Update 3/11/20. I've been investigating dietary supplements since the 1990s. It's not an exaggeration to say I've looked at thousands of supplements and read tens of thousands of studies on this topic. While I usually stick to the science, there are times when I will experiment with supplements myself to see if they work and see if I can replicate what others tell me they are experiencing. Sometimes I get lucky and others not so much. But, there are supplements that I will NEVER take because I know they either don't work or the risk of taking them outweighs their benefits. Here is my list of products I'll never take. Some of these are VERY popular.
1. Preworkout Drinks
I believe pre-workout supplements are one of the biggest scams in the supplement business. Bam! I just alienated everybody who goes to the gym! But, why, you ask, do I call them a scam if they work? They work because they're expensive caffeine supplements.
Don't believe anyone who tells you different. Caffeine is their active ingredient.
Preworkout drinks often contain dubious /trendy ingredients like beta-alanine while still others contain totally bogus crap like green coffee extract (is the extract caffeine?). All pre-workout drinks I've seen provide a bunch of vitamins most people are not lacking like B12 and B6.
In addition, pre-workout supplements often give people a good dose of niacin too. Why? Niacin augments nitric oxide levels. In other words, it opens up blood vessels (vasodilation). The idea is if you can open up blood vessels, you'll be able to look more vascular, deliver blood better to muscles, and remove waste products faster.
All this should make for a better workout, right?
But, there is another reason companies use niacin: the niacin flush. When people take niacin they often feel warm and flushed in the face. Basically, niacin is used as a placebo– if people feel it working, it must be working. This is the same reason supplement companies add beta-alanine too.
In addition, companies love to toss in other nitric oxide boosters like arginine and L-citrulline. These are supposed to help you exercise better. But, whether or not pre-workouts help you exercise better is highly debatable.
Given their propensity to toss in nitric oxide booster ingredients, I always wonder why they don't add two of the most powerful boosters: curcumin and green vegetables. I shouldn't wonder. I already know the answer: Companies either
- Don't want to spend the money
- They don't know what I'm telling you here
I think an argument can be made for both points.
Bottom line: pre-workout supplements work because of their caffeine and other stimulants. Now that you know this, save your money and just use the original pre-workout beverage – coffee.
Yohimbe (Yohimbine) is an herbal remedy that's often added to
- weight loss supplements
- male performance supplements
- pre-workout supplements
and even some anxiety/depression supplements. Truth, be told, if you look this stuff up, you'll see clinical evidence supporting it's use. While this all sounds great, the big problem with Yohimbe is its potential for side effects.
Yohimbe can elevate blood pressure and heart rate. It has too many bad side effects that just outweigh its use. Yohimbe has been associated with heart attacks, high blood pressure, spasms of the bronchioles, kidney failure, muscle pain and it may exacerbate anxiety disorders.
Yohimbe Side Effects
|Insomnia||High blood pressure||Low blood pressure|
The amount of Yohimbe that may cause side effects might overlap with the dosage providing benefits. For this reason, I would not touch Yohimbe or supplements which contain it with a 10-foot pole. I recommend you never take this stuff except under the care of a health care provider who is well versed in herbal medicine.
3. Garcinia Cambogia
Garcinia Cambogia, also known as hydroxy citric acid (HCA) is a well-known weight loss supplement. You can purchase it by itself and it's an ingredient in MANY weight loss formulas. I've looked at pretty much every human weight loss study involving garcinia Cambogia and my opinion is, if it really works, it's at best a crapshoot.
There are just as many studies showing it doesn't work as does work. That said, if we consider many of the studies don't contain many people in them and have issues with how they were conducted, this tips the scale in the direction of it likely doesn't work.
I previously included garcinia in my list of weight loss scams, but that's not why I'm listing it here. I would never take garcinia Cambogia -and recommend you don't either – because it may cause liver failure.
Over the last several years, there have been many reports of garcinia Cambogia causing liver problems including liver failure. Some cases required a liver transplant!
While many of reports involved people taking multi-ingredient supplements, there is now a report of someone developing liver failure and needing a liver transplant after taking a supplement which ONLY contained garcinia Cambogia.
Truth be told, this liver toxic effect of garcinia has been suspected for many years. Why do supplement companies continue to test fate by using this potentially dangerous and dubious ingredient? Either they are not aware of the connection to liver failure (in which case they should not be in the supplement business) or they do know and add out of fear people won't buy their supplements if it's not present.
