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Illustration of supplements falling out of a bottle

These products aren’t as harmless as influencers make them seem.

Let there be a moment of silence for all those who have suffered from social media supplement scams. The year is 2020, and there are still influencers posting photos in bikinis and crop tops with their detox teas. Sadly, this isn’t just an online phenomenon. It also occurs at the local GNC and other health stores, where the employees often try to get items added to purchases. But these supplements and add-ons can be unnecessary.

Supplements are often taken by mouth and contain a dietary ingredient. Dietary ingredients can be vitamins such as B12, vitamin C or vitamin D; they can be herbs like evening primrose, milk thistle, ashwagandha or even powder substances, such as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), essential amino acids (EAAs) or creatine.

Supplements contain ingredients that affect a person’s biological occurrences. Many users ignore the process of finding the correct supplements and end up wasting money or even putting their health at risk.

Waste and risk can come from using supplements improperly, such as not weighing out the correct amount, inconsistent use, overuse, mixing supplements with prescription drugs or consuming a supplement that has not been scientifically researched, regulated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA always recommends talking with a health care professional, such as a primary doctor, a registered dietitian or a nutritionist before using any dietary supplement.

If supplements enhance the basic vitamins consumed in food, why is there a lot of apprehension surrounding them?

Concern regarding supplements is more than likely linked to the portrayal of them on social media. It’s not uncommon to scroll through any social media app, such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram, and see an article, advertisement or post promoting a product to lose weight, build a booty or get a six pack of abs. The way these products are integrated into feeds and timelines has led to pressure in purchasing them to feel accepted.

Often, the supplements promoted are brands that no one has heard of, are on the rise or have an aesthetic appeal; think about the popular brands from around 2015, such as It Works, Protein World and Women’s Best, or even Flat Tummy Tea from 2016.

These brands are just a few that have made an overnight appearance on social media via influencers and have racked up thousands of followers. Some turned out to be scams or pyramid schemes. Usually, these supplements are targeted at young adults, and more specifically, women.

According to a social media fact sheet, women tend to spend more time online than men, and those from the ages of 18 to 29 use at least one social media site, but it only takes that one account to become influenced by advertisements and false information.

For some reason, a promo model posing in a bikini or a gym set, writing a little caption with a small discount code for the $50 product, quickly racks up likes. Those viewing it make a purchase in hopes that they’ll transform into said promo model.

A recent example of this was a post by Paige Hathaway, who is a beloved health and fitness influencer. Hathaway has modeled, competed in bikini competitions, been endorsed by brands and sells and coaches for fitness programs. She has over 4 million followers on Instagram and 237,000 followers on Twitter. With such a large following, people of all demographics can be influenced.

Hathaway promotes LIV Body supplements. She recently posted on her Instagram about their new product called Lean Creatine. The product advertises to be formulated to increase muscle definition, provide adenosine triphosphate (ATP) energy boost and improve recovery.

Creatine is a widely known nutritional aid for athletes and the average gym goer. It is also one of the most studied and scientifically backed supplements on the market. It can play a role in improving exercise performance, and it can also prevent or reduce injury.

Somebody who doesn’t know about supplements, the ingredients they contain or what the purpose of a product is for can be falsely led to think that product is exactly what they need; sometimes just viewing a post like Hathaway’s is enough to make someone want the product.

In her now deleted post, Hathaway claimed Lean Creatine doesn’t cause water retention; however, if one were to do the research or had a background in supplements, they would know that creatine is stored as creatine phosphate in the muscle cells. It then generates to help ATP, which is the energy source of every cell in the human body. Creatine is an osmolyte and draws fluid into the cell, which increases the cell volume, and therefore results in some retention. Creatine commonly causes bloating due to the increase of muscle mass and water in the muscles.

An argument for the necessity of creatine or other supplement use such as BCAAs can be formed as well. But the purpose of the example was to show how simple it is for someone without the proper knowledge to fall for the vague information provided by a company. A majority of evidence shows that it isn’t 100% possible for creatine to be lean.

An influencer trying to push a product other than supplements is common. Some promote cookie-cutter work out programs or affordable clothing that seems to run really small. Social media sites have actually changed their terms to reduce or maintain the outbreak of weight loss ads regarding body image.

Facebook advertising policies lists in the personal health section, under prohibited content, some statements regarding ads. It says that the ads must be realistic but also that the “content must not imply or attempt to generate negative self-perception in order to promote diet, weight loss or other health products.”

Twitter restricts promotion of health products and services based on the specific promoted product. The policy includes regulating or prohibiting “nutritional products, including weight loss products marketed with unreasonable or unsubstantiated claims.”

But social media site policies can only be so impactful. It’s as if the viral success of a before and after transformation post takes precedence over the substance in the supplements being sold. Unfortunately, it seems that the subliminal social pressure to purchase a product off of a social media feed will continue to grow.

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