March 2012

Welcome to all new subscribers and welcome back to regular readers. Seems amazing that it is March already. Here in New York Hudson Valley the winter aconite has been in bloom for a few weeks and now crocus are up. Spring is here!

This month I would like to do a change in format. Instead of 3 short pieces, I offer one long piece about health care supplements.

Health care supplements

Over the last months some readers have written asking about a particular supplement. So in today's newsletter I want to talk how to judge a supplement. (NOTE: If you subscribe to my newsletter from, you have seen most of these remarks already. It is not often that I write the same things in 2 newsletters but I think this information is important and would be useful for everyone.)


Supplement have become big business. In the United States, for example, people are spending almost 40% of their health care dollars on 'alternative medicine' and supplements are a big part of that.

The marketing of supplements is intense. I once took a course about how to write marketing letters and brochures geared at the supplement market. There is a real science about what 'sells', where to place certain things in a letter or brochure so as to bring the most sales. Nothing is left to chance.


Those 'special product codes' you are asked to use to get the 'bargain' are really ways companies use to track how many sales this particular version of a letter or brochure brings. The code that brings the most sales is used again - until some new trial version (with a different code) shows it will bring in more sales. AND newsletter writers are usually paid by the number of sales their item brings (another reason the company needs the code - to keep track of how much they owe the author).

OK so let's get to direct sales marketing as applied to supplements. I hope this information will help you to become a more informed consumer AND allow YOU TO MAKE GOOD JUDGEMENTS about any supplement on the market.

Some marketing facts

1. Companies know a lot about you. Every brochure - even many web sites collect user demographics. Some of the information is a matter of public record. Eg. your zip code often reveals certain things about you. BUT companies know much more - they know your interests and often your needs. How? If you have ever bought anything before and filled in your name and address, the company from which your bought now has the ability to create a 'mailing list". It used to be that companies only used these to send you another ad or solicitation at a future date.

BUT increased use of direct marketing means that OTHER companies are interested in acquiring the names and address of potential buyers. Companies [and even non-profits]often sell lists of consumers or contributors to other companies or non-profits.

Example: Contribute to one non-profit for animals and within a few years you will be receiving more than a dozens solicitations from 'helping animals' groups. If you buy on line, you may notice an uptick in spam. (NOTE: I do not and would not ever sell an email address - that is my firm promise. If you ever get an uptick in spam, it is not from subscribing to this newsletter!!)

2. Companies sending you mail know much about you because they buy 'targeted lists' eg. from certain zip codes, or by gender (Example: I am very tall and often buy men's sweat shirts to get sleeves that are long enough. When I do, it is usual that in the next months I get catalogs for mens wear and hunting or survival equipment (my zip code is a 'hunter' zip) addressed to Ken or Keith Lindemann. LOL!!!. But targeting does not end with who gets the mail. It also effects which version of a mailing you will get. THIS NEXT PIECE OF INFORMATION IS IMPORTANT.

3. Testimonials sell. Testimonials are more effective than almost any other part of a sales letter/brochure. Advertisers target their lists with brochures that include testimonials from people who 'look like' or 'have problems like' the persons receiving the mail. Remember the zip code sales of lists...or the 'bought certain product' lists or reached retirement?

Companies buy their mailing lists categorized by demographics: sex, age, location, occupation, whether the person responded to another mailing etc. and they often have different mailings going out to different demographics.

Now, about testimonials. There is something VERY PERSUASIVE about reading someone with MY CONDITION --- or even worse than mine is - who says they got relief, are feeling better or no longer have the problem. This has proven to sell better than scientific evidence!!!

BUT the reality is that 'testimonials' do not really PROVE anything. After all the improvement could be due to the 'placebo effect' or by happenstance {many conditions do improve spontaneously). This is why scientific journals will not publish anything based on testimonials - nor will any government agency approve a drug based on testimonial evidence. So as appealing as they are, I strike out the testimonials in every sales letter. If you are interested in 'the facts' ignore the testimonials and look for scientific studies. If there are none......well, you judge.

2.Direct mail marketing courses say, if you are writing a piece for some health item you need some studies to give a sense of 'real science'. But be alert. There are studies and then there are studies. Some are not worth much more than testimonials.

How can you tell what studies are worth paying attention to? Look for studies published in scientific journals.

