In a crowded marketplace, supplement companies want their products to stand out. Some cite vague scientific theories. Others cherry-pick a study that seems to lend credence to a claim they’re making. Still others pay to have a study done, highlight any results that support their bottom line, and watch the cash roll in. Here’s a sampling of recent examples.

Dream on

screenshot of beam website

“A proprietary blend of 5 natural sleep ingredients to help you get your best night’s sleep.”

That’s how Beam describes its Dream Powder, which contains cocoa powder along with magnesium, reishi mushroom extract, L-theanine, melatonin, and “nano hemp.” Just mix it into a mug of warm water or milk for a “delicious cup of healthy hot cocoa for sleep.”

The company’s website boasts that Dream powder was tested in “the gold standard of clinical studies,” referring to the kind of trial that randomly assigns people to get a supplement or a placebo and in which no one knows who got which one. “We took every possible measure to ensure our results were unbiased and accurate.”

After 6 weeks, “93 percent of participants reported Dream with Nano Hemp helped them to get a more restful night’s sleep and wake up feeling more refreshed,” claims Beam’s website.

Great! But how did that (or other outcomes like time spent asleep) compare with the placebo group? Without knowing, the results are useless.

So we emailed the company to ask. “The results of our clinical study that we share are on our site and we are unfortunately not able to provide more results,” replied Beam.

So much for “unbiased” results.


screenshot of GOLO ad

“Listen, starving yourself isn’t the answer,” says the spokesperson on the TV ad for GOLO, a weight loss program that will “help increase your metabolic function, burn fat, and control your appetite.” (The program includes weight loss advice and a supplement called Release, which has a few minerals and a smattering of botanicals.)

Happy customers featured in the company’s commercials share their stories of how GOLO helped them shed 50, 80, and even over 200 pounds. Wow!

The science tells a different story.

In the only placebo-controlled trial published in a peer-reviewed journal that is cited on GOLO’s website, GOLO-funded researchers randomly assigned 68 adults with obesity to take a capsule of Release or a placebo before each meal. The average participant weighed 235 pounds.

(All the participants were also asked to follow the GOLO weight loss program’s advice, which included slashing 500 calories a day and doing at least 15 minutes of exercise daily.)

After 13 weeks, those taking Release had lost about 13 pounds, while the placebo takers had lost just 7 pounds. But that’s based on only half of the 68 volunteers. The rest dropped out or “were removed early for poor compliance.” Good studies include all starters in their results.

Even so, losing even 13 pounds is a tad shy of the 50-to-200 dropped pounds you’ll hear about in many of GOLO’s commercials.

Moneymaker’s Naturals

bottle of beekeeper's naturals propolis
Marlena Koch - CSPI.

“The new scientific standard of gut health,” proclaims Beekeeper’s Naturals about its “3-in-1 complete gut health supplement.”

Propolis Complete Gut Health “delivers pre-, pro-, and postbiotics to support the growth of good gut bacteria, increase microbiome diversity, and strengthen the gut lining for whole-body health.”

What are those promises based on? Certainly not Beekeeper’s Naturals’ own research results.

In that company-funded study, “more than half of participants reported improvements in gut health, bloating, and digestion within 5-7 days,” says the website.

But Beekeeper’s simply gave the supplement to 34 people for 28 days and asked them how they felt, says the fine print. (Control group? There was none.)

Translation: No rigorous testing was utilized in the making of this claim.

Nice try, Beekeeper’s Naturals. You’ll need to do a bit more than that to get our $38 a month.

Yield of Green?

“No more excuses and no more salads!” says the website of Brickhouse Nutrition’s Field of Greens, a powder made of a couple dozen vegetables, fruits, and herbs, plus prebiotic fiber designed “to allow the busy bees of this modern era the ability to consume a full serving of fruits and vegetables daily.”

screen shot of Brickhouse Nutrition's Field or Greens ad

“At your next checkup, your doctor will notice your improved health or your money back,” promises its TV commercial.

Field of Greens’ science webpage rattles on about the health benefits of fruits and vegetables (at least we can agree on that). But it largely cites studies about actual fruits and vegetables.

And the evidence that powders do the same? Um...

More salt, less evidence

screenshot from LMNT website

“A growing body of research reveals that optimal health outcomes occur at sodium levels 2-3x government recommendations,” says LMNT, which sells an electrolyte drink mix. “That’s why we say, More Salt, Not Less.”

