Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Stricter Regulation on the Way for Dietary Supplements?

According to a report on NPR this morning both the FDA and Congress are looking into the need for more government oversight and stricter regulation of the dietary supplement industry. The immediate precipitant of this renewed interest on the part of the government are the steroid abuse problems plaguing US sports, as many of the athletes caught up in it are claiming that they "didn't know" what they were taking and thought they were simply "supplements". The dubious merits of that defense aside, a new look at the need to provide a stricter and more consistent oversight of the industry is probably overdue.

I've been told many times that the dietary supplement industry in the USA is "unregulated". This is not true. The 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), signed into law by President Clinton, created a new regulatory framework for dietary supplements and implemented new Federal labeling requirements. It also established a new office within the National Institutes of Health charged with coordinating and assessing research on supplementation, and acting as a clearinghouse for consumer information. Even prior to DSHEA, dietary supplements were not "unregulated". Up until 1994, supplements were considered to be either "foods" or "drugs", depending upon their intended purpose, and fell under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration. A food had to be proven to have "taste, aroma or nutritive value" before it could be marketed or sold, and it had to be proven to be safe. If classified as a drug, a supplement also had to prove that it was effective.

In many ways DSHEA actually weakened oversight. According to Marion Nestle, a professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, "Congress passed DSHEA on the basis of two quite questionable assumptions: that supplements are basically harmless, and that supplement-makers are basically honest. The law does not require supplement manufacturers to demonstrate the safety or effectiveness of their products to the FDA before selling them. Instead, the FDA must prove a supplement harmful by providing documentation from clinical trials or multiple case reports in court - a tedious process." Under the existing 1994 law, manufacturers cannot claim that their products "prevent or cure" any condition or disease. They can, however, claim to "support" various functions and structures of the body ("Builds strong bones!"), and they are not required to prove that their products can actually do any such thing.

"Wellness", of which dietary supplements are a part,  is projected to grow to be a trillion dollar industry over the next decade. Only the personal computer industry has passed that milestone. With an opportunity that large, and that much money being spent, we can expect a deluge of nutritional supplement products to enter the market. No doubt many of them will be of dubious health value. As we as a nation examine our entire health-care system, perhaps the time is right to take another look at the rules by which dietary supplement manufacturers play. At a minimum, companies should be required to substantiate any claims they make regarding the effectiveness of their products. We as consumers should not have to wait until after people die before an ineffective or even harmful product is removed from the market (ephedra, for example).

There are many reputable companies making and distributing nutritional supplements. For the most part they should be very supportive of new and more rational regulation of their industry. They have much to lose if the public loses all trust in their products because of the irresponsible actions of a few opportunists. Even with better standards, Americans still need to be adequately informed about what they're taking and purchasing, says Dr. David Heber, a supplement researcher who is director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of California in Los Angeles. He believes the FDA should form stricter rules for labeling and marketing, so consumers know exactly what they're getting. He says that supplement companies that do invest the time and money toward research should be rewarded.

Wishing doesn't make it real. What we don't know can hurt us.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Got Milk?

I am not an expert in nutrition, and don't have any plans to become one. But since I have gotten involved with a nutritional supplement business I have tried to become better informed and educated on nutrition issues. Talk about drinking from a fire-hose! I recently had the opportunity to attend a lecture on preventing and mitigating cancer through diet. The speaker was Susan Silberstein, Executive Director of the Center for Advancement in Cancer Education, and the talk focused on the important role that nutrition can play in cancer prevention and treatment. I am sure it was packed with useful and interesting information, but when I left the room an hour or so later all I remembered was the Powerpoint image of a milk carton with a skull and crossbones "poison" warning emblazoned on it.

Milk? Poison? Who knew?? Apparently a lot of people. And yet it was the first I had ever heard of milk and dairy products doing anything more than building strong teeth and bones. (If, that is, they are fortified with Vitamin D. But that's another story.) How could milk, literally the poster food for healthy eating, be bad for me? And if it was, how is it possible that I'd never heard anything about this before?

As hundreds of thousands of Americans literally die from what they eat each year (according to the WHO, as much as 60% of all cancers and 90% of diabetes cases are diet related), this is a perfect illustration of how difficult it can be to get reliable, unbiased, actionable nutrition information. On the one hand we have the $27B (2005) US dairy industry, various industry supported research organizations and the US Food and Drug Administration telling us everything is fine. On the other we hear the $14B (2005) US organic food industry, alternative wellness advocacy groups and numerous academic studies warning of the dangers of rBGH, IGF-1 and other scary sounding things found in milk.

