Organ complex might not be as catchy a name for a supplement as, say, “vitamin C,” but you might be hearing it a lot more these days. Ads for organ complex supplements have been popping up all over the internet. They claim to be superfoods and use words like “grass-fed” and “pastured” that you might find on a package of ground beef. They also use words like “glandular,” “desiccated,” and “ancestral” that sound a little strange. So, what are these pills made of, and do they have anything in them that makes them worth the price?
Organ complex supplements do contain dried or freeze-dried organs, usually from cows, that have been ground up and put into capsules. Even though it sounds gross, the makers of these pills say that they are a way to get the health benefits of nutrient-rich organ meats without having to eat fried liver or kidneys on a stick.
Organ meats are known to be high in nutrients and not very tasty, at least among Americans. However, there is little to no published research on how these supplements made from multiple organs affect human health.
“Supplements can be sold as healthy even if they have never been tested on humans,” says Pieter Cohen, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston who studies dietary supplements. So, we can’t be sure that supplements made from animal organs are good for our health. Even scarier is that none of these products have to be tested for safety on people before they can be sold. Even if the label makes it seem like they might be safe and work, there is probably not enough evidence to back up these claims.
What you need to know about Organ complex supplements and what they might do for your health?
In many parts of the world, it is normal and even considered a treat to eat the internal organs of animals. These organs are called “offal” or “variety meats.” Not so in the U.S., which was ranked 171st out of 175 countries for eating offal, according to the most recent data, which was collected in 2013 and published in May 2020 in Today’s Dietician. We eat less than 1 pound per person per year, and most of that comes from hot dogs and sausages.
Offal has had a small renaissance among foodies recently, with dishes like crispy fried pig head, corned beef tongue, and sweetbreads (organ meats from the thymus and pancreas) Marsala showing up on the menus of trendy restaurants, according to an article in Food and Wine from May 2017.
Some people who care about health and some people who sell meat (who would love to sell organs for a higher price) have paid more attention to these foods. According to FoodNavigator, a U.K. group called the Public Health Collaboration started “Organuary” in January 2020. The goal was to get people to eat organ meats twice a week for the whole month. The campaign started up again in January 2021. The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers in the U.K. supported the “offal-fest.”
The people who started Organuary think that offal should get more attention because of how nutritious organs are. The Organuary website says that the powerful antioxidant CoQ10 is found in large amounts in heart muscle. Selenium comes from the kidneys. Selenium is a mineral that helps the immune system and makes sex hormones. And beef liver has iron, folate, and vitamins A and B12.
What is the difference between organ complex supplements and whole foods?
But how do supplements that claim to be organs compare to real organs? It’s hard to say without a lot of good research. The nutrition facts panel of a product may list the different kinds and amounts of animal tissue the pills contain. For example, different formulas may include material from the heart, kidney, liver, brain, spleen, pancreas, lungs, gallbladder, and adrenal glands of cattle. The panel may also say where and how the cattle whose organs were taken were raised, such as whether they were grass-fed or raised without antibiotics or GMOs.
But there is not much information about how healthy the food is. Several people who sell their products say that if you take them every day, it’s the same as eating about one serving of organ meats every week. But few companies list the exact amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients in their supplements on their websites or on the packaging. Instead, some companies give nutrition information for organ meats.
In response to questions from customers on Amazon, some companies that make organ complex supplements say they don’t test their products for vitamins and minerals. One company that makes organ complex supplements says that four capsules a day give you 4% of your daily value (DV) of iron, 160% of your DV of vitamin B12, 100% of your DV of vitamin B6, 70% of your DV of vitamin A, and 320% of your DV of thiamin.
What are the health benefits that are said to come from taking Organ Complex supplements?
The companies that make organ complex supplements say that their products have health benefits that can’t be found anywhere else. We asked experts about some of these claims, and this is what they said:
Claim: It Provide Peptides and Enzymes That Are Important for Good Health
Peptides are long chains of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. They help your body do things like heal wounds and grow muscles. Since they are smaller than proteins, they may be easier to absorb and get to work more quickly. We can get peptides from food and supplements, but stomach acids often break them down when we eat. Victor J. Bernet, MD, chair of the division of endocrinology at the Mayo Clinic Florida in Jacksonville and president of the American Thyroid Association, says that we don’t absorb peptides well. Dr. Bernet has looked into supplements with thyroid tissue and adrenal gland tissue from animals. “They’re broken down in your stomach and never get into your bloodstream,” he says. “That’s why peptides like insulin can’t be taken as a pill but instead must be injected or breathed in.” Most enzymes end up in the same place.
Claim:It Animal Spleen May Rebuild Blood and Bolster Immunity
The spleen’s job is to get rid of old red blood cells and increase the number of white blood cells in the body. However, EBSCO Information Services’ Natural and Alternative Treatments database says there’s no proof that spleen extracts help with these tasks. It says, “There is not enough evidence to show that spleen extract helps treat health problems.”
Claim: It Containing Adrenal Glands Battle ‘Adrenal Fatigue’
According to the Cedars Sinai health system in Los Angeles, the idea that being tired and wanting sugar or caffeine are signs of worn-out adrenal glands is a myth.
In a study published in March 2018 in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Bernet and others found that adrenal-support supplements, including two made from animal adrenal gland tissue, contained thyroid hormone. Most of the supplements in the study also contained steroid hormones. Bernet says that extra hormones might not help and might even make things worse, like making your adrenal glands less active. He says, “It’s like oil in your car.” “Your body makes hormones, and you need enough of them. But too much of it isn’t good.”
If you’re feeling unusually tired, it’s better to see a doctor. “People who take supplements to treat their symptoms might miss something like sleep apnea or chronic fatigue syndrome,” says Bernet. “We have ways to treat and deal with those problems that can really help.”
Claim: It Support Liver, Heart, and Digestive Health
“From what I know, there isn’t a lot of good evidence that these things do what they say they do,” says Bernet. “Do you need more nutrients if you already eat enough? They don’t do anything. Your cells only have a certain number of receptors. I think it might be a good idea to take a basic multivitamin or the right supplement if you’re deficient. But it’s not helpful to just take things that make your body work better.
What About Safety Concerns?
Jaydee Hanson, policy director for the Center for Food Safety (CFS) in Washington, DC, says that people should know that supplement makers in the U.S. do not have to prove that their products are safe. “There aren’t many rules about the dietary supplement business,” he says.
The CFS also warns that supplements with cow brains, spleens, kidneys, and other “glandulars” could pose a very small but serious risk for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as “mad cow disease.” Even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) keeps an eye on imports of cattle parts, Hanson says that a lack of oversight of supplements could cause problems. “The FDA should make it so that supplement makers have to test for BSE. If they don’t do that, we think consumers should be extra careful and stay away from them.”
Should You Try Organ Complex Supplements?
Cohen says, “I don’t tell my patients to take animal organ supplements.” “I’m still worried that people whose doctors have told them they have a health problem will use these products instead of tried-and-true treatments.”
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