Support – it’s not just from pantyhose

SupportLabelSupport” is a popular health halo claim on nutritional supplements.

You’ve probably seen it on supplement labels: Supports bone health!  Supports heart health!  Supports Immune function!   According to FDA labeling rules, supplement manufacturers can only make certain types of approved claims using approved words to describe possible health effects of supplements.  “Support” is one of the more popular terms.  It can be used in a truthful manner, strictly speaking.  Calcium, after all, does “support” bone health since it’s part of bone structure.

I knew “Support” was officially out of control when I heard an ad for a brain “support” supplement made from jelly fish protein.  According to the promotional materials, this supposedly unique protein

“supports a healthier brain, sharper mind and clearer thinking”

What the ad doesn’t tell you is that any protein you eat will support brain health, because all proteins are digested into amino acids, which are absorbed and utilized for all protein-building metabolic functions.  The jelly fish protein doesn’t magically get absorbed intact and lodge in your brain performing unique functions.  So strictly speaking, jelly fish protein from capsules does support brain metabolism that utilizes amino acids.  But so do all the proteins you eat.

This type of claim shenanigans is actually good for the supplement manufacturers.  You might buy a supplement because you believe you’ll benefit from such support, even though it may not do much of anything.  Your bones may still be thin despite support from calcium.  Your immune system may not prevent the flu or cancer, even though you took a supplement that claimed to support immunity.  But it never said “prevents thinning bones” or “prevents cancer”, so there’s no liability.  It’s Buyer Beware situation.  Support doesn’t mean anything more than that: support.

The irony is that a healthy balanced diet (plant-based, low sugar, healthy fats, adequate protein) supports all health, from bones to brain to heart to digestion and everything in between.  But who’s advocating for a balanced diet?  Who profits from that?  No one in particular.  So you aren’t likely to read “a balanced diet supports good health” on any food products.

As for that unique jelly fish protein, the promotional materials repeatedly try to link the Nobel Prize winning discovery of this protein, linked to glowing jelly fish, to some theoretical function in the human body.   The protein has some effect on calcium metabolism (in the jelly fish), which somehow means it improves brain function in humans?  I’m not aware of any particular evidence that ties human brain function to calcium in particular.  The brain is very complex, made up mostly of fatty acids.  All nutrients are important for brain function. in particular fatty acids such as omega-3s, amino acids used for brain signaling, B-vitamins and glucose.  The marketing campaign for this supplement is very slick, but I personally will not be buying it.

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