Unless nutritional research is your career, and maybe even if it is, there is just too much conflicting information. It doesn't help that large segments of the nutrition industry are essentially unregulated. Or that nutritional labels are so intentionally misleading. If you can't trust milk, what can you trust?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Business Story

When I was introduced to the Reliv nutrition program in February of 2009, my personal financial situation was circling the drain. I'd been involved in an earlier entrepreneurial fiasco that had left my savings depleted, and the HR consulting business I had started in 2006 was not doing well. I was at the point of having to look for employment (a very unpalatable prospect to me as I had been self employed for most of the last 25 years and didn't relish the thought of having to explain myself to a boss again), start selling off personal assets (flying is one of my longtime passions and the thought of having to sell my 1977 Cessna 172XP for living expenses made taking a job seem almost delightful) or take money from my various retirement accounts (which would produce very negative tax penalties next year and leave me short of funds later). None of these were very attractive options. But the worst part of it wasn't even the money. It was the hopeless, discouraged feeling that my life was just not turning out the way I hoped it would at this age, and that I really had no good options for turning it around.

I was looking at Reliv for wellness and prevention, and had absolutely no intention of becoming involved with it as a business. But by April I had pretty much decided to use the products long term because of the health results I was seeing, and thought that it made sense to become a distributor simply to obtain the products at a significant discount. But by the end of May, having put no effort whatsoever into it (I'm not talking "part-time" here, I really made zero effort) I had "made" about $140 selling a few cans of product to family and close friends. I was in a position where even a couple of hundred dollars a month in extra income would make a big difference so I decided that I had better take a more serious look at the business potential of this.

In June and July I began to connect with my sponsor and plug in to the extensive training and support system that Reliv provided. There was a lot to learn, and I was seriously handicapped by a conviction that I already knew most of it. As I became more familiar with the products, the marketing plan and the compensation model I started to see that maybe, just possibly, a person could make some serious income at this. I began to devote some time to it, not a lot of hours but consistently. But I was also making a lot of mistakes, and while I was still making a little money, I wasn't progressing very fast.

Against my better judgment, I attended the Company's International Conference in St. Louis in August. I'd been to a lot of conferences over the years and frankly had very low expectations. I could hardly have been more wrong. Over three days I had the opportunity to see Reliv International up close (literally during the facility tour, and emotionally as it put its best face forward for the 4,000 or so enthusiastic distributors in attendance). But most important was the chance to meet with other distributors, to share their stories and to learn from their experiences. For me it was a completely unfamiliar experience to be among such a positive, confident, upbeat crowd. Almost uncomfortable. Perhaps it was contagious. Or perhaps it was the realization that there was nothing at all magical about the people who had been successful at this. They were sharing the exact same products as me. They had a compensation plan identical to mine. The training and support available to them were available to me. The only difference between me and people who were making a great living at this and having fun doing it was how hard and how long they had worked at it.

I am still circling the drain. My bills still outpace my income. But instead of hopeless and discouraged I am now enthusiastic and confident. Now I do see a way to the life I had wanted to have. Not a quick path, or an easy one. But a possible one. My goal is that by the end of next year, 2010, I will be making enough in the Reliv business to support myself comfortably. And then to become a little more successful and a little more prosperous each year thereafter. I don't see any reason not to be doing this for the rest of my life.

At least that's the plan. Check back now and then to see how it all really works out.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

My Health Story

When I was introduced to Reliv International nutritional supplements in February of 2009, I considered myself to be in fairly good health. I was perpetually trying to lose 10 pounds, but not really putting more on. I may have drank a bit too much but I ate well, exercised 5 days a week and had regular visits to my doctor and dentist to keep an eye on things. I had been struggling with borderline periodontal issues for years, but nothing serious enough to warrant therapy. My blood pressure had always been a little elevated, and now hovered right around that 120/80 dividing line. My blood glucose levels were creeping up a few points year after year, but at 106 not yet a serious concern.

My real concern was my genetic heritage. My father, his four sisters and his father had all died of cancer before they were 70 (some of the girls in their 40s). His mother died of heart disease. On the other side of the coin, my mother has advanced Alzheimer's and diabetes. Her brother died of cancer, her father of cardiovascular complications and her mother of Alzheimer's. As I closed in on 60 years, I could hear the clock ticking.

So I had always used supplements. Lots of them. Before Reliv I was taking 12 - 15 pills each day, including a multi-vitamin, fish oil, garlic, vitamin C, Vitamin E, Biotin, Saw Palmetto and various B-complex vitamins. I can't really say I ever noticed any results from lining up at this capsule buffet, nor did I really feel any different if I missed taking them for a few days. And the menu changed frequently as I read someplace about a new vitamin, mineral or supplement that was suddenly a "must take". I just figured that this is what prevention required.

