Supplements: Finding the Edge While Avoiding Snake Oil

Supplements: Finding the Edge While Avoiding Snake Oil

There’s no shame in wanting to look better naked. But do shortcuts exist, as the $96 billion global supplement industry would have us to believe? Supplement shelves are flooded with products promising to deliver everything from washboard abs to more energy. But how do you know which of them are worth your time and dollars?

It’s important to do your research—to look beyond the label—to break down the swarm of supplements, finding the ones that will promote men’s health and skipping the snake oil.

“Anyone considering supplementation should have an outcome in mind,” says Ari Levy, MD, CEO, of Engaged Health Solutions. “If they’re looking for a wonder drug, it doesn’t exist. But there are supplements that can give men with certain goals a competitive advantage.”

Supplement quality is important, especially since there is little government oversight on supplements, says Katherine Chavez, ND, of The Raby Institute for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern.

Chavez advises that her patients look for supplements that have certifications on their label from USP (United States Pharmacopeia), NSF (National Science Foundation) or GMP (Good Manufacturing Process). These certifications ensure that the supplements have been screened for some contaminants and contain their stated content.

But beware of high-powered combination supplements advertised in muscle magazines. “Those combination products are pretty scary,” Levy says. “Popular supplements found in these combination supplements, or stacks, are garcinia cambogia and various green coffee blends. There’s simply no science backing up their efficacy,” Levy says, “so keep your wallet closed.”

Chavez has seen selenium rising in popularity among men. More isn’t necessarily better when it comes to this trace element. Supplemental selenium has been linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer in men. “You can get what you need without the risks of supplementation by eating just a few Brazil nuts each day,” she says.

Going for those super-duper multivitamins? You might want to think twice. It’s possible to accumulate toxic doses of certain nutrients if you take too much or don’t need them.

Fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A and D can cause toxic side effects if you ingest more than the recommended amount. Excess iron can cause liver damage, and too much supplemental calcium can increase the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease.

“Supplements can interfere with different medications [by] either increasing side effects of the medications or reducing their effectiveness,” Chavez says. Talk to a physician before starting any supplementation to avoid side effects like interactions with medications or your body chemistry.

Chavez and Levy agree that there’s no substitute for a healthy diet and workout regimen. For men looking to thwart those aging demons and look better naked, smart supplementation can help you get an edge, but good food and exercise will do the bulk of the work for you. +

Originally published in the Winter/Spring 2015 print edition