Monthly musings

    Let’s try something new.

    I’m about to speed through a few different topics, rather than focusing on just one. These are the things that have been on my mind lately. If you like or hate this format, reply back and let me know!

    So you have a sweet tooth, eh?

    Last month’s aspartame email was our most popular, well-received email ever. Here’s the exact reply breakdown:

    • 112 readers sent positive replies
    • 1 reader sent a neutral reply
    • 1 reader sent a negative reply

    A few physicians and professors even asked if they could use the email as a handout!

    That means we’ll be working on at least one of these follow-ups in the coming weeks:

    • A YouTube video comparing sweeteners that Examine readers often decide between (e.g. monkfruit vs. stevia, sucralose vs. aspartame, etc.)
    • An email going into more detail on specific safety issues related to sweeteners (e.g. a summary of trials looking at sweetener effects on the gut microbiome)
    • A super duper secret sweetener project

    Minerals are underrated

    You’ve probably taken a multivitamin before, but have you taken a dedicated multimineral?

    I’m not at all advocating for multiminerals, but I did want to highlight that minerals are way more important than the amount of attention they tend to receive. Vitamins have long had an aura of primary importance and healthfulness, while minerals sometimes seem like a tag-along to vitamins.

    After all, we say “vitamins and minerals”, not “minerals and vitamins”. I wonder if this is partly influenced by the momentous scientific discoveries of different vitamins over the past hundred years or so.

    Some minerals are too bulky to include in adequate amounts in multivitamin pills. And even if you could fit them in, it might be a bad idea. For example, too much supplemental calcium is linked to more heart disease, some minerals compete with each other for absorption, and so on.

    It’s also not a good idea to go overboard with supplementation of less bulky “trace” minerals. For example, iron is specifically excluded from many multivitamins because at high levels it’s a strong pro-oxidant and quite harmful, and can fairly easily poison children. As is typically the case, it’s a good idea to get nutrients from food when possible.

    Minerals just play so many biochemical roles in our bodies, not to mention we’re literally made out of them (and protein). While magnesium has become the supplement du jour in the past few years, other minerals still aren’t getting enough attention. We’ll work on our mineral supplement pages over the next months to get them up to date with the latest evidence, and report back to you when we do, so you can see for yourself what I’m talking about.

    Weight: the king of confounders

    I can’t stop myself from reading diet and supplement forums. I started doing it in 1999, and still do it to this day. Yes, I’m a forum addict.

    People on forums can be tough to deal with, but you can glean a lot from personal experiences once you filter out the noise. After all, peer-reviewed studies don’t cover all topics, and are often years behind real-life experiences!

    The most common theme I’ve seen on diet forums is the weight confounding error. When people try a special diet and end up solving their health issues, they typically attribute this to the specific diet, even though weight loss alone is often independently a major factor in improving health issues.

    The key word here is “often”. A seasoned forum browser will try to figure out when the diet may have independently performed some magic, rather than simply being a conduit for weight loss. Here are some of the steps I go through to help tease that out:

    • How dogmatic is the dieter? If I’m to give credence to an anecdote, I want the dieter to be as rational about a diet they (currently) love as a diet they don’t love or haven’t tried. I want pros and cons listed, not fawning praise and blanket statements.
    • Did the dieter log their weight and health condition symptoms? The former is much more common than the latter, but when a dieter records both, it’s (anecdotal) gold!
    • I go through the dieter’s old posts to investigate their diet history. Are they more of a yo-yo dieter who loves a diet until they can’t sustain it or they find a shiny new diet, or do they give each diet the ol’ college try to truly see if it works for them?

    Once in a rare while, I’ll notice a dieter who attributes their health improvements to weight loss, then continues reporting on the diet to see if it has an independent effect even after their weight has stabilized. I save these experiences in my personal notes.

    If you’ve shared your diet experiences on forums, I want to thank you for doing this public service and helping others!

    Should we show our personalities more?

    Examine is different than other health websites. We spend most of our money on our researchers, not on marketing or other business pursuits.

    Our researchers tend to stay with us for many years, and are all insatiably curious and really, really nice people. (Seriously, this is our number one consideration when we hire someone.)

    But Examine straddles a tough line — we’re not a massive company like those we compete with in search engine results (their yearly revenue is literally 100 to 1,000 times greater than ours), and we’re not a personality-driven business like the health experts who have huge social media followings. These two extremes can both do really well financially, but we’re not in either group.

    But maybe we could learn something from the influencers. Do you want to know more about us? More about the people who are researching, writing, and reviewing what you read? Should we show some of our personalities in some fashion? Maybe through emails, videos, or podcasts?

    Some people don’t want to get to know us — they want all science all the time. Others just love to get into the minds and lives of people they probably won’t ever meet. I’m in the latter camp, but you may not be. So let me know, and we’ll go with whatever the majority says! And also let me know if you liked or hated this email format. If there’s enough support, I’ll consider sharing more monthly musings in the future.


    Kamal Patel
    Co-founder, Examine