SNI: Roughly a decade and a half ago, folks who espoused eating differently than what was advised and promoted by the AND (formerly ADA- American Dietetic Association) and AHA (American Heart Association) were often vilified. In fact, folks who espoused eating less carbs (gasp!) were targeted as charlatans, quacks, and folks who promoted early death. Why do you think many in the ‘food industry’ are so resistant to new ideas such as consuming a ‘lower carb’ diet? In fact, why are many of them resistant to the notion of taking supplements on a regular basis?
Kurtis: Both the food industry (in this sense, persons who recommend eating a certain way) and the supplement industry are industries characterized by two main things in my mind: They are industries that have set a poor precedent in how much the public can trust them, either due to an apparent inability to deliver on promises (eat X to achieve Y) or have otherwise been outright shown to repeatedly violate consumer trust and safety for profit (the supplement industry does not have a good track record in this regard). Both industries are not one time purchases, but lifetime repeated purchases. Many people will take a leap of faith when it comes to a single purchase, but the fact that you repeatedly spend money on these can lead to a prolonged financial drain
Because it is well established that people will give you money and they have gotten used to giving away this money with little to no evidence or proof to back the claim we have gotten a lot of (for lack of a better term) scum working in these industries undermining how much faith consumers can put in us.
When a new concept comes to the table that actually is scientifically valid, consumers are mixed as to whether they will throw money at the concept or to be highly skeptical. The idea of ‘fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me’ comes to mind. Not many consumers can delineate what is based on good evidence and what is based on absolutely nothing, so regardless of the topic introduced it will be met with both resistance and forerunners. Supplements are in a worse position here since there is a horrible turnover rate of a ‘new’ compound every other month giving incredibly promises that even the best reference drugs cannot do. The ‘latest and greatest’ supplement (such a misnomer, greatness takes decades to establish) is merely just something to keep the gears of consumerism continuing. Which really sucks. There are some great compounds out there but the fact that this consumer cycle exists does nothing but degrade public faith in supplements and destabilizing any potential of the supplement industry (or put another way, the ‘preventative’ branch of western medicine that targets people not in a clinically ill state) to actually be something good to society. I don’t blame consumers at all for their hesitation against new diets and especially against supplements, the state of the industries currently suck.
Sol: I’m going to go with psychology in this. We have confirmation bias, and its children: persistence of discredited beliefs, asymmetric insight, backfire effect, and attitude polarization. Summed up, once someone’s made their mind up, it’s hard to change it. You could even argue that it’s a form of psychological sunk cost – once you’ve put so much energy into believing and defending a theory, it’s hard to let go of it. I think attitude polarization is a big one – a person is less likely to admit/agree that they were wrong when the other person is being a combination of condescending and hostile. Just because you’re right doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk.
As for supplements – naturalistic fallacy. That sums it up neatly.
SNI: Your website, Examine.com, has a lot of cool information (and accurate too). What “aha moment” led to you (Sol) to get involved in a field of study that has about as much to do with web development as teaching a fish to climb trees?
Sol: I cannot really say there was a singular moment I can look back and identify. I was losing weight. I was learning. I was taking notes on a variety of subject matters – entire books, hormones, macronutrients, etc. I had originally wanted to do this myself, but realized it was a bit beyond me. So then I offered the idea to Kurtis. He didn’t really have the technical know-how, so a bit after that we agreed to come and work together. We work together. You can say he’s the brains and I’m the looks.
SNI: For both of you, what are the top 5 supplements you’d recommend for overall general health and fitness?
Kurtis: Hard to come up with a top 5, as even these following supplements can be overruled if there is a certain condition affecting an individual that requires attention.
Vitamin D and Magnesium both need a spot in the top five, due mostly just to the common deficiencies in society. Other nutrients can also be deficient for some persons, but Vitamin D and Magnesium tend to be the hardest to get via a mixed diet.
I’d also put a protein powder in the top 5, although I don’t care which one to be honest (I like casein for the sole reason it is versatile in cooking and food preparation, but a rice/pea combination intrigues me due to being very similar in AA composition to whey but has the potential to be much cheaper and free of allergens).
As for the last two? This gets tough as I can think of about a dozen or so molecules that would be this important assuming a pre-existing ‘state’ of sorts.
