Cow livers, hearts and kidneys may not sound appetizing to many Americans, but what if you could get them in pill form? Would you try it?
There are many letters (like A, B, C and D) that come to mind when you consider vitamins to help boost your health, but have you heard about organ complexes? These are supplements that contain animal organs, typically from cows. Organ complexes offer a way for you to reap the benefits of nutrient-rich organ meats without having to chew your cud (food).
While these organs may be nutritionally rich, albeit unappetizing, are organ complex pills really worth all the hype or should you leave them out to pasture with the cows?
Rachel Harrison, a registered dietitian at Banner Health, gave us the lowdown on organ complex supplements and what they may (or may not) do for your health.
What are organ complexes?
Organ meats, also referred to as offal, are parts of the animal that are most often discarded. Most of us in the U.S. can’t stomach them (quite literally!), but in other countries organ meats are considered a delicacy. Foie gras, anyone?
“Organ meats are popular in some countries because they can offer benefits, such as various proteins along with vitamins and minerals such as iron, B12 and selenium,” said Harrison.
Organ complex supplements are essentially animal organs that have been dehydrated or freeze-dried, powdered and encapsulated (put into pill form). “They can be made up of various organs from cows, including the liver, heart, kidney, lungs, brain, spleen, gallbladder and adrenal glands,” Harrison said.
What are the risks of organ complex supplements?
Many companies claim their products, if taken daily, offer about one serving of organ meats per week. But when it comes to nutritional value, there’s not much information.
“Organ complexes are part of the dietary supplement market which is technically unregulated,” Harrison said. “This always causes a concern as consumers can potentially overdo it on supplements or may take something that has little to no value – or is even potentially harmful.”
In addition, supplements that contain cow brains, spleen and kidneys could put you at serious risk for the degenerative brain disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease.
“While the risk is low these days for mad cow disease, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have oversight over supplement safety and effectiveness,” Harrison said. “Since they aren’t regulated, a person is taking a risk when taking these supplements.”
How do organ complexes compare to whole foods?
Organ complexes are like a multivitamin with minerals as they offer various vitamins and minerals, but they are much more expensive than a multivitamin or whole foods you’d find at the grocery store.
“Less is more when it comes to supplementation,” Harrison said. “Eating a healthy diet full of various proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy or alternative milk options can help you increase your chances of meeting 100% of your recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals. This is by far the cheapest – and least processed – way to get them.”
Should I give organ complexes a try?
Always speak with your health care provider prior to taking any supplements, including organ complex supplements.
“If supplementation is needed or recommended by your provider, then I would recommend a multivitamin or supplementation of that particular vitamin/mineral that you’re lacking,” Harrison said. “A multivitamin is still cheaper than organ complexes and provides the same number of vitamins and minerals.”
There isn’t much research regarding organ complex supplementation, but there is an abundance of research regarding eating whole foods to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
So, save your money and your stomach the trouble, and stick to the real thing – whole foods.
If you have concerns about getting the right vitamins and minerals to help you stay healthy, talk to your health care provider or a registered dietitian.