Choosing supplements is a pain.
Every supplement claims to be better than the last.
They all claim to be backed by the latest scientific evidence.
They’re usually expensive.
Most don’t work.
However, there are some supplements that do work. The problem is that until now, it’s been hard to translate research into actionable, simple advice on what supplements are the most effective and offer you the best value.
In this podcast, you’ll learn how to use Examine.com’s “Human Effect Matrix” to easily do your own research on what supplements are the most effective. Kurtis Frank, one of the co-founders of Examine.com, discusses how they created the Human Effect Matrix, and how you can use it to make wiser choices when shopping for supplements.
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“We’ve Solved 90% of Supplement Confusion: Introducing the Human Effect Matrix” by Sol Orwell (co-founder of Examine.com)
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**Armi Legge:** Choosing supplements is a pain. Every supplement claims to be better than the last. They all claim to be backed by the latest scientific evidence. They are usually expensive and most don’t work. However, there are some supplements that do work. The problem is that, until now, it has been hard to translate research into actionable, simple advice on what supplements are the most effective and offer you the best value.
In this podcast, you will learn how to use a new tool called the Human Effect Matrix, created by examine.com, to make the best supplement choices based on the available evidence. Kurtis Frank, one of the co-founders of examine.com, discusses how they created the Human Effect Matrix and how you can use it to make wiser choices when shopping for supplements.
If you enjoy this interview and you want more science-backed advice on how to become awesome, go to www.impruvism.com. Enter your email address in the box on the right side of the page and click the button below that says “subscribe.” After you do, you’ll get free updates from the blog including articles, interviews, and some exclusive bonus content that is only available for people who are subscribed to the email newsletter. And now, let’s hear from Kurtis Frank on how to choose the best supplements.
Kurtis, who are you and what do you do?
**Kurtis Frank:** I’m Kurtis Frank. I’m the lead researcher at examine.com right now. I’m a trained dietetic from university. Just after that, I’ve just gone head first into research supplementation and putting all the information on this website. At the moment, I can basically be called a contract researcher.
**Armi Legge:** What is examine.com? And how did you come up with the idea of this website?
**Kurtis Frank:** Examine.com is a compendium of supplementation and nutrition. It is mostly supplementation right now but we’re going to be branching off into both nutrition and physiology just once we get more steam. We want to collect and analyze as much information as possible to help guide user actions and purchases and eliminate a lot of confusion and bias associated with supplementation.
It was kind of organically thought of by both me and my partner, Saul Orwell. Saul has a history of being a retired computer programmer who went from fat to fit and wanted to use his skills to benefit other people and also promote healthier lifestyles. Whereas for me, I just wanted to end confusion with supplementation and I wanted some form of public scientific database to do so. We both met on Redditt and then we started working together ever since two years ago.
**Armi Legge:** How many people citations have you collated and sorted so far on examine.com?
**Kurtis Frank:** The exact citation count is 17,172. We just checked it this morning.
**Armi Legge:** That is crazy and it’s amazing and it’s great you guys are doing this. You recently released a new feature called the Human Matrix Effect. What is this?
**Kurtis Frank:** Sorry, to clarify, it’s the Human Effect Matrix.
**Armi Legge:** The Human Effect Matrix. My bad. How does it help people choose supplements with the most value?
**Kurtis Frank:** The Human Effect Matrix is basically just a very summarized and quick table to look at. Just from going from left to right, you can see how much evidence, so how many studies have been conducted and of what company, there is for a certain parameter, so for triglycerides, inflammation, whatever, how significant this is in practical terms, whether it is a minor, notable, or strong effect. Then you can have a quick link to all the studies that are cited to come to those conclusions. Then at the end, there is a text box to clarify any possible confusion. Within five seconds, you can have the most up-to-date and scientifically accurate answer possible for that specific question.
**Armi Legge:** How do rank or grade the scientific studies on examine.com? As you said, it’s a system that helps people evaluate the research and draw relevant conclusions, but as you I’m sure know, not all evidence is created equal. What kind of ranking system do you use to help educate people as to that discrepancy between studies?
**Kurtis Frank:** We have two ranking systems. One of them is just the A, B, C, and D ranking. That refers to both the study structure and how many there are. D rankings are the worst. Nothing is special about those studies. Usually they are just an observational or one cohort study. C rankings are multiple studies, but only one or no double-blind studies. If there are at least two double-blind studies, then it will have a B ranking. However, it takes 10 double-blind studies to get an A ranking.
We use a set alpha level of P = 0.05%. That is just our statistical significance. We only record things that are statistically significant. The B ranking, which requires two double-blind studies, is the minimum required for pretty good evidence. Then any A rating is just a lot of repeated, good evidence. C and D are just sort of evidence.
Then we also have a ranking system for clinical significance. Clinical significance is how practical the results will be and how much you should care. If something has an A rating but has a very minor clinical significance, that can be interrupted as “we’re really sure it’s not going to do much.” For a rating on that, it’s mostly subjective. We try to reserve anything that says “strong” for things that are as strong as the reference drugs.
