I believe in the power of supplements to help you reach your physical and mental peak. I’ve written about some of my favorite supplements for heart health, increasing sex drive, getting the most out of your workouts, anti-aging, brain health… I could go on. That said, there are certainly things to consider before purchasing a supplement. Is the product made by a reputable company? Are you taking medications that may interact with the supplement? Which dosage is right for you? Because of these and other considerations, I suggest people work with a trained professional who can help put together a personalized supplement plan. And there are some supplements you just plain shouldn’t take, no matter what. Which ones? Here are five supplements everyone should avoid.
1. Human Growth Hormone (HGH)
The makers of HGH claim it can increase muscle mass, boost libido, improve energy levels—essentially turn back the clock. But does it really work? And what are the side effects? As I have discovered through years of research on this controversial topic, human growth hormone comes with high physiological and financial costs. Personally, I only prescribe the pharmaceutical-grade subcutaneous HGH injections and even then, only to patients with positive tests for innately low levels or HIV lipodystrophy. Not only do I think it’s dangerous to give people HGH unnecessarily, I could lose my medical license over it.
While calcium plays many important roles in the body, Men’s Health says supplementing with calcium is not usually necessary for men who eat plenty of calcium-rich foods like dairy products, leafy greens, and some fatty fish. There’s also research out there suggesting calcium supplements may do more harm than good, including a study linking them to an increased risk of heart problems and other studies linking intake of calcium supplements with prostate cancer.
3. Red Yeast Rice
Because it contains cholesterol-lowering substances called monacolins—most notably monacolin K, which has the same chemical structure as the prescription drug lovastatin—red yeast rice is often used as a supplement. However, as I write about here, the quality of commercial products varies widely. A 2001 analysis of nine Chinese red yeast rice dietary supplements found a wide range of monacolin content, and only one of the products had all 10 of the compounds an effective supplement should include. Seven of the nine products also contained measurable concentrations of citrinin, a byproduct of the fermentation process that’s toxic to the kidneys. My opinion is that if you need something beyond fish oil and plant sterols, diet and exercise to lower cholesterol, you should take the pharmaceutical grade statin.
While Pygeum works great for symptoms of BPH (Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy), it only comes from the bark of an over-harvested and endangered African tree. Rather than worsen our impact on an already overburdened environment, I recommend a couple replacements that are equally as effective and can be sourced in a much more ecologically-friendly way. These options are known as Saw Palmetto and Stinging Nettle root. If you suffer from BPH, try these sustainable treatments instead.
Bark from the yohimbe tree contains a substance called yohimbine that, according to HuffPost, is often found in supplements geared toward treating erectile dysfunction. However, it has been shown to cause serious cardiac problems, such as heart arrhythmias and blood pressure issues. Dr. Patrick M. Fratellone, an integrated physician with a practice in Manhattan, told Men’s Journal, “The problem with yohimbine is that you can’t regulate the amount in a dosage.” He added, “It all depends on what part of the tree it comes from, how it’s cultivated, how it’s exported, and so on. The amount of extract you get will vary.” Fratellone also raised concerns about yohimbe and drug interactions.
Are you getting the nutrients you need for long-term health? Download my Top 10 Supplements For Men PDF to learn about the most critical supplements you need.
Myles Spar, MD, MPH is board certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of two major medical centers, he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has been a consultant with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on national television, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times. He was most recently National Medical Director and Chief Medical Officer of a national medical practice, but is available to consult with individual patients interested in a personalized approach to optimal performance and health.