Advocare is a brand of nutritional supplements, with some emphasis on diet plan, sold via Multi Level Marketing sales through people that sign up to be distributors of the product. With so many people selling these supplements you have probably seen or heard of someone you know taking these products.
Recently I re-posted an article written by a wellness blogger, Lindsey Leigh Bentley. She is not a doctor, dietitian or nutrition expert, nor does she claim to be. But her article “Is Advocare Healthy?” was simple, well written and correct. Her article put out into the world things that I think and say in my office to my patients every day, but that I haven’t said out loud in a public forum before. My reposting of her article got many people quite uncomfortable! Along with this article you’re reading now, my good friend and colleague Whitney Mack, personal trainer and owner of MacksMo, just wrote her own post about her thoughts on use of Advocare in the fitness culture. Both are good reads.
Here is my expert follow up article, to support their thoughts and to share my own opinion.
First, what makes me an expert?
I am a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) with an additional Washington State Certified Dietitian (CD). My opinion on nutrition topics is important because I am an educated and trained nutrition expert. An extended version of why those specific notations make me an expert is here.
So, is Advocare healthy?
Artificial flavors are chemical compounds not extracted from food, created to resemble food taste. It’s much cheaper to use these than Natural Flavors most of the time. There isn’t really much testing, or any at all, that is done to verify safety for human consumption. Instead a principle called the Threshold of Toxicological Concern (TTC) is used to add these chemicals to our food. Several of the flowcharts can be seen and demonstrated in this paper. Scroll to click on the flowcharts. Artificial flavors are in our food on the basis that a little bit shouldn’t hurt us – but that is a huge risk to take when you can just stick to the natural flavors extracted from food.
- Acesulfame Potassium (Ace-K)
Ace-K, also known as “Sunette” or “Sweet One” is an old school artificial sweetener that has been around since the 60’s. This chemical helps with palatability of foods and is almost always mixed with another sweetener so that each chemical masks the other one’s bad aftertaste. (In Advocare it’s mixed with sucralose – see below) This study showed that when pregnant and lactating mice consumed Ace-K, it did end up in the amniotic fluid and the breast milk, affecting the baby’s flavor preference for sugar and Ace-K itself. This study showed that long term ingestion of Ace-K in mice led to altered neurometabolic functions, which brought them to the conclusion that long term ingestion may impair cognitive function. With all FDA approved items, there is also a Delaney Clause that forces the FDA to remove a product if that product is shown to cause cancer in humans or animals. But it does not apply to individual pieces of that product. For an explanation click here and scroll down to Section II: Determination of Safety. This rule is what allows Ace-K to stay on the FDA approved list despite that it contains a known carcinogen, Methylene Chloride. For that explanation click here and scroll down to Section III: B: Methylene Chloride.
Sucralose, aka Splenda, is one of the newest artificial sweeteners to hit the market, approved in the US in the 90’s. Very similar structurally to sugar, it’s created by removing 3 hydroxal groups and adding a chlorine group. Recently, sucralose has gotten some media attention because of a soon-to-be-published Italian study, showing that sucralose caused leukemia in mice that were exposed before birth. It’s because of this study that the watchdog group CSPI just downgraded sucralose from “safe” to “caution” on their list of chemical additives. Now, this study is a life-long study of mice, which in general can produce hard to determine data – which is why we just need more studies that are done with strict guidelines. In general, I believe artificial sweeteners aren’t safe because they aren’t tested under strict enough standards and aren’t studied enough, especially for long term side effects. I would avoid them all and just stick to sugar, honey, pure maple syrup, etc. Not to mention in my practice alone my patients who ingest chemical additives like artificial sweeteners, colors and flavors have complained of things like headaches, fatigue, nausea, behavior changes, mood changes, cognitive lapses and on and on.
What if they just took these things out of their products, would they be healthy then?
Maybe. If prescribed appropriately by a professional…
Even when you remove these 3 things and make the product more whole food based and overall “healthier” there is still a major problem. Nutritional supplements are drugs. Yes they absolutely are. They may not be regulated like drugs quite yet in our country but when you put a synthetically or lab-created substance in your body whether it’s medicine, hormones or vitamin c, that is a drug and should be treated like one. So you can guess my problem with Advocare – and really any other multi level marketing scheme that deals with drugs. They let ANYONE sell them.
I have a lot of people that I call friends, those that I trust, laugh with and respect, that sell Advocare. Are any of them dietitians? No. Some may have taken that 6 month course in New York on nutrition. Some may be personal trainers. Some may be stay at home Moms and Dads, or hairdressers or pilots. The fact that non-nutrition-experts can sell and recommend drugs to you, is a problem. I still love my friends that sell these things; I try not to mix business and pleasure too much. So don’t hold it against someone who sells these, they truly just don’t have the expertise to know the questions to ask to make a critical decision about the safety of products like these. Friends, I don’t mean to offend, I’m just saying I’m not the person to ask about bayalage hair color or how to do a proper squat, so we should all just stick to our own scopes of expertise here.
Side Note/Digression – Why do educated people (insert famous person or world renowned doctor’s name here) in the health field sell this stuff then?
Sorry but it’s true.
Well, I should say money or they just don’t know about these concerning issues.
No one initially gets into health care for the money. That’s for sure. Why would you go to 6+ years of schooling to become an MD, or 10+ years to become a surgeon when you can make the same amount of money (in the 100’s of thousands of dollars per year) in financial advising, mortgage sales, insurance sales, stocks, outside sales, etc? You can make more money, in less time, doing something else than you can make in health care.
