Supplement Misconceptions

Supplement Misconceptions

Posted by DS, DC on Feb 11th 2022

Supplement Misconceptions

I have enjoyed watching the Shark Tank from time to time. Being in business for over 30 years, it is fun to see how people try to enter the business world. I have also learned some things from listening to the critiques by the sharks. Recently a young person presented an idea in the Shark Tank for a supplement to help people with focus, memory and learning problems. He had these issues himself and kept trying different combinations of herbs and amino acids until he found something that worked for him. The response from the Sharks illustrates some misconceptions about the world of supplement development and marketing. Most of you probably know much of this already but here is the article anyway.

A Good Example

This person decided to market his formula on college campuses as that was an environment he was familiar with and was having some success. He wanted some expert marketing help and a modest request for $75,000 for an equity share of the company. 4 of 5 of the sharks were not kind. They accused him of being a snake oil salesman with less than noble motives. Remember the Shark Tank is all about making money so it seemed more than a little hypocritical for them to question this young man's motives. Mark Cuban asked about clinical trials. He also was highly critical of the disclaimer on the label about taking this while on prescription medications or if pregnant. These comments only show-cased his relative ignorance of the rules of the nutritional supplement world. Nutritional supplements like this product are made of different components that actually have been studied in clinical trials. Because of the wide variety of possible combinations of using different herbs and other nutrients, it would be unlikely to find any studies of any particular combination. In order to get money to study a specific combination of nutrients, you will have to fund the project yourself or look for money through the NIH or other government agency. First you will need to be affiliated with a university. Then you will need a statistician or two, an ethics review, someone to recruit suitable subjects, someone to gather data, someone to pull all of this together and get it published in a peer reviewed journal.

Time and Money

All of these steps cost time and money. Better set aside a couple of years and a few million to get some preliminary results. To get any NIH money, add some departmental complexity of the university system.

The University Needs a Motive ie Money

Plus there has to be a reason for a university to commit resources to your study. You may need some serious money to grease those wheels.

FDA Labeling Rules

The FDA has strict guidelines about making any claims about the benefits of your product. If you make any claims, even if you have a good study or two that shows it works as advertised, be prepared to have your operation shut down, all your products and computers confiscated while you scramble to find a lawyer to somehow force the FDA to see it your way. Plan on spending years and a few hundred thousand in legal fees all the while your income stream has stopped dead. To avoid these FDA pitfalls, the supplement was properly labeled with a disclaimer about statements not having been approved by the FDA and the standard statements about medications and pregnancy. To study all aspects of use of this supplement, you would have to have a budget more typical of a pharmaceutical company. Again plan on years and a few hundred million dollars to look at all of these scenarios as each combination of drugs and pregnancy would require a different study.

Reward and Punishment

Even if you could come up with that money, how much are you going to sell this for? A drug company would find a way to patent it and sell each pill for $500. A supplement company will get $70 for a bottle of 60 or 90. If your product begins to sell, another company can change the amounts or combinations of ingredients a little and cut deeply into your sales. This is why drug companies don't bother with cheap, natural remedies regardless of effectiveness.

Not a Snake Oil Salesman

Calling this young man a snake oil salesman isn't fair in any sense of the word. He is just dealing with the realities of creating and marketing nutritional supplements. The happy ending is that Barbara Corcoran saw the potential because of her experience of watching her husband struggle with many of these same issues. Medications just don't offer a long-term solution for many people. She commented that he had found that nutritional supplements had helped greatly. Because she had seen the struggle first hand, she jumped in and gave him the money and marketing expertise he was asking for. She was sharply ridiculed by the other 4 sharks. I applaud her for standing her ground.

Helping People with Cognitive Issues Is Part of Our DNA

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that helping people with focus, memory and learning problems is something we have been doing here at for some time. Every person is a little different so give us a call and we can discuss what would work best for you.