Today’s post is an interview with Sol Orwell of Examine.com. If you’ve been following my blog for a while then you know I’m not big on supplements. For years my pantry was filled with different products– most of them half used or not even opened. I would fall for the hype, whether it was something I saw at the gym or something from a magazine. I believe that supplements played a large role in reaching my goals.
One day I decided to answer the ‘what if’ question. What if I just didn’t take anything? How quickly would I reach my goals?
I stopped taking supplements altogether and never looked back. Not a whey shake, not a protein bar. I felt better within a week. No more gastric distress, my skin cleared up, and I slept better.
So,I tip my hat to Sol and Kurtis from Examine.com for taking the time to thoroughly research the supplement industry. They provide a database of information on a vast array of supplements from your standard multivitamin to sports supplements like BCAA and creatine. They don’t receive a penny from the supplement industry (but do get a few finger wags) and devote their days to helping you better decode what to take and when to take it.
Today Sol and Kurtis are launching the Examine.com Reference Guide, which offers a quick reference to pretty much every supplement you can think of. It’s a great tool to have on hand to help you make an informed decision when it comes to health supplements.
I sat down with Sol to get the scoop on Examine and how it came to exist. Here’s what he had to say.
What’s your story? Why Examine.com?
I am the immigrant dream. Growing up, I lived in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Houston, and LA (Burbank & Pasadena). I did high school/university in Toronto, all while building up my web businesses. Once it was doing well enough, I promptly retired, before leaving again.
About three years ago, I returned back to Toronto. Heavier. Much heavier.
As I lost weight, I started reading. A lot. I learned about hormones. I learned about supplements. I learned about interactions.
I also learned that a ton of this knowledge was being lost. Smart people were having intelligent conversations in forums, on facebook (okay, sometimes), and in other mediums. And this information was being lost. I wanted to create a single place where we could put all this info.
And thus, Examine.com. It was created as a place for people to submit studies, for us to analyze and discuss them, and as a reference site for anyone who wanted to know about supplementation and/or nutrition.
So you love supplements?
Let’s go with love/hate relationship.
I’d say I love the research behind it. It’s fascinating how a random compound can have strong effects inside your body.
I also love targeted supplementation. Context matters, and it especially matters when it comes to your body. People chugging pills boggles my mind. Done intelligently, supplements are a great little boost in your diet.
On the flip side, I tend to loathe supplement companies, and what the industry is in-general. The hype, the marketing, the insane claims – that kind of hyperbole drives me absolutely batty.
What supplement would you recommend to everyone?
Honestly – not that many. Vitamin D, especially if you live far from the equator or live in a place with air pollution or are just covered up in general. Unless you’re inside the Tropics, it’s a good one to supplement.
Vitamin K. So a random note – Vitamin D’s original RDA of 400 IU was based on you getting rickets if you went below 400. Vitamin K’s RDA of ~100mcg is based on the same idea – go any lower, and you get hemorrhages.
And just like how Vitamin D has a host of benefits once you start supplementing in a higher range, so too does Vitamin K.
And (yet again) just like Vitamin D, Vitamin K is hard to get via diet. About the only way to reliably get a good dosage (roughly 1000mcg) is through kale drinks. Not kale itself – you need to blend it so that the cellular structure of the kale breaks down and allows you to get access to the Vitamin K.
And lastly, creatine. I make my mom take it. It’s basically a cellular aid – gives them a bit more energy, helps them keep stable, and so forth. The less meat you eat, the more powerful its effect (a genetic condition that leaves your body with no creatine causes mental retardation – creatine is pretty important).
All three of the ones I said are incredibly safe. They have pretty much no downsides (maybe a bit of diarrhea from creatine if you don’t take enough water). Any worry about your kidneys or livers or other organs is completely untrue.
No fish oil?
Honestly – the omega 3s that fish oil are important, but I would prefer to get them via my diet. I like smoked salmon. I buy it a few times a week and I eat it (always pacific/arctic). It’s delicious. I’d rather spend money on that than on pills.
A note if you do take fish oil – the relevant fatty acids are DHA and EPA. If you buy a fish oil pill that has a dosage of 1000mg, but the DHA + EPA is only 200mg … you are buying a ton of filler. Make sure the DHA+EPA is at least 50% of the amount of fish oil.
What supplements are you against?
Can I say we’re against overhyped supplements? Our recently release Supplement-Goals Reference goes into this – there are a ton of supplements that are very ineffective for their supposed health goals. Glucosamine is useless for joint pain (it slightly reduces pain from ostoarthritis). Glutamine is useless as a muscle builder. Most of Dr. Oz’s recommendations (especially the infamou raspberry ketones) seem to have absolutely no basis in reality. Black cohosh is one more popular with women – it’s supposed to help alleviate menopausal symptoms, but it’s barely more effective than placebo.
Basically, a lot of (popular) supplements are overrated.
So what supplements are you for?
There are some really cool supplements (I say that as a nerd). Spirulina. Berberine. Panax Ginseng. A potential upcomer is agmatine. These are supplements with real scientific studies that show they work in a host of different ways.
My favorite example? Berberine. Lots of scientific literature shows that it is quite potent in decreasing blood sugar levels. How potent? As potent as metformin, the #1 prescription drug prescribed to diabetics. All of my diabetic friends love berberine. Seriously – I have one friend who messages me on facebook at least once every other week to tell me how awesome it is.
Do supplement companies contact you to take down or edit your information?
Hahaha. All the damn time! What’s hilarious about this is all of our updates are open and to the public. Every single revision we do is publicly accessible (like Wikipedia). If we even tried to pull a fast one, we would get called out in 24 hours.
We’ve built our entire reputation on being independent and neutral. We’ve been doing it for almost 2.5 years. It’s an awesome spot to be in.
Finally, if there is one thing you wish people knew about supplementation, would it be?
Supplements should be done in a targeted manner. Do not treat supplements as band-aids. Just taking multivitamins or fish oil because your doctor or someone on TV told you to without knowing why is a bad idea.
On the flip side, targeted supplementation is awesome. As I said with my previous example of berberine, it’s amazing for diabetics. Spirulina is fantastic for middle-aged people. Vitex angus castus is fantastic for alleviating symptoms of PMS.
Supplements get a bad rap. They work, but in specific cases (and in those cases they work pretty well). Taking supplements willy nilly is just not a good idea.
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