Those of us in health care get into the field because we love science, health and helping people. When we finally look up from our books and into our bank accounts, we realize that when up against insurance companies that pay us insultingly for our time, and hours upon hours of time spent away from our families just to make a buck – we panic. We get desperate, and we are suckers for the salesmen & women that paint us a picture of a thriving practice, extra income, flexible hours and wealthy life that their product (Advocare, Isagenix, Usana, Arbonne, Nu Skin, Herbalife, etc) can provide for us. This panicked state can make even the smartest professional overlook the science, overlook the studies and move towards a “well, its not proven unsafe….” approach to paying their bills. Don’t fault them for it, they are just trying to be successful and provide for their families like you are.
When I started my private practice in 2008 I was hell-bent on not selling supplements. “Whole food all the way!” And then I noticed some of my teen girl patients weren’t eating enough calcium. I noticed all the studies done well on fish oil and wanted to help my patients with inflammatory diseases and heart disease. I kept running into situations where a quality supplement dosed appropriately would help my patients. So I started looking for those quality supplements. I took lots of meetings, I tried lots of products. And you know what, I went to an Advocare presentation.
In that Advocare presentation, an older gentleman by the name of Ron Reynolds spoke about the team of MD’s on their staff that helped develop and back their products. He spoke from the bible, and built trust using the words of Jesus. He told everyone in that room to cold call 10 people that night and offer them “an opportunity of a lifetime” because you make more money if you get other people to sell these products underneath you. And after signing up, you have to continue to sell more products per month to earn a higher status and discount within the company.
They also followed up with a phone call after that presentation. They conferenced me in with one of their top distributors, earning over 90k last year, who was “also a dietitian”.
Upon chatting with the sales rep and this dietitian, I learned that she lost her RD credential years before. She “didn’t need it anymore now that she sold Advocare” and had failed to maintain her continuing education hours required each year and was in fact no longer an RD and not practicing in the field at all. Yet they still refer to her within Advocare as a dietitian.
So after that, I knew Advocare wasn’t one of those quality supplements I was looking for. Not to mention upon further review of the ingredients I found my biggest problems with the product itself. Artificial flavors, Acesulfame Potassium and Sucralose.
Ok, so what’s your deal with supplements then?
As a dietitian, I have access to pharmaceutical grade, food based, whole food and/or synthetically derived nutritional supplements. There are outstanding labs all around the world that design and create high quality nutritional supplements for lots of reasons. I just had to find the right companies that sold the right products. For me that means the highest quality/testing, whole food based or whole food period, in the least amount of pills possible, that people will take.
And I found some great ones. And I get to pick any lab, any product, anywhere. No one makes me choose or provide anything. I get to pick and choose whichever I believe is the best product for my patients. Which provides the public with a non-biased, expert approach for recommending what you need or don’t need.
My favorite fish oil is created by Douglas Labs. Its called Quell High EPA/DHA + D. I liked it so much that Douglas Labs let me private label the product with the Crave Health Logo. Is it expensive? The most expensive fish oil you can probably find. But it’s expensive because it’s the best quality (cleanest extraction of toxins and metals) and requires the least amount of pills to take for patients. You can get Douglas Labs products from any licensed health care professional.
My favorite multivitamin comes from a totally different company, Standard Process. They make a multivitamin called Catalyn, out of all food. Nothing synthetic. Meaning there is no risk of overdosing, malabsorbing or interacting with anything else. Three little mini tablets taken each day at a great price. That’s why they are my favorite multivitamin. You can get Standard Process products from any licensed health care professional.
And after Advocare’s 24 Day Challenge started to overtake all of my friends and patients, I went back to Douglas Labs and asked if we could create a safe, high quality option for these people that want this limited time kick start to health idea. I sat with one of their ND’s and we created a completely safe, clean, no artificial colors/flavors, alternative to Advocare’s 24 day challenge. I called it Crave Clean. Safe, 28 days, and consultation with a nutrition expert before starting in.
So for me to sit here and say I don’t sell supplements is incorrect. I do sell supplements. I sell high quality, appropriately dosed drugs in my office to those patients that need them. I am happy to work with patients individually to prescribe a supplement regimen that is appropriate for them if they need it. Nutritional supplement dosing and recommendations are a part of my job. And you know what is refreshing? If I screw up and tell someone to take something they shouldn’t, or someone gets sick from something I recommend – I can get my credentials revoked. That is a nice piece of mind for my patients.
If non-experts want to get into supplement sales, they are forced to sell things like Advocare or other MLM products because companies like Douglas Labs, Standard Process, Thorne, etc won’t let non-professionals access and prescribe their products. There are better, safer alternatives out there to Advocare and any other MLM nutritional supplement. And most of the time they are cheaper for the consumer.
No, Advocare is not healthy. Because of artificial flavors, acesulfame potassium and sucralose. Even if they reformulated the products, its not a good idea to buy nutrition supplements (drugs) from someone who is not a professional.
Those that do sell these products have just chosen to take a “it’s not proven unsafe” approach to health. Which may or may not hurt you. Everyone is different, but everyone should also have the full story in order to make educated decisions on what we put in our bodies.
If you have any questions about my opinions, my training, my experience or thoughts, you can email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org. I encourage everyone to be open minded, think critically and ask questions. Please refrain from personal attacks.