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Do you know your performance supplements?

June 15, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
There is no shortage of supplements on the market, and they are not regulated like prescription drugs. Companies are able to create powerful concoctions that could prove dangerous. Is the risk is greater than the reward? "If somebody could prove to me that a dietary supplement could help to promote weight loss without causing adverse effects on the human body, I will be one of the first people to promote it," said Ellen Coleman.

"Many times, the kids, they'll do whatever they can to become bigger, faster, quicker, stronger, in a shortest period of time," said therapist Jim Winn.

From steroids to stimulants -- Americans are taking performance supplements in uncontrolled settings, often times in alarming amounts.

"Some of these blends without specifying on the label, by the way, can have 400 to 800 milligrams of caffeine per serving," said Coleman. "So it would be like sitting down and downing eight cups of coffee, and it's generally not just the caffeine in the product. There are other stimulants as well."

Dietitian Ellen Coleman is an authority on performance supplements, and she feels most weight-loss products and energy boosters provide more harm than hope.

Take ingredients like guarana, cola nut, yerba mate, even the green tea extract known as EGCG, are tolerable in the amounts found in food, but when consumed in condensed extracts, they become toxic.

A big concern is something called "proprietary blend." That's where a company creates its own cocktail of ingredients in undisclosed amounts. So the consumer has no idea what they're really taking.

"You have to consider that any time you're putting a bunch of ingredients together, number one: the quality control is going be difficult; and number two: the likelihood for adverse effects increases," said Coleman.

Hoodia; bitter orange also known as citrus aurantium; and hydroxy citrate or HCA, found in now illegal Hydroxycut; have been shown to be harmful to the liver.

"There are multiple what I like to call 'Hydroxycut clones' out there," said Coleman. "So you know even though one brand has been put off the shelf, even if that brand is gone, there are many other brands out there."

Coleman and therapist Jim Winn warn athletes about dangerous supplements. But a few supplements get the thumbs up. Like creatine for increased muscle mass if taken in a low 5-gram dose and loaded slowly.

Coleman and Winn also approve of Muscle Milk, and companies like EAS, whose products contain whey protein, free of elusive proprietary blends that don't pass testing.

"Our primary concern is safety," said Coleman. "Safety first, effectiveness second."

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