Influencers and supplements, a dangerous combo
Influencers promote supplements, launch partnerships or found their own company to sell them. But should we trust it?
A healthy person with a balanced diet does not need supplements, scientists agree. Everything is said, man! Well no, things are not that simple. The supplement industry – think vitamins, minerals and proteins – caters to everyone, including people who don't need them, and their supposed benefits are touted by plenty of influencers. who don't have the qualifications to do so.
If someone on social media says to shakeprotein for training or consuming vitamin D during the winter, without suggesting that other people take it, it's still okay, says Olivier Bernard, alias the Pharmacist.
“Where it doesn't work is when it comes down to advice, that is to say that if you have such and such a problem, such and such a product will help you, says the science popularizer. It's dangerous to do that.” Far from being trivial, such advice is part of what is known as the illegal practice of medicine.
Not always good for health
Not only does a healthy person not need supplements, but they can also be harmful: interaction with prescription drugs, contraindication with an existing health problem, uncertainty about the content of supplements or their origin, health problems linked to too much vitamin intake… so many things that aren't mentioned alongside a #wellness on Instagram.
“Plus, if someone has a health condition and they're sold a miracle solution on social networks, we lengthen the time before the person goes to the office of a doctor who could make a diagnosis, and therefore, the problem is likely to get worse, ”adds nutritionist Bernard Lavallée, who has between others wrote the book Don't swallow everything they tell you.
Attention: health advice should be given individually and according to your needs, emphasize the two experts. That means that we cannot give advice to the general public, even if an influencer presents himself as a health professional.
What's more, he invents a panoply of non-reserved titles, warn the two scientists. If no one in Quebec can improvise as a dietitian or nutritionist, anyone can present themselves as a “nutrition coach” or “holistic health specialist”, thus giving themselves the appearance of professionalism without belonging to a professional order that regulates his work.
“That's what bothers me about influencers,” says Olivier Bernard. Even if they don't give health advice, I think it's a shame that there isn't the counterpart of talking about the associated risks and saying to consult a specialist before taking supplements.”
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The road to hell is paved with good intentions
“I am convinced that the vast majority of people who give advice on food and nutrition do so with a good heart and sincerely thinking of helping people,” says Bernard Lavallée, a vision shared by the Pharmacist. This is one of the reasons why both believe that public education is the solution.
Nutritionist Myriam Beaudry and two of her colleagues – the epidemiologist-biochemist Kevin L’Espérance and physiotherapist Alexis Gougeon – are developing training for influencers to better equip them to address health-related topics on social media.
Although the project is still in the development stage, Myriam Beaudry says she is already seeing a great response from influencer marketing agencies, thanks in part to the trio's collaborative approach. “We don't want to be the scientists who are going to lecture them,” she sums up. Influencers have the potential to have a very positive impact on the people who follow them. We know that some have already been “call out”after tackling health-related subjects, so what would they have liked to know to avoid this?»
Such a project could prevent abuses, just like new regulations on supplements. Health Canada is supposed to update the latter since 2016 to require that the promises on the bottles are scientifically proven and that the potential risks are indicated on the packaging.
But Olivier Bernard and Bernard Lavallée believe that consumers must, despite this, develop their critical sense in relation to supplements and all the opinions on nutrition (detox, intermittent fasting, cures of all kinds, etc.) circulating in the media or on social networks, especially since giving dietary advice is not a reserved act.
“Anyone who says to eat more fruits and vegetables, whether it's a nutritionist or not, I don't care! The advice remains good, illustrious Bernard Lavallée. The limit is difficult to define. That is why, unfortunately, the responsibility lies with the people more than with industry or government. It's up to you to learn how to protect yourself so you don't fall for the trap and get tricked by bad advice.”
Some questions to ask yourself when you receive food or health advice and want to know if you can trust it, according to Bernard Lavallée.
- Is the person saying everyone should do this to be healthier?
- Does this sound miraculous?
- Does the person sell the solution to the problem?
- Does the person generalizes personal experience advising it to everyone?
- Does the person use extreme vocabulary with terms like “poison”, “toxic”, “magical”? < /li>