talking to your neighbor’s cat. While that is indeed a joke, so are the many forums that some people tend to get most of their knowledge from.

So why are forums generally a breeding ground for junk-information? Forums are usually open to the public and that means basically anyone can join in on the discussions. Finding expert advice on these forums can be extremely rare. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate good information with the bad unless you have a strong knowledge on the topic yourself.

While some forum members may talk a good game, often times they are simply relaying misinformation they’ve read or heard somewhere else. Have you ever played that game in school where one person will whisper to another person a quick story? The recipient of the story will whisper their version of that same story to another person and this process continues down the line until the last person (usually about the 20th person) tells everyone aloud the story they were told. This final version of the story is always completely different than the original story, sometimes with many added parts! Well, this unfortunately is a pretty good analogy of what happens with the distribution of research information in the nutritional industry. This altered information is scattered all over the internet ESPECIALLY on internet forums.

“I only recommend visiting health & fitness (especially nutritional supplement) forum boards for entertainment purposes only.”

Retail websites with product ratings, reviews and awards

I’ve been in the health & fitness retail industry for over a decade and I’ve seen the many sales tactics used by retailers and manufacturers to evoke a sale. While some sales tactics are harmless ways to enhance a product’s visibility, some are extremely misleading and irresponsible.

Customers often approach me about a product they read about on a forum (yikes) or website. They might mention that it “won” a particular product award or that it received a high rating from either the retailer or people on a forum. Most notorious internet nutritional supplement “awards” (and sometimes “ratings”) are simply based on sales, hype or both. The truth is a product’s sales rate can have little to do with the actual functional substance of the product itself. Some might argue that if Product A outsells Product B, then Product A is a better product. Wrong. Product A might outsell Product B for a few reasons but usually it’s because Product A was advertised more effectively than Product B. That’s business-101 and the consumer can waste a lot of money if they judge a product by its cover rather than by its substance.

Internet nutritional supplement “ratings” and “reviews” are usually fueled mainly by general consumers. This typically translates into poorly constructed feedback and oftentimes a strong misrepresentation of the product’s functional substance. A product’s functional substance simply refers to the actual ingredients in the product that deliver true scientifically-tested results. Feedback can have a general underlying theme but unless you are a perfect genetic clone of the individual who left the review/rating and also followed that person’s exact daily routine, then you will not have that same result. Plus, after over a decade of interacting with nutritional supplement consumers, I can positively tell you that the “instant gratification” effect is alive and well:

Instant gratification” refers to a products ability to induce a feeling or visual enhancement in a very short amount of time. Pre-workout drinks can be a perfect example of this. Some heavily advertised brands are nothing more than a central nervous system stimulator packed with caffeine and other similar stimulants. They pack in a few buzz word ingredients and act like they have the best blood-pumping pre-workout drink ever. The consumer takes it and feels like they can lift for 10-hours. Unfortunately, the instant gratification of that product is some ultra-cheap caffeine with a hefty price tag. The consumer could have taken a 200 mg caffeine pill for much less money and probably had the same effect.

Many consumers are rating products and providing reviews based mainly on instant gratification. This is far from scientific and rarely beneficial from a nutritional standpoint. So, I continually help educate consumers (part of the reason for this blog) about diet, supplements, and the research behind the ingredients.

Where to find better information

I realize I may have offended some of my blog readers who’ve been getting their “knowledge” from forum boards and retailer sites. They’re probably yelling at their computer screen,

“Ok smart-a$#, where should I get my information from ?!?!”

Simple, get it direct from the source. Have you noticed that most of the articles on this site include cited research references? It allows you to view where we sourced information for a particular section of our article. This research information is direct from research and NOT from the 20th person down the line. Did you know you have access to one of the world’s largest research databases? Well you do! This database is called PubMed and it comprises of more than 19 million citations for biomedical articles from MEDLINE and life science journals.

Try it out by clicking this link, Pubmed.gov and typing in the name of an ingredient in your nutritional supplement. For example, type “green tea” (with the quotes) into the search box. Grab a strong cup of coffee, sit back and be prepared to learn. For assistance in understanding research check out our article Research 101 and Evaluating Dietary Supplements as well as the rest of the articles in our Consumer Savvy/Understanding Research section.

Click Here to find out "Why we do, what we do."

Written on October 21, 2009 by Brian Putchio
Last Updated: January 03, 2013

This information is not intended to take the place of medical advice.Please check with your health care providers prior to starting any new dietary or exercise program. CasePerformance is not responsible for the outcome of any decision made based off the information presented in this article.

About the Author: Brian Putchio is owner/operator of NUTRI-BODIES, LLC in Dubuque, Iowa. Through his extensive knowledge and experience in the nutraceuticals industry since 1999, Brian offers a unique perspective to his blog readers. Brian's refusal to simply flow with the marketing strategies of the industry conveys a strong sense of credibility that helps consumers successfully navigate the nutraceutical minefield.