MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) Now that summer has "unofficially" started, almost everyone will be eating healthy and working out. Part of the workout routine for many is to add a sports or weight loss supplement.
With so many different brands on the market, WMBF News Anchor Paula Caruso decided to talk with the experts to find which supplements are the safest.
To help jump start his day, Ronald Kaufman blends up a special potion of yogurt and nutritional supplements, like protein.
"[There are] 20 different things that I put into the drink," Kaufman says.
Kaufman is one of the 150 million Americans who take nutritional supplements daily. In fact, sales of supplements totaled $28 billion in 2010. That's up more than $1 billion from the previous year. Ana Mabry owns A.S.K. Nutrition in Carolina Forest. She says consumers need to know what they are taking.
"We teach the customers to look at the label, to look at ingredients, to really break it down and know what they're taking," Mabry says.
The trouble is that dietary supplements are regulated by the federal government as a category of food, not as a drug.
"Medications are tested and verified for potency and purity. With dietary supplements, there is no testing standard, and that's where we can run into issues," cautions Erin Palenski, a registered dietician.
Those who are looking to build muscle and improve performance often tout the benefits of protein, creatine, and CLA. Though studies on creatine and CLA are mixed, all three are generally considered safe if taken at recommended levels.
"Even generally safe supplement ingredients, if you're taking them in too high a dose, [it] can be potentially dangerous," Palenski says.
That can lead to things like dehydration, increased risk for kidney stones, and gastrointestinal issues. One of the most popular supplements for athletes looking to boost their energy is caffeine.
"In up to about 300 mg per day, it may help increase athletic performance, but above that amount we can run at the risk, since it's a stimulant, of increasing blood pressure," Palenski says. "In very high amounts, it can actually lead to seizures."
Some fat-burning supplements, which contain a mix of herbal ingredients, can also act as a stimulant. Are they effective? Our experts say there's no clear-cut answer yet.
In the meantime, the Council for Responsible Nutrition says always consult your doctor first.
"Long-term use of certain fat burners can have some very adverse events in the liver," says Mabry.
Also, keep an eye out for Ephedra, which has been banned by the FDA, and check labels for bitter orange, also referred to as Synephrine. It is similar to the main chemical in Ephedra and the government says there is little evidence it's any safer.
Mabry warns, "This has been linked with many serious side effects, including stroke [and] heart attack."
If you choose to use supplements, Mabry says you should make sure the ingredients are all-natural.
"For example, omegas are essential fatty acids that are necessary for healthy heart, joints, hair, skin, nails, different things we need, however all essential fatty acids are not pure," explains Mabry.
Kaufman talks to his doctor about every supplement he swallows.
"When I take the supplements, my energy goes up. I just feel better," Kaufman claims.
When you're shopping for supplements, Palinski recommends looking for products that take part in the USP Dietary Supplement Verification Program. A USP seal means the product meets stringent, voluntary standards for safety and purity.