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You asked: Usana is my vitamin supplement of choice

The other day, Raul Pacheco-Vega asked via Facebook whether any of his friends recommend taking vitamin supplements, and if ‘yes,’ which ones. Instead of just replying on his wall, here’s a quick post about my supplement of choice, Usana, and why it works for me.

As the company’s corporate blog notes:

USANA Health Sciences is a worldwide leader in the field of health and nutrition. Our mission is to develop and provide the highest quality, science-based health products, distributed internationally through network marketing, creating a rewarding financial opportunity for our independent Associates, shareholders, and employees.

“…highest quality, science-based health products” means the supplements are rigorously tested and backed by research, and come with a guarantee that what’s on the label is actually in the bottle. Usana is manufactured in line with pharmaceutical-grade standards, not just food-grade standards, which isn’t the case with every supplements manufacturer (see Usana’s potency guarantee).

Compared to ~1,500 supplements manufactured in Canada and the US, Usana supplements consistently win the top spots in Lyle MacWilliam’s The Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements. This publication:

…seeks to educate consumers about the science and value of nutritional supplementation, and to provide them with a simple, reliable tool with which to compare nutritional products. (…)

Section I of this guide discusses the theories of aging and the intricate links between aging, oxidative stress and degenerative disease. The remarkable protective powers of the endogenous and dietary antioxidants and their role in mitigating the aging process are examined. Five degenerative disease processes are highlighted, including recent scientific evidence supporting the use of nutritional supplementation as a preventive measure.

Section II: Criteria for Advanced Supplementation

Section II reviews the substantial scientific evidence employed in developing the fourteen analytical criteria imbedded in the product-rating methodology used in this comparative guide.[from the 2003 edition description; current edition is from 2007]

The business angle described in the Usana’s corporate blog, that the products are “distributed internationally through network marketing, creating a rewarding financial opportunity,” tells you that the company’s business model is based on network marketing and direct sales. You typically can’t buy the supplements in stores because they’re meant to be distributed (ok, sold) through Usana’s network of associates …and that’s where some people see red. There is a lot of money in the health and wellness business, and the industry is growing every day. Companies old and new launch products constantly, and the majority of them are sold at supermarkets, drug stores, and health-food stores. Consumers don’t seem to mind perusing the miles of aisles at their favorite store, purchasing a bit of this and a bit of that like magpies pecking at glitter. But if you tell them that you’re ‘sharing’ products based on network marketing business model, many of those same consumers think it’s a scam.

It’s not. There are plenty of direct sales companies that work on this model, do not require a big financial commitment (I fill my own monthly subscription, which keeps my business center ‘open,’ with the products I buy for myself and my family, for example), and they’re not pyramid or Ponzi schemes because actual products are involved and exchange hands.

But the combination of a network marketing business model with health-and-wellness products brings out the worst suspicions in some people, not least because there is just so much damn money to be made in this industry and it’s pretty easy to produce a shady product. The history of snake-oil is a long one.

This is in part why Lyle MacWilliam’s book, The Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements, is so useful. It’s an impartial guide – but of course it, too, was attacked early on.

The attack on MacWilliam’s guide in the early 2000s is a testament to the contested (and not a little vicious) climate of the health-and-wellness industry. Nutrisearch (the publisher) wrote an excellent rebuttal, here, which closes with the following description of the author’s credentials:

Mr. MacWilliam is a trained biochemist and kinesiologist and a contributing author to leading health publications. He has served, at the behest of Canada’s Minister of Health, on an expert advisory team for natural health products, which developed a new regulatory framework to ensure Canadians have access to safe, effective and high quality nutritional products. His wide-ranging consulting experience includes work for the British Columbia Science Council, Environment Canada, Human Resources Development Canada, and Health Canada. He has been invited by companies, organizations and individuals around the world to speak on nutrition and lifestyle issues, including presentations on adults’ and children’s supplementation needs, the prevention of degenerative disease, and the need for lifestyle change to promote optimal health.


Neither the author, Lyle MacWilliam, MacWilliam Communications Inc., nor NutriSearch Corporation have any fiduciary ties to any of the companies or products listed in the Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements or its sister publications; nor do they profit in any way from the sale of nutritional products listed in the guide. In addition, production of the guide is not funded by any nutritional manufacturer or other public or private interest.

The Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements is is the sole creative effort of the author and NutriSearch Corporation.

Irrespective of this, attacks on Usana – and often enough on the supplements industry as a whole – probably won’t abate any time soon. Take them with a grain of salt and do your research.

So let me tell you why I use Usana, and why I think the products rock.

Since we (family) have started using The Essentials about a year and a half ago, neither one of us has had a single cold. Prior to this, I almost always had at least two major colds per year, in addition to a bunch of annoying cold viruses that left me in varying stages of distress. What happens now is this: whenever I feel some kind of bug trying to take hold, I’ve got it beat within 12 hours. Not kidding. My immune system is just that much stronger now – and it’s not because I’m such a saint when it comes to overall health, either. The spouse (also on The Essentials) is equally hale, so it’s not just me. The offspring take Body Rox, and while the daughter is a skeptic with regard to supplementation, she did take the vitamins while she spent 8 months in China, surviving there with just the occasional cold, one incidence of food poisoning, and a slight case of the persistent pollution-caused cough known as “China Lung” (which her body managed to avoid for the first 6+ months – a not insignificant feat).

We also use some of The Optimizers, especially Vitamin D – and I’m a big fan of Procosa and Hepasil, too.

I could go on to praise the Personal Care line (Sensé), but this is about vitamins and nutrition.

Of course the question arises: why supplement at all? As someone on Raul’s Facebook thread noted, “Source your nutrients from food. Taking suppliments [sic] just covers up the in adiquicy [sic] of the diet…. and learning how to eat naturally.” That sounds reasonable enough, but you would have to eat like an organic saint these days to get all your nutrients from food. Our farming methods, transportation/ storage/shipping methods, and the fact that some areas have depleted soils (or natural deficiencies) all contribute to food alone not always being able to deliver all of your body’s nutrient needs. For example, what are you going to eat to get Vitamin D, the “sunshine” vitamin, when you’re in the Pacific Northwest in winter? Or Helsinki? Or Hamburg? You get the point. And did you know that some places – like Vancouver Island, British Columbia – have soil that is naturally deficient in critical minerals like Selenium? Even if you eat organic and local, your food will not have the nutrients your body needs if it’s grown in soil that doesn’t contain those elements.

But there’s another reason I use supplements: as insurance. I reason that my generation is the first to have the chance to go healthily into relatively old age (see the various articles about Jane Fonda, now that her latest book is out). It used to be the case that people hit 60 or 70 years of age and were considered …well, old. Like, really old, as in retirement material. And by retirement, I mean useless. Who, in my generation (I’m 55), would acquiesce to that? Once upon a time, you hit a certain age and, boom!, degenerative diseases (caused by oxidative stress) meant that you shuffled, slowed down, and wore out. Had a heart attack. Gave up. Died. If supplementation can make even a small dent in slowing down oxidative stress and degenerative disease, sign me up. (Oh wait, I already am!) So check in with me 10 years from now, see if I’m still making tracks. I bet I will be. Meanwhile, ask me what vitamins I take.



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