How to Spot and Avoid Fraudulent Longevity Supplements

Can supplements help extend your life? The answer isn’t so black and white. There are no shortcuts to living longer, and if you choose to reach for vitamins to aid in longevity, make sure they include approved and researched molecules, or you may be doing more harm than good and wasting your money and time.

Key takeaways:
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    Fraudulent longevity supplements are sold to the public every day.
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    Only a handful of longevity molecules have been tested in human trials.
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    Don’t buy longevity supplements if there is no scientific evidence of the efficacy of their ingredients.
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    Before taking any supplements, you should optimize lifestyle factors for a longer lifespan and improved health.

Your genetics, environment, and lifestyle choices all impact how long and well you will live. You cannot out-supplement an unhealthy lifestyle. However, scientists are discovering novel longevity pathways each year, giving supplement formulators a reason to find ways to support those pathways and help you slow down aging. With the rise in potentially effective molecules and ingredients, the amount of misinformation and sales of unapproved fraudulent products also grow.

"Unless it’s a reputable seller or the company is involved in studying the molecule, I would stay away from it."

Dr. Eric Verdin

Dr. Eric Verdin, President, and CEO of The Buck Institute for Research on Aging told Healthnews that longevity supplement companies will display promising claims on their website and bottle, but consumers must look at if there is scientific evidence backing up the claims, and if that evidence is based on animal or human trials.

What is a fraudulent supplement?

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “dietary supplements may be considered fraudulent when marketed with claims to prevent, treat, or cure diseases or other health conditions, but are not proven safe and effective for those uses.”

Currently, the FDA considers aging a “natural process” and not a disease, therefore, supplement companies that market longevity ingredients do not have to go through the rigorous approval process to test their efficacy before selling to consumers.

Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, supplement companies are still required to meet certain criteria such as safety testing, good manufacturing processes, and adequate ingredient labeling.

Longevity supplements – the truth:

Do all longevity supplements meet the above criteria prior to selling their product? Unfortunately, no. Many longevity supplement companies play by the rule that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.

The ugly truth is that most companies in the longevity supplement industry are not in it to help you live longer or interested in finding out if their supplement is working at all, but rather to make money.

"Many of the supplements that you buy do not even contain what is advertised on the bottle, which is already a huge problem."

Dr. Verdin

A recent study by Chromadex tested 22 supplements sold on Amazon as longevity vitamins that listed nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) as one of their key ingredients. Their research revealed that many of them contained hardly any actual NMN in them.

Dr. Verdin confirmed that “it’s representative of the industry,” and it gives even more reason for consumers to be careful when choosing to purchase a longevity supplement, especially from a third-party distributor, such as Amazon.

Healthnews recently reported on this issue along with why the FDA production of NMN supplements has stopped.

Unproven ingredients and hidden claims

“Longevity,” “healthspan,” and “lifespan” have become popular buzzwords, but Dr. Verdin recommends being “highly skeptical” when it comes to choosing a longevity supplement.

If you’re taking something by mouth that is unregulated, you likely won’t know what’s in it and what its concentration is.

"Because these supplements are unproven, I tell people, if you’re taking it, it might or might not have a positive effect, you’ll never know, but always be aware of that some of them can be toxic."

Dr. Verdin

Be wary of what you read on the label or on the website. While the marketing spins and hot phrases may be in larger font, you might find tricky claims hidden in the fine print. Dr. Verdin explains that often what companies do is they make an implicit claim by saying “increases lifespan in mice” or “shown to increase lifespan” with a little asterisk that will then reveal “based on experiments conducted in mice.”

“They’re playing all kinds of tricky games to not get caught making those claims,” he says. “Because frankly, this is what the FDA is policing making sure that no one is doing this.”

If a company is studying a supplement and making any claims that have not been proven in a clinical trial, they are at risk of raising a flag with the regulating bodies, and government agencies will shut them down.

Many supplement companies can and will make claims when they shouldn’t. "If there’s any claim on the bottle or on the website, I would really dig in to try to see where that claim is coming from, whether it has been studied, and if so, whether the experiments were done in animals or humans,” Dr. Verdin added. There are very few supplements that have demonstrated benefits.

Science-backed longevity molecules

There are only a handful of molecules that have shown a promising effect on supporting various longevity pathways. NAD precursors such as NR and NMN, as well as alpha-ketoglutarate and spermidine are a few. Then there are the polyphenols, such as fisetin and resveratrol, which by their very nature, Dr. Verdin explained can be rather “promiscuous and impact a lot of things in the body, and not just longevity pathways.”

However, even these have mostly been tested in animal models, so there’s still a lot to learn in terms of how these might impact human biology in the long term.

There are some serious companies who do their due diligence to test their product’s efficacy, Dr. Verdin explains. “You can take many of these products, and it’s unlikely that they will hurt you, but whether they have any efficacy is not there yet but will come in the future.”

Tips to spot fraudulent longevity supplements

If you consider buying longevity supplements, beware of the signs that might help you determine which ones are credible and which ones are fraudulent.

Green flags:

  • Reputable company;
  • Researched ingredients;
  • Company invests in studies to test their ingredients;
  • Good reviews on Consumer Reports.

Red flags:

  • Too many ingredients in one capsule;
  • Unclear concentration of ingredients;
  • Makes claims that are too good to be true;
  • Claims big results;
  • No scientific evidence listed on website;
  • Claims only backed by animal models;
  • Small sample size or biased studies.

The verdict is clear – there are fraudulent longevity supplements sold every single day, and millions are being fooled into buying them. The bold claims promising miraculous results can often pop up on your social media pages and Google searches or be emailed to you in newsletters. However, it’s important not to fall for their marketing tricks without looking into what evidence they have backed those claims.

While there are a handful of molecules that have been studied on both animals and humans, the science of longevity still has a long way to go to discover their long-term effects on humans. Additionally, scientists believe there are many more longevity pathways that are yet to be understood.

As Dr. Verdin points out, taking supplements should not be your first course of action in combating aging and promoting a longer lifespan and health span. Most of your longevity is determined by lifestyle factors.

Even genetics have very little to do with it. A recent study in human genetics conducted by Calico Labs showed that genetics only account for 7% of longevity.

“Before taking any supplement, I would argue that one should optimize their physical activity, nutrition, sleep, stress mitigation, and human connection,” Dr. Verdin said.

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