In either case, it's wrong.
See the Supplements and Liver Failure review to see the other things you should know about.
4. Raspberry Ketones
I will always remember the day Dr. Oz boldly proclaimed raspberry ketones were “a miracle in a bottle that will burn your fat.” That statement never would have been made if the Dr. Oz show producers had used me as a consultant. Turns out the “miracle” was based on 2 mouse studies.
It's been a few years since he spoke those words and I still can't locate any study where raspberry ketones – by itself – helped people lose weight. Considering the hype that still surrounds this stuff, the weight loss research is pitiful. It's actually embarrassing.
Supplement companies continue to add raspberry ketones to weight loss products in-spite of the total lack of evidence it actually works. If your weight loss supplement contains raspberry ketones -especially as a key ingredient – I'm sorry but I have no faith that it will work.
See the Raspberry Ketones review for more info and side effects.
5. Exogenous Ketones
While we are on the topic of ketones, the ketogenic diet has become so popular that it was a foregone conclusion company would start selling ketogenic supplements. If we set aside the controversy of the diets long-term health benefits, all of these overpriced supplements contain the same active ingredient – beta-hydroxy-butyrate (BHB). BHB is a ketone.
So the idea is, taking ketone supplements will raise your blood ketone levels and put you into ketosis – without you changing your diet. This is utter poppycock. Sure, BHB will raise ketone levels but that doesn't mean it raises them enough to cause clinical ketosis? In other words, is a BHB supplement going to do the same thing as a eating ketogenic diet? That has not yet been proven.
Until companies start pumping money into clinical research – as they do on marketing – I say save your money on exogenous ketone supplements. Prove to me they work and then we'll talk. Until then, they are not ready for prime time.
See the Pruvit Keto OS review for more information.
6. Male Performance Supplements
Supplements touted to improve a man's “performance” have been around for decades. Just like the old videotape store, that used to have the porn section in the back, it's my observation male enhancement supplements are also usually located in the back of vitamin stores. Coincidence?
I would never take a male performance supplement because frankly, I don't trust ANY company that makes them. Why? Over the years, there have been countless recalls of these bogus supplements. They are recalled because they contain the drugs:
- Viagra (Sildenafil)
- Cialis (Tadalfil)
- Levitra (Vardenafil )
or molecules that chemically look like these drugs.
These drugs are not listed on the labels. So you don't know you're taking them. So you may ask yourself how are these drugs getting into supplements? The fact it happens so often leads me to believe unscrupulous companies add the drugs to supplements on purpose to boost their performance. The fact erection drugs need to be added to erection supplements tells you the supplements don't work without the added help.
Unless you've been paying attention -as I do- you'd never know this was going on. The FDA actually has a page that outs companies that don't play by the rules. Here's that page. Notice how many supplements deal with male enhancement.
While some might think this isn't a problem, let me ask you, do you ever listen to the warnings during TV commercials for these drugs? Some of the side effects can be serious for men with blood pressure problems or heart disease. It's one thing to use these drugs under a doctors care. It's a very different thing when you buy a supplement and not know the drug is present.
The male performance supplement industry is one of the shadiest parts of the supplement business. I don't know why the supplement industry does not police this themselves? They hardly never talk about this. They look the other way.
While I'm sure some companies play by the rules, the fact so many companies have been caught adding prescription drugs, makes me not trust any of them.
7. Tribulus Terrestris
Tribulus Terrestris is an herbal remedy often added to testosterone boosters and male performance supplements. In spite of its popularity, I can't find a good consensus Tribulus actually works. Oh sure, if you search you'll find some studies showing it words but other studies show it doesn't. And sometimes, the amount showing it works is less than other studies showing it doesn't work. What's up with that?
As I said in my review of Tribulus, the evidence for it is less than spectacular.
I'll admit several years ago I experimented with tribulus to see if it helped me in the gym. I used the exact same amount people said they used. After a few weeks, I didn't feel any stronger, etc. but what I did notice was my heart started skipping beats.
It was actually pretty scary. Since I reported what happened in my Tribulus experiment, others also said they had similar symptoms. How likely is this side effect? I cannot say. But anything dealing with the heart is scary.
Based on what happened to me and my inability to find good proof it really works, I recommend nobody take Tribulus. It's a dud.