Any manufacturer who has such a study to is going to quote it because anything published in a scientific journal has passed the important test of being read and evaluated by other scientists. A study can not be published in a scientific journal unless the study has been judged 'scientifically worthwhile'- has met the criteria of solid science.

If the only thing a supplement has to offer is examples of people the product helped (testimonials) or in house studies (WE found such and such) be on your guard.

3. If the supplement does offer real scientific studies in their ad, the next thing to do is go to the PUBMED web site (that is a US government service that publishes abstracts of ALL health studies published in scientific journals through out the matter what the original language. You can find it with a web search for PUB MED) When you get there, type in the authors names. All the papers published by those authors will come up with their abstracts (short summaries). (If you do not have the authors then type in key words from the title.)

Why do this? More than one marketer has referred to a scientific study in which the product was included. BUT when I read the study or its abstract, I often found strange things. Example: There was a study where one form of calcium WAS compared to others - just as the ad said, the comparison showed the product in question was LESS EFFECTIVE than others used in the study!! So much for ad claims.

4. Other supplements quote studies that examine one or more of the substances in the supplement. OK. Now we need to check PUBMED to see HOW MUCH of that substance was used in the study...and whether the supplement uses that amount as was shown to be effective.

This is important. Example: In the last year or so a number of supplements have come on the market with RESERVERATOL - a substance found in red grapes etc. Advertisers proclaim that studies show it has positive cardiovascular effect, increases longevity and shows a positive effect on blood sugar.

OK. When I checked pub med, I found the the studies on longevity were done with fruit flies, nematode worms, or short-lived fish. There WAS a study of reserveratrol positive effect on human blood sugar using doses of 3-5 grams. But the supplement that ad was selling had 100 millegrams of reservatrol in each capsule. Now 1 gram = 1,000 millegrams. The study used 3-5 grams.

So I would need to take 30 capsules a day to reach even the lower level of 3 grams used in the study. So at $20 a bottle, I would spend about $300 a month to meet the amounts used in the study. ??????????

5. Another thing supplement companies do is use a common substance but give it a new name and targeted it to a special segment of the population. Example: In my newsletter about reversing bone loss (found at I mentioned that Olive Leaf had been shown to stimulate bone growth. Some readers wrote that a company was marketing a NEW supplement for bone building.

The product was shown to have a positive effect on bones. When I looked at the label the product it was 250 mg of oleuropein. Oleuropein is Olive leaf so this product should work. But the price for this new bone building supplement was $14.99 for 60 caps of 240mg. There are a number of Olive leaf products on the market with 400 mg of oleuropenin (almost double the amount) that sell for about $3.00 a bottle. Ah, $$$$$$.

Targeting a specific corner of the market, eg. those with blood sugar problems or those with bone loss can sometimes generate sales of items that either have far too little of a substance to do much good or that cost much more than non-targeted products.

Summary of tips: So here is my short list for judging supplements - any supplement, not just those sold for Bone Loss.

1. Ignore the testimonials - they are attractive and tempting but they have NO scientific worth.

2. Check to see if the supplement [or its ingredients] have ANY real scientific studies published in scientific journals showing it can do what the ads claim.

3. If there are studies, check to see how much of the substance was used in the study and calculate how many capsules or tablets you'd need to take to reach that amount.

4. Check to see if the substance is sold in the same amounts in under another name or in a supplement not targeted at your specific condition. Eg. Cinnamon which has been shown to help control blood sugar, can be bought very cheaply BUT when cinnamon is given a special name and is marketed to diabetics the price is often much, much higher.

All it takes is a bit of time to become an educated consumer - AND it takes real discipline NOT to be influenced by the colors in the brochure (chosen for their effectiveness to the market served) or those appealing testimonials.

Goodness I just realized that this web site may have a colorful front page but I do not have many pictures etc. Why? My aim is not to 'market' to you - only provide solid, research based information.

Well, that is it. I hope this newsletter is of use to you and that you are not disappointed in this month's change in format. (Remember the older you get, the more marketing of health products you will receive so do save these tips.)

Next month I shall go back to the usual format of research, a tip and an encouraging word.

Thanks for reading. Don't forget to practice balancing on one foot each day - for at least a few seconds. It is a way to prevent falls ---- and the likelihood of falling increases each year after 45 UNLESS you do some balance work.

Be well. Be happy. Be kind to some one each day - life it too short not to enjoy it.