The Grift of the Supplement Industry

As a (wanna-be?) business guy, I hang on every word uttered by some of the world’s best marketing minds.  One handsome gent that has my undying attention and devotion is Seth Godin.

Seth’s blog on Friday struck a chord with me:

“Oppositional energy is easy to create and spread. Once you pick a ‘they’, then it’s simply a matter of doing the opposite of whatever ‘they’ recommend. It’s a lazy shortcut, one that divides, demonizes, and causes us to suspend our instincts toward better.

It works great in marketing a sports team, but it stops being helpful in most other arenas.

Oppositional division is a magnet for grifters. A con-man, hustler, swindler, or charlatan that can’t possibly do well with thoughtful scrutiny discovers that trolling and arguing is an easy way to bypass the normal examination of what’s actually on offer.

It’s not just the patent medicine door-to-door salesperson who does this. It’s large trade associations, industrial lobbyists, pyramid schemers, technobabblers, and others as well.

Sooner or later, someone points out that there’s a grift going on. Hopefully, we see it before it’s too late.”

Seth’s Blog, Aug. 12 2022

In the spirit of Seth, I’ll try to keep this one short.

Alternative is in the Name

I hope I’ve made it clear that the supplement and wellness industries practice this oppositional energy. Heck, alternative is in the name.

I believe this to my core, and have pages of examples of an industry showing their true colors and getting away with it.

Now, I’ve made “awakening” people to this grift my professional mission.

The Wellness Industry’s Oppositional Energy is Abundant

It’s in the language and words they so carefully choose and spin.  

Medicines are “toxic pharmaceuticals,” yet most supplements are chemical isolates, provided at pharmacological doses (meaning much higher than naturally occurring), with traces of contaminants like heavy metals or industrial solvents in so many products, made directly by pharmaceutical companies that own them or made with raw materials supplied almost predominantly by pharmaceutical companies

It’s in their false us vs them paradigm.

This paradigm is deeply held in our culture.  It’s natural vs “Pharma” even though they are the same animal. Big pharma is corrupt, suppressing studies and paying off doctors, yet supplement brands big and small cherry-pick the “data” they release to “practitioners” and health food store staff while out at expensive dinner events (that pay generous speaking fees). They run the same corrupt playbook, because it works if you are putting profit before people.

They’ve co-opted the term holistic, making it inherently anti-medicine. Don’t get me started again on this.

It’s in their actions.

COVID showed the oppositional energy at full capacity.

If the data says go left, they go right. If science says up, then down is the only way.

The most dramatic, hypocritical, and dangerous example was the sudden affinity for horse paste by the “natural” industry.

The “statins are bad” crowd sure showed a weird devotion to ivermectin, an ugly, potentially toxic, and ineffective-for-COVID “chemical pharmaceutical.”  

Let’s reflect that back for a second: imagine the wellness world’s response if a blood pressure medicine had 10% of the number of study retractions from corrupt and poorly designed studies as ivermectin did.

It was almost as if BECAUSE ivermectin was not what conventional medicine deemed safe or effective that it really took off.  

Lazy Opposition is Bad

I think the point that needs to be made is that we can be in opposition to something because it’s wrong. That can and should be 100% OK and expected… like how I oppose both wellness and conventional industries, when justified.

The grift of the wellness industry is made transparent because of the hypocrisy and in how easily the house of cards tumbles with the lightest nudge from due diligence.

Our challenge is to realize that some of our long-standing beliefs are actually (unfortunately) ineffective, decades-long misinformation campaigns that have trained our minds that “alternative” medicine is natural,  and therefore better.

I am not saying—nor have I ever said—medicine is better, or that supplements CAN’T be better.

Better is better.

The supplement industry has “suspended our instincts towards better,” as Seth said.

We can’t be better—healthier, happier, more confident, less wasteful, or more resourceful—until we see the wellness grift for what it is.

Just trying to keep it real…

Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth

Dr. Neal Smoller, Holistic Pharmacist

About Neal Smoller

Dr. Neal Smoller, PharmD, is a licensed pharmacist: and owner of Village Apothecary, an independent pharmacy in the most famous small town in America—Woodstock, NY. He’s also the host of the popular wellness podcast, The Big Mouth Pharmacist.”


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