Each LMNT packet has 1,000 milligrams of sodium, 200 mg of potassium, and 60 mg of magnesium. The company recommends mixing the packet into 16 to 32 ounces of water. (Using 16 oz. would result in a very salty drink.)

LMNT says that its high-salt formula is “based on the latest scientific literature.” But its advice to consume 4,000 to 6,000 mg of sodium a day is based on a 2011 study.

In that study, people who consumed 4,000 to 6,000 mg of sodium a day had a lower risk of a cardiovascular event than those who consumed more sodium...or less. But the participants had a high risk for cardiovascular disease. (Some may have started consuming less sodium to lower their risk. And their underlying illness—not their lower sodium intake—could explain their higher risk for a cardiovascular event.)

What’s more, the study’s methods for estimating sodium intake have since been refuted. And it’s not clear that the findings would even apply to people without cardiovascular disease.

Based on better evidence from randomized controlled trials, health authorities now recommend no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day.

Despite all the marketing fuss about staying hydrated, nearly everyone can get enough electrolytes just by eating a typical diet. Unless you’re doing vigorous exercise for more than an hour in hot or humid conditions, you don’t need more.

Support proper profit flow?

You know Excedrin for its headache-relieving meds. But why stop there? The company now offers a “Head Care Support” line of supplements.

screen shot from Excedrin ad

Its Proactive Health supplement contains a handful of B vitamins plus 200 milligrams of magnesium to “support proper blood flow in the brain.” (Never mind that headaches aren’t simply caused by impaired blood flow.)

No studies have tested whether magnesium can prevent run-of-the-mill headaches, though a few small studies have tested magnesium for its migraine-preventing potential.

In one study of 81 people, those who got 600 mg of magnesium a day for 12 weeks averaged roughly two migraines—versus three in placebo takers—for the last month of the study. But another study, which gave 69 adults 480 mg of magnesium or a placebo every day for 12 weeks, was stopped early because migraine frequency didn’t differ between groups.

What’s more, taking more than 350 mg a day of magnesium can cause diarrhea and stomach cramps.

Excedrin also sells Replenish+Focus and Replenish+Sleep—drink mixes with electrolytes for hydration plus either caffeine (+Focus) or melatonin (+Sleep) for relief after “occasional head discomfort.” You gotta hand it to Excedrin—solving problems that don’t exist.

Metabolic marketing

screenshot from Pendulum’s Metabolic Daily

“I’ve tried other probiotics since I was 19 years old and nothing really moved my needle like this product moved my needle,” says actor (and Pendulum investor) Halle Berry about Pendulum’s Metabolic Daily. “Halle loves Metabolic Daily for its ability to help metabolize food more efficiently and keep her energy levels up,” says the website.

Metabolic Daily “replenishes your gut microbiome to optimize your metabolism and helps maintain a healthy weight,” says the website. (Bonus: You can try it out for just $79 a month.)

Pendulum claims that the probiotic blend “helps metabolize sugars and carbs” and “converts food into energy more efficiently.” (How that supports a healthy weight is anyone’s guess.)

Those claims are “based on in vitro studies,” says the fine print. (That’s science-speak for test tube studies.)

We’ll wait for the evidence from clinical trials on humans, thanks.

Can’t fool me

screen shot of Hum ad

“Think of Flatter Me like a tiny demolition crew that helps break down your food for less bloating with 18 full-spectrum digestive enzymes,” says Gaby, a registered dietitian at HUM.

In a company-funded study, researchers randomly assigned 19 volunteers to take a placebo or Flatter Me before eating a piece of cheese pizza on separate test days, then measured their waist circumference before and 90 minutes after the pizza.

Waist circumference was, on average, about a half-inch less when the volunteers took Flatter Me than on the placebo day. That didn’t stop HUM’s website from declaring that Flatter Me “reduces bloating by up to 2 [inches] after one use.” (Emphasis on the “up to.”)

But it’s not clear if the researchers knew which pill the volunteers had taken each day. If they did, could bias explain the half-inch difference in waist circumference they measured between groups?

Waist circumference aside, bloating, distension, gas, and indigestion were no different between test days.

So much for that tiny demolition crew. 



Subscribe to Nutrition Action

Nutrition Action is completely independent. We accept no advertising and take no donations from corporations or the government. So we’re free to blow the whistle on dishonest products and to applaud the good ones.

Sign up today