8. Testosterone Boosters
Like male performance supplements, I recommend tossing them all testosterone booster supplements under the bus. Why? Over the years, I've looked at many of these supplements including some of the most popular:
- Ageless Male (click to see review)
- Nugenix (click to see review)
- Mdrive (click to see review)
- Dr. Max Powers (click to see review)
And many others. Not one supplement I've ever seen at has shown me convincing proof they raise testosterone levels in humans. Often, the evidence companies cite is on one or two of their ingredients – stuff you can buy for a LOT less than these overpriced supplements.
I have no faith any testosterone booster supplement actually raises testosterone.
9. Weight Loss Teas
Weight loss teas might help you lose some weight – but not the kind of weight you think. Most weight-loss teas contain a laxative ingredient called senna (go check your tea now!). Senna is called a “stimulant laxative” because it stimulates the colon (large intestine) to make you go to the bathroom. So, the weight you lose is really poop and water. One example of this is 3 Ballerina Tea I previously reviewed.
Remember from HS biology that we have 2 intestines:
- Large intestine (where the poop is)
- Small intestine (where we absorb nutrients/calories)
Weight loss teas only work in the large intestine. In other words, they don't stop us from absorbing calories. This is why slimming teas don't work. Other teas might curb your appetite because they taste terrible. But other than this, there is no way they work the way you think.
See the Fit Tea Review for more on that baloney product.
10. St. Johns Wort
St. Johns wort (Hypericum perforatum) is an herbal supplement with evidence it may help depression. St. Johns wort seems to work best in those with mild to moderate depression and not major depression. So, if it works, why is it on my list of supplements to steer clear of? The reason is St. Johns wort has a truckload of drug interactions. For example, it might interaction with:
- blood pressure medications
- anxiety medications
- Heart medications
- Asthma medications
- Anti-tissue rejection medications
- Cancer medications
- HIV medications
- Hepatitis medications
- anti-depressant medications
St. Johns wort has more potential drug interactions than any herbal supplement I think I've seen. There is even evidence St. Johns's wort might interfere with birth control pills, causing pregnancy to occur.
This is not to say this herb should not be used. I'm sure many people have found depression relief with it. But, if you take any medications – prescription or over-the-counter – please speak to your doctor and pharmacist first.
Kratom is an herbal supplement that can act as both a sedative and stimulant depending on how much you take. In some circles, it's marketed as a way to get a “legal high” while in others, it's touted to help people break their dependence on opioid drugs. Opioid drug addiction is huge problem and so I can understand why someone would want help breaking their cycle of addiction. But, I don't think kratom is the answer.
If kratom stops you from taking pain killer drugs, who's to say you won't end up being hooked on kratom? I know some people don't believe that's possible but if you read the comments in my kratom review, you'll see those who said they did indeed get addicted.
There is at least one report of a baby born to a regular kratom user. After giving birth, her baby showed addiction withdrawal symptoms. Because of this, I think kratom is addicting.
Equally concerning to me is the lack of human research on kratom safety. Not even the American Kratom Association -the trade group that tries to get kratom legalized – seems to fund research on this drug. Why?
Sure, there are lots of people online telling of their safe experiences, but who are these people? What are their scientific credentials? Most don't have any. Some just look like high school kids to me.
And then there are recalls of kratom powders over salmonella contamination. Salmonella is a bacteria contamination that can cause some pretty severe symptoms. Basically, its food poisoning. Several companies have issued recalls of kratom because of salmonella. Why? The demand is becoming so great (is addiction driving this?) that low-quality companies are popping up which can't deliverer a quality product. They deliver a crap product – and you pay the price.
I've looked at some of these companies and I would not trust them.
But, your biggest concern about taking kratom is because of the lack of human clinical research, YOU are the experiment. Any way you slice it, you are taking something with no long-term human research. A lot of what we know about kratom comes from the reports of people going to the hospital after taking it. Do you really want to take something you don't fully know what it does? I'm sure some do. But I don't.
See the kratom review for much more on the side effects.
So this was my list of popular supplements I would never take. I suggest you steer clear of these too. Doing so will save you money and also maybe- in some cases – a trip to the hospital. While I fully know I angered a lot of people by exposing these products, I felt I needed to say this so as to give people the other side of the story. Only by hearing both sides, can you make a more informed decision if these supplements are right for you.
So, what do I like… Aged Garlic Extract. Check it out