Creatine will be here, since although it isn’t a vital nutrient it appears to benefit most people with no apparent side effects of clinical significance; it branches into both the neural and physical realms, which is very nice.
Bacopa Monnieri is my final one. Odd, as it isn’t a common recommendation. It is probably the cognitive enhancer with the largest body of evidence in otherwise healthy humans right now, and chronic usage of Bacopa appears to reliably increase cognition. Although the specific parameters of cognition that Bacopa improves still need to be ironed out and the mechanisms need to be proven, a reliable increase in cognition is rare and especially for one that works in otherwise healthy people and I would recommend Bacopa to all people not currently on pharmaceuticals (solely as we don’t yet know drug-herb interactions with Bacopa).
Sol: Vitamin D. I live up in Toronto, and the overcast winter kills me (and the spring rains too). If there is anything I find notable, it’s Vitamin D.
Fish oil. Kurtis and I may not agree 100% on this being up here, but as someone who is older (relatively) to Kurtis, I find that I feel a lot less weary when I take it. Anecdotally my friends and family tend to agree.
Creatine. The more research done on it, the more useful it appears. It’s an obvious deficiency, and it’s cheap.
Protein powder. Beyond the usefulness of more protein in the average person’s diet, I honestly love using it to taste things. ON cake better, Trutein Cinnabun, etc. They make for delicious popsicles, cheesecakes, milkshakes, etc.
If I can bonus a sixth one in, lifting weights. I guess really it should be #1 – except for injuring yourself (in which case usually you have yourself to blame); it’s the ultimate health booster.
SNI: Kurtis, as a group, RDs are often taught hook, line and sinker the typical mantra of “eat lots of carbs, whole grains are the greatest thing on earth, and protein is bad for your kidneys” (I still hear this in academic circles of dietetics departments). Why is that?
Kurtis: There are a few possible reasons, none of which I can outright prove however, that I think may contribute to this. I’m going to intentionally ignore any possible influence of the USDA or ‘Big agriculture’ mainly because I don’t have a good reason to suspect them and do not want to open that can of worms. Thankfully, I have seen in my recent training that the hate on protein has gone down a little bit (so perhaps this is a notion held by previous generations) and although the hate on dietary fats has been reduced a little bit it still seems present. Those two ‘hatreds’ may merely be a reason why carbs are so touted, since it seems like everything is going to kill you but carbs are apparently less implicated than the other two.
Additionally, there is a big reliance on epidemiological research in dietetics relative to how much importance (I believe) should be placed on interventions. Admittedly, interventions in diets are hard to do (requiring an overhaul of lifestyle in which lack of adherence is met by poor self-reporting of dietary intake, otherwise doing a clinically controlled study where all food is supplied to the subject is horrendously expensive and likely not feasible) but a lot of evidence and teaching in dietetics relies on this epidemiology. There is indeed evidence that saturated fats and protein are correlated with adverse health effects as they are both survey markers of a subpar diet (those eating more carbs without exceeding calories tend to be health conscious, those who eat more protein and fats tend to be consuming more fast food).
Getting false positives from epidemiology research may underlie the recompensatory recommendation of carbohydrates as the ‘best’ macronutrient, and since past recommendations are in line with this recommendation there isn’t a lot of cognitive dissonance to fight against.
Finally, there is also a seeming lack of accountability that dietitians are held up to. If a client fails, it is very easy for the dietitian to find reasons to either blame the client (bad to do, although it happens with poor adherence) or otherwise can just claim that ‘it must have not worked for you’ before switching to a ‘lifestyle’ approach (merely make the client happy with their dietary intake and hopefully life in general). Some negative reinforcement or fear of giving the wrong information can propel finding the right information, and this seems to lack with dietary interventions in general since you can never really be faulted quantitatively for giving the wrong information.
I mean, if a doctor gives the wrong medication and it hurts a client that doctor is held accountable and they them self probably feel horrible for doing so. If a dietitian gives the wrong information, you cannot really prove that on a case by case basis due to the lack of controlling variables and as such cannot blame the dietitian. If you’re not apparently doing anything wrong, why change your ways?
SNI: What are your long-term goals with Examine.com?
Kurtis: Personally, I want the database to be as large as possible and as popular as possible so we can take the largest body of applicable evidence and then apply a hefty serving of harmonization and Occam’s Razor to it. Having a database is a magnitude better than having a blogroll or a news feed which disregards past evidence to cater to an ADHD mentality, but the only downside of a database is that we can get too complex pretty quickly.
