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10 Trendy Supplements You Should Actually Be Skeptical Of

A registered dietitian weighs in on supplements you should avoid.
10 Trendy Supplements You Should Actually Be Skeptical OfShutterstock

“Do you have trouble sleeping at night and feel sluggish during the day? Have you started to gain weight quickly, and notice pesky blemishes on your skin? Fear not, the answers to all these problems and more lie in this bottle.” Sound familiar? Yep, that’s the sound of the wily supplement industry at work, trying to reel you in when really, there are actually plenty of supplements to avoid.

A 2018 consumer report revealed that 75 percent of US adults say they take dietary supplements, with 87 percent of US adults saying they are confident in dietary supplements’ safety, quality, and effectiveness. So there are clearly plenty of people who not only aim to take daily supplements, but trust and believe that what they’re consuming is beneficial for their overall health. These numbers only continue to rise each year, but perhaps if the majority of Americans knew that the FDA did not rigorously regulate supplements—nor test for their safety—these statistics might not be so staggering.

You don’t want to allow yourself to be a guinea pig for manufacturers’ science experiments, right? And while there are supplements that are actually good for you, there are plenty of trendy ones that promise major health benefits that in you should be really skeptical of. Read on to discover the supplements to avoid.

1

Fish Oil

Fish oil pills Shutterstock

Because of proven heart-health benefits, the American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish two times per week. If that’s not feasible though, the group suggests considering an omega-3s supplement. While this guideline is rooted in evidence-based science, what isn’t mentioned is that finding a quality fish oil supplement is no easy feat. According to a study in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 70 percent of fish oil supplements analyzed did not contain the levels of EPA and DHA stated on the label. Another Canadian-based study found that half of the fish oil supplements on the market contained oxidized lipids, too. This means that even when you’re getting the true amount of oil as stated by the label, the quality is subpar. Because of this alarming data, it’s suggested you purchase fish oil tested by a third-party lab.

Final verdict: Find a product that is third-party lab tested and stored in a dark glass bottle. Look for a product with no filler oils, and consider a CardioTabs Omega-3 product.

2

Protein Powders

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Step aside Arnold, your post-workout protein shake is getting a bad rap! A 2018 non-profit-led study examined 134 brands of protein powder supplements and revealed the presence of heavy metals like lead, mercury, and arsenic in 40 percent of all products. What’s worse is that the products labeled organic were twice as likely to contain the contaminants as their non-organic counterparts. If this data doesn’t make you reconsider your protein sources, you might even ask yourself if a supplement is necessary at all. The American College of Sports Medicine only recommends 1.2 to 2.0 grams protein per kilogram of body weight for athletes. This would mean less than 100 grams of protein per day for a 180-pound active person.

Final verdict: If you absolutely need a protein supplement for the convenience factor, purchase one that is third-party lab tested. It’s best to look for the NSF Certified for Sport logo on whatever it is you’re thinking of taking. Otherwise, eat a varied diet of adequate protein sources.

3

Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal Shutterstock

As a recent trend in the GI wellness space, activated charcoal is probably something you’ve come across. Just scroll through Instagram, and you’ll most likely see gaggles of social media influencers claiming whiter teeth from this tarry black paste, or foodies boasting improved digestion and detoxification from their pitch-black smoothie concoctions. Historically, this supplement was used over 150 years ago by trained physicians to aggressively treat poisoned or overdosed patients in the emergency room setting. It is still to this day proposed as an appropriate treatment for severe cases, as charcoal has proven to bind to harmful toxins. But, for the average person just seeking to improve health and wellness, other means should be pursued. Activated charcoal, according to a U.S. Poison Information Specialist, can bind to foods eaten to block absorption, as well as interact negatively with medications to reduce overall effectiveness, making them supplements to avoid.

Final verdict: Skip the activated charcoal, and instead ensure adequate hydration throughout the day.

4

Fat Burners

Fat burners Shutterstock

Probably one of the most lusted after supplements in the industry due to their wildly fantastic claims are fat burners. It isn’t new news that these are dangerous. In the past, select products were recalled and removed from the market because of fatal side effects. However, just because the FDA has intervened before doesn’t mean you should be any less wary about this category of supplement moving forward. Two commonly found ingredients in fat burner products on the market today are green tea and Garcinia Cambogia Extract. Both have been linked to liver toxicity and liver failure.

Final verdict: Skip the fat burner, and instead incorporate increased physical activity and a moderate calorie deficit.