So for an anti-diabetic drug like metformin, if any supplement is as potent as that, then it will have a “strong” rating. If something has been compared to metformin and is weaker, because metformin is a pharmaceutical, but it is still relevant, it might be a “notable” strength. If it technically has an effect but is probably not going to be doing anything in practical situations, then it’s just a “minor” effect.
**Armi Legge:** That sounds like a very thought out and precise method of calculating the value of studies and it’s great that you all have made this available, but a problem is that scientific evidence is rarely straight forward and you often have studies that seem to conflict and contradict one another. How does the Human Effect Matrix or the systems that you’ve created in general with examine.com help account for potentially or seemingly contradictory results?
**Kurtis Frank:** If the topic is quite confusing, we do have the complete summary, which goes into depth on anything related to the supplement. Just related to the Human Effect Matrix, we have two columns.
One of them is consensus, or how many studies agree with our clinical direction. So if we have 10 studies, all in triglycerides, let’s say in fish oil, and 8 of them found a decrease, we would mark clinical as “decrease” and “strong” for fish oil, and in the consensus, it would show 80% since 8/10 studies agreed with us. There is a little bit of variance. There, we show how much of all the evidence is in agreement. At the very end of the Human Effect Matrix, there is a little text box where we can just add in some quick information. In most scenarios where it requires a certain disease state to be present, a certain context, or a certain dose in order for those effects to manifest, then we will state it in that little text area.
An example of this would be fish oil reliably decreases triglycerides, but you must have high triglycerides for that to happen. We do have a lot of studies in people with normal triglycerides. There really isn’t an effect of fish oil on them. Another example is branch chain amino acids might reduce fatigue for prolonged exercise, but the exercise actually has to be prolonged, so doing cardio rather than weight lifting, and it has to be consumed by untrained or lightly trained individuals. It doesn’t seem to have an effect in elite athletes.
**Armi Legge:** Excellent. It sounds like you’ve definitely spent a lot of time teasing apart the differences not only between doses, but between the individuals who are actually being tested.
After creating the Human Effect Matrix, what are the top two supplement results that surprised you the most? Either they had a stronger effect than you predicted you might, or a weaker one, or an effect you didn’t predict at all.
**Kurtis Frank:** That would be spirulina and berberine.
Spirulina is a blue-green algae. It is mostly popular for being a source of vegan B-12. The problem is it isn’t a good source of vitamin B-12. The body doesn’t absorb it very well. When I started researching it, I thought it was just going to be crap, like it’s some hippie supplement that I shouldn’t care about. When I was researching it, it turns out it inhabits an enzyme involved in the link between inflammation and oxidization fairly potently. In animal models, there is a very huge and significant therapeutic effect for spirulina. The human evidence right now is not as robust as I’d like, but it is looking promising.
Spirulina has shown, as of right now, promise in reducing allergic symptoms. There is one study with stuffed noses. It reduced symptoms by about 60%. It has shown preliminary evidence. I have heard there is currently a large trial being conducted for reducing liver fat. It just seems to be like a very incredible health supplement for people who are currently ill.
Then berberine is just an alkaloid from a series of anti-diabetic plants from traditional medicine. There are about five different plants just from completely different plant families that are all used for anti-diabetic purposes. They all happen to have berberine as the main active ingredient.
Isolated berberine appears to be as potent as the pharmaceutic drug metformin in reducing blood sugar and HBA1C and improving insulin sensitivity in those who are insulin resistant. It also appears to be a bit more potent for reducing total cholesterol, which metformin doesn’t inherently do. The only thing that’s holding it back right now is metformin has a lot more evidence behind it and a lot better statistically robust evidence. You can’t really say berberine is better than metformin until more evidence comes out, but it’s looking to be comparable and nutraceutical alternative to a reference drug to debates.
**Armi Legge:** Interesting. That is very interesting. I had not heard of either one of those. Where can people go to learn more about you, your work, and the Human Effect Matrix, and all of the other cool stuff that you’re working on?
**Kurtis Frank:** We have an about page, which can be linked to from the main page on examine.com. It’s just on the top right. On the about page, it will say who we are, why we started, the two main co-owners, and it will also say who is on our advisory board and offers input towards examine.com.
**Armi Legge:** Excellent. And you have a personal website as well, correct?
**Kurtis Frank:** Yes. It’s silverhydra.com, although I do not update it as frequently as I’d like. Because examine.com is an impartial scientific database, I can’t really put any emotion into what I say, so whenever I need to say something that has sort of emotion or my opinion behind it, then I’ll go to my blog for that. Anything else that is just evidence goes on examine.com, which is where I spend most of my time.
**Armi Legge:** Perfect. Kurtis, thank you so much for being on the show. You have shared a ton of knowledge with us and I’m sure our listeners will benefit greatly.
**Kurtis Frank:** My pleasure.
**Armi Legge:** Just so you know, Kurtis also happens to be a scientific adviser to impruvism.com and we’ll probably hear from him again in the future. However, there is something even more important that you need to think about in the immediate future. If you enjoyed this podcast and it helped you in any way, shape, or form, please navigate to impruvism.com/itunes and leave a ranking. Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you next week.