My long term goal is to make Examine the largest database of supplemental information that is both accurate and digestible.
Then, from there, the large amount of data can be compared against itself to compare one supplement to another and find relative weaknesses with them (ie. do a search in Examine on phytoestrogens and rank their relative potencies, see which ones are found in serum after ingestion, see which ones are actually a concern and not relative to one another). When the database gets large enough, it can begin to be used by researchers to guide hypothesis’ and some trials and hopefully some better information gets discovered because of it.
If financial success ever occurs, I would love to give most of it right back to research; particularly on some topics where there is a single factor causing a hole in the data and its investigation could harmonize the data (ie. the molecule you eat in a supplement is not detected in serum or in urine but there are apparent bioactivities; what is the metabolite causing these effects?)
Sol: To replace Wikipedia as the standard when people link to supplements. Down the road I would love for us to also contribute to the scientific literature (and more than just via meta studies), but right now, I want us to be *the* juggernaut of supplements. I would also love if more people contributed. The system is setup so that anyone can participate in three ways:
-They can submit studies directly to us: http://examine.com/contribute/study/ – if you see something new and/or interesting, send it our way. The less time we have to spend looking for new papers, the better!
-Discussion. Every supplement has a “discussion” page – if something needs to be clarified, or if something is wrong, or if something is missing, let us know. All discussions are kept public so it can be enlightening for everyone
-Contribute directly. Every supplement can be directly contributed to. All edits will be approved via us before going live, but each supplement page keeps historical records for every version ever published (similar to Wikipedia). We’ve had updates, but we would love more.
If I go to the ISSN conference in CO and I hear someone tell someone else “Just Examine It” I will be as happy as a school girl around Bieber (and if that analogy is off, damn do I feel old now).
SNI: Ginger or Mary Ann (if this reference escapes you, I forgive you;-)
Kurtis: Thanks for forgiving me in advance, I don’t get this reference.
Sol: Do we look old? Sheesh!
As an immigrant (I moved to Canada when I was 14), I had to do with TV that was usually 10-25 years behind the curve. So I get the Gilligan’s Island reference. On the other hand, I was too young to really understand the personalities. Doesn’t really matter – I’m a redhead man myself, so Ginger wins by a mile.
SNI: Clearly, you date Ginger but you marry Mary Ann
SNI: If you could be a superhero, who would it be and why? I’m partial to the Green Lantern myself
Kurtis: Ironman. The general idea of being an otherwise normal human but elevating yourself to superhero status via your intellect and creations really appeals to me, and I like Ironman more than Batman in part due to the suit used (Iron shooting from its palms versus punching people in armored spandex) and the general disposition of the characters. I would rather simply have people aware of who I am and be self sufficient rather than hide in a mansion with a butler away from the eye of the public. Robert Downey Junior may also have had an influence on this decision.
Sol: I’ve always identified with Wolverine. Short, hairy, Canadian, believes he is the best at what he does. True story: when I was figuring out what to change my name to (I legally changed my full name), “Logan” was on the shortlist!
BIOs – Kurtis Frank graduated from the University of Guelph with a bachelor’s degree in Applied Human Nutrition. His research work on Examine.com began while still a student, and upon graduation in spring of 2012, gathering and analyzing research on supplementation and nutrition became his fulltime job. A recreational bodybuilder and powerlifter, Kurtis has a passion for dietary supplements due to a desire to harmonize the discord between the preventative and rehabilitative potential of some dietary supplements and the seemingly lack of interest of the medical community in incorporating dietary supplements in to preventative medicine. As an addendum to this, a great many supplements with inefficacy or insufficient data need to be purged before the diamonds in the rough can be exposed.
Sol Orwell has a different story than most. Dabbling in web development while still in high school, he found he had a knack for building websites that were both useful and popular. He incorporated his first business while still studying computer engineering at the University of Toronto. In his mid-20s, he opted to “retire”, freeing up time to do what he wanted, whenever he wanted. Transforming from fat to fit, he began to investigate the whys and hows behind nutrition, health, and fitness. It was this research that lead to Examine.com, the culmination of thousands of hours of research into anatomy and nutrition.