Many of us currently are more motivated than ever to get into shape. For some, this involves adopting a new exercise regimen; for others, it means changing their eating habits. Of course, many of us choose to do both, and an astounding number of us turn to supplements to help keep us healthy. According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), half of all Americans take dietary supplements, including multivitamins, minerals and herbs, to help with their overall health, weight loss or even strength training efforts.
As an avid runner, I know firsthand how supplements can support your performance and help you feel better. But as a chemist specializing in dietary supplements, I also know that some supplements on the market contain ingredients that can have adverse effects on your long-term health. While most of the ingredients themselves are legal, they have health consequences when mixed with other ingredients and medications. Even exercise levels can impact how these ingredients affect your health. For example, when you’re working out with an elevated heart rate, caffeine has an entirely different effect on your body compared to when you’re at a resting heart rate.
For me personally, a balanced diet, regular exercise, a multivitamin and supplements that have been tested and certified (so you can trust what’s on the label is in the package) such as fish oil, B12 and Vitamin D are the best approach toward leading a healthier life. But if you’re looking for an additional edge, it’s important to remember that it is possible to attain that desired healthy look in a healthy manner. Supplements can be beneficial as long as you’re aware of which ingredients to avoid.
With a multitude of supplements lining the shelves of stores it can be difficult to know which are okay to use and which to avoid. To help, here are the 10 ingredients you should avoid in supplements of any kind.
This can appear on the label as Erex, Testomar, Yocon, Yohimar or Yohimbe. Because of its chemical make-up, it is an alpha-blocker (which dilates blood vessels) and can cause serious harm to people already prescribed alpha-blockers or taking other drugs that dilate blood vessels. This includes Viagra, certain antidepressants and drugs containing nitrates, such as those that treat heart conditions.
This chemical compound is sometimes listed as PEA or buried in a complicated ingredient name such as B-phenylethylamine or N-methylphenylethylamine. It is particularly dangerous for people taking monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) antidepressants because these drugs allow PEA to reside in the body longer, making its effects — such as dizziness and elevated heart rate — much more potent.
Several sport supplement products have tried to pass off a harmful off-patent drug known as DMAA, as a natural constituent of geranium or its extract. It is not related to geranium, and it has been associated with numerous adverse health events and even several deaths. Several professional and Olympic athletes have lost their eligibility to compete due to DMAA. Even though the FDA has banned this ingredient it may still show up in products in stores and online, so make sure to avoid it.
Any Ingredient With “Andro” In The Name
Androstenedione or andro is a steroid hormone that is a precursor of testosterone. Many other steroids will also have “andro” within an ingredient name, such as 1-androsten-3b-ol-17-one and 4-chloro-17a-methyl-andro-4-ene-3,17b-diol. Nearly all major sports organizations, including the World Anti-Doping Agency, the U.S. Military and the Olympic Committee, have banned these steroids. Side effects include behavioral changes, heart disease, depression, high cholesterol, and mood swings.
This botanical ingredient can have many other names such as biarade, seville or sour orange. When ephedrine (or ephedra) was banned, many weight-loss products used bitter orange instead because it has similar effects, such as constricting blood vessels and increasing blood pressure and heart rate. It is often combined with other similar compounds to create a scary stimulant “cocktail” that can contribute to cardiac events.
This is a member of the mint family, but germander has been linked to liver damage. In some instances, manufacturers have used germander in place of skullcap, a known herbal remedy also in the mint family. The USDA conducted a study of 13 skullcap-containing supplements purchased online and found that only five actually contained skullcap and four contained the potentially toxic germander, so do your research before buying a supplement containing germander.
Guarana is often combined with similar botanical or herbal ingredients containing caffeine, such as yerba mate, kola nut and/or green tea. This causes a caffeine stacking effect because the seeds of the guarana plant contain twice the concentration of caffeine as coffee beans, yet supplements containing guarana do not always properly list the caffeine content on their labels. Consuming too much caffeine can cause caffeine toxicity, which includes symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, anxiety, gastrointestinal disturbance, and dizziness, among others.
Yerba Mate Extract
This herbal ingredient can contribute to elevated caffeine levels, but it also exposes users to cancer-causing substances depending on how it’s processed. When harvested, yerba mate is traditionally dried or smoked over a wood fire, imparting its signature smoky flavor. When organic material such as the yerba mate leaf is combusted, cancer-causing nitrosamines can develop. This effect is further concentrated when yerba mate is processed into an extract or supplement ingredient.
Derived from the kratom tree that grows in Southeast Asia, kratom contains alkaloids that exhibit some of the same pharmacological effects as opium. This compound is newer to the local dietary supplement scene but because of South Africa’s habit of bulk Chinese imports it is becoming more and more availaible locally. Products containing this ingredient were recalled earlier this year, as consumption may lead to nausea, dizziness, constipation, and, in worse cases, hallucinations and delusions.
Bael Tree Fruit
This fruit contains a harmful chemical called aegeline, which was found in the weight-loss supplement OxyElite Pro. This product was linked to 50 cases of liver damage including two transplants and one death. It can appear on product labels as N-[2-hydroxy-2(4-methoxyphenyl) ethyl]-3-phenyl-2-propenamide.
To sum up…
For me personally, a balanced diet, regular exercise, a multivitamin and supplements that have been tested and certified so you can trust what’s on the label is in the package such as fish oil, B12 and Vitamin D are the best approach toward leading a healthier life. But if you’re looking for an additional edge, it’s important to remember that it is possible to attain that desired healthy look in a healthy manner. Supplements can be beneficial — as long as you’re aware of which ingredients to avoid.