5

Probiotics

Probiotic pill supplement Shutterstock

As much as we all wish it wasn’t true, the evidence for a healthy person to take a daily probiotic is severely lacking. One major study in the Journal of the American Medical Association even went so far as to play devil’s advocate. U.S. probiotic products don’t require evidence of efficacy or safety before they are marketed to the public, so a consumer may be purchasing something other than what the label claims. While it has been suggested that probiotics are best used to improve the gut microbiome and to ease GI conditions such as diarrhea in the presence of antibiotics, a study published in Cell proved there is still a lot to learn. It compared the restoration of the gut microbiome post-antibiotic treatment with and without the use of probiotics. Though diarrhea was improved with the purified strains of bacteria, surprisingly, use of probiotics led to a significant delay in restoration of the microbiota.

Final verdict: A probiotic probably isn’t necessary for a healthy person. In the setting of GI disorders, talk to a medical provider about finding the right strain for you.

6

Beta-alanine

Beta alanine Shutterstock

Beta-alanine is best known amongst the bros as the supplement that gives the biceps a fuzzy tingle on arm day. It’s highly marketed as a performance booster, yet scientific evidence to back this claim is lacking. Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid, meaning the body can make it on its own. Because muscles contain carnosine—a product of beta-alanine when combined with another amino acid—one would think taking the supplement would cause increased strength and muscle gains. Sadly, several meta-analyses have proven otherwise and have shown beta-alanine does little to improve performance in the gym.

Final verdict: Skip the beta-alanine, and instead consume dietary protein and carbohydrate sources around the time of your workout.

7

Testosterone Boosters

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We hate to burst your bubble macho men, but test boosters just aren’t making the cut. A randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association involved 20 male subjects who engaged in whole-body resistance training for 8 weeks. Of these, 50 percent were randomized to receive a testosterone booster, and the other half were given a placebo. Results of the study were discouraging as serum, free, and total testosterone levels were not changed with either short- or long-term administration of the supplement.

Final verdict: Skip the test boosters completely. Think of these as supplements to avoid, and just appreciate what your mama gave ya.

8

Coffee Enema

Coffee enema Shutterstock

Forget drinking your coffee in the morning, how about taking it through the other end? A supplement as bizarre as it sounds, coffee enemas—like charcoal—have also taken the world of naturopathic medicine by storm. Though claimed to cleanse the colon and deliver antioxidants to the body, these suppositories are also linked to very severe conditions. A recent study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology linked use of coffee enemas with proctocolitis, and another case report revealed a similar acute colitis from this supplement. If you suffer from bowel irregularity, it is highly suggested you increase both dietary fiber and fluid, as well as talk to a gastroenterologist about proven therapies for constipation. Don’t rely on risky supplements.

Final verdict: If constipation is something you struggle with, consider increasing both fluid and fiber sources in your diet. Seek out a GI specialist about other options if these interventions don’t provide relief.

9

Liver Detox

Liver detox Shutterstock

Detoxifier supplements are irony at its finest. The supplements that claim to cleanse our bodies of harmful toxins may actually have the exact opposite effect and compromise the liver—your body’s natural detoxifier—from doing one of its most important functions. The Drug Induced Liver Injury Network reports dietary supplements as one of the most important causes of drug-induced hepatotoxicity, and common ingredients in these products, such as dandelion root, have the potential to interfere with certain medications, disrupt blood clotting, and even cause hepatic fascioliasis, according to the IBM Micromedex database.

Final verdict: Your liver is your body’s natural detoxifier. Don’t waste your money, and add these to the list of supplements to avoid.

10

CoQ10

CoQ10 Shutterstock

With the baby boomer generation heading into retirement and the U.S. population being older than ever before, fear of aging is often exploited by the supplement industry. Alzheimer’s Disease is a tragic example of this, as the medical community has observed increased prevalence and yet no definitive approaches for cure or prevention have been established. Between the limited treatment options available and the genuine concern of patients and caregivers, a perfect storm of confusion and uncertainty has birthed a wave of “pseudomedicine” in this generation.

According to a recent article in JAMA, “no dietary supplement prevents cognitive decline or dementia, yet supplements advertised as such are widely available.” One example is Coenzyme Q10, marketed frequently to the general population for its ability to improve memory and boost brain health. Unfortunately, current data proving these benefits are lacking, and many more studies need to be conducted in order to make these claims a reality.

Final verdict: As the research says, there is no proven supplement to prevent cognitive decline. Instead, it’s best just to focus on eating a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, and healthy oils, and making the time for routine physical activity. You may also want to exercise the brain for fun in the form of crossword puzzles or simply just having a conversation with others.

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