I can sum up the attraction of the Reliv program for me in just four words: Simple, Complete, Optimal and Current. Replacing 12 - 15 tablets and capsules with two (more bio-available) shakes was simple and easy. The contents were complete, synergistic nutrition, with everything I needed in the correct amounts and proportions. They provided optimal nutrition, not minimum daily requirements. And finally, I could stop worrying about whether or not I was incorporating the latest nutritional studies and research into my diet. It was all done for me. Still, based on my experience with supplements, my expectations were low and it was only the 30-day money-back guarantee that sealed the deal. What did I have to lose?

One month into the program I realized that I was sleeping more soundly and waking up less tired, more alert and ready to start the day. I'd lost 5 pounds and was tearing right through the energy slump that usually struck around 3:00 pm. Not life changing perhaps, but results. I never knew nutritional supplements were supposed to produce results. By the end on the second month (March) I had shed 9 pounds and just felt "better", like I was more awake and productive all the way through my day. But was this for real? Or was I simply convincing myself of what I wanted to be true?

In April I had both my annual physical and semi-annual dental exam scheduled, and, being a numbers sort of guy, decided to await the outcome of these more objective tests before deciding whether to stay with this program or not. The results of my physical were surprising and, as far as I was concerned, conclusive.
  • Weight: down 12 pounds
  • Total Cholesterol: down 9 points to 167
  • HDL: up 8 points to 54
  • LDL: down 14 points to 90
  • Triglycerides: down 5 points to 126
  • Fasting Blood Glucose: down 12 points to 94
  • PSA: down 1/2 point to 1.23
For the past several years, it was typical for me to have one or two periodontal pockets of 7 and several of 6. These are borderline-problem values. This time I had only one 6, and my dentist commented that my soft tissue "was more improved than over any six month period" that he had been seeing me. He advised me to "keep doing whatever it is you are doing" as it seemed to be working well. The only thing I could think of that I had done differently was to adopt the Reliv nutritional program.

Its a very pleasant and empowering feeling to get these kinds of results. I'd never seen anything like them before. I certainly don't think Reliv makes any sort of "miracle product". Just basic, complete, optimum nutrition. I don't make any claims that there are no other products available that might do the same thing. But based on the results I have gotten, results I can feel and measure, I plan to be taking Reliv products for a very long time.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Welcome, and Thanks for Stopping By

In his wonderful book about building "a lifelong community of colleagues, contacts, friends and mentors", Never Eat Alone, networking guru Keith Ferrazzi suggests that there are really only three things that most people sincerely care about. He then identifies these as: their Health and the Health of the people they care about; their Wealth, at least to the extent of providing financial security; and the Time to be with those they love while pursuing their real passions. This resonated with me, but at 57 years old, I realized that I was not doing very well by this standard.

My health was generally pretty good, but trending in the wrong direction in many ways. I was carrying an extra 10 pounds, my blood pressure and blood sugar levels were slowly moving up out of the normal range, and my dentist kept warning me about my impending periodontal meltdown. I also knew I that I had inherited some risky genes. Cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Altzheimers..... if there was a way to die of it someone in my family had. So while I wasn't dealing with any immediate health problems, I didn't see any reason for confident complacency.

My wealth was circling the drain. After a disastrous, savings-draining three year entrepreneurial fiasco, I started a business in 2006 working with small businesses to help them improve their hiring results, employee retention and performance. Just as the world economy slid into the worst recession in decades and companies started to shed jobs like autumn trees did leaves may not have been the best time to start a business focused on helping companies add good employees. My previous venture left me with almost no financial cushion at all, and no matter how hard I worked and how much time I devoted to the new business my savings was slowly evaporating. I didn't even consciously realize just how much financial pressure I was under until I found myself seriously contemplating selling my most prized possession - my 1978 Cessna 172XP.

My time was spent trying to work more, and harder. Even if I had any "free" time, I didn't have the money to do anything with it. No eating out. No vacations. No flying. Postponing any purchase not urgently needed. Delaying care and maintenance on my aging home. Even the time I spent with my family and friends was shrinking - either because I could not afford to do much or maybe that I just didn't want them to see how bad things had gotten.

There is an old saying: "If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got." Something had to change. And soon. And the only thing that I could change was .... me! And once I was ready, the opportunity to do so appeared as if by magic. And that brings us to my blog.

We'll be talking here about health, wellness and nutrition. About network marketing, working from home and starting over later in life. About making life fun again, and meaningful and what we want it to be. The ups and the downs. The great ideas and impressive mistakes. I don't know where this will all end up but I figure it has to be better than where I am now.

However you got here, welcome. I hope the name attracted you and that in time the content and community will bring you back. I'm looking forward to the discussion.