Nutritional Supplements: Making Sure They Are Safe

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Summary & Participants

Dietary supplements are a booming trend. Hundreds of products are currently on the market, but are not regulated by the the FDA. While most supplements are harmless, some can be dangerous if misused. Our panel of experts discusses what you should know about the risks involved in taking these supposed health boosters.

Medically Reviewed On: July 21, 2012

Webcast Transcript

PAUL MONIZ: I'm Paul Moniz. Thanks for joining us. There is no question about it. Americans are obsessed with dietary supplements. Companies that manufacture these supplements are constantly hawking their products promising more energy, a leaner body, increased mental alertness and even better sexual performance. The problem is that the FDA does not regulate these products. What the companies generally don't want you to know is that the supplements can be dangerous and at times deadly.

Here to assess the effects and risks are two nutritionists. We have Doug Kalman who is a registered dietitian and a Director of Clinical Research at Peak Wellness, which is a private health center in Greenwich, CT. Thanks Doug for being here.

PAUL MONIZ: We also have Heidi Skolnik, who is the team nutritionist for the New York Mets and the Giants, and also the owner of Nutrition Condition, a private company.

Doug, let's begin with you for an overall look at how consumers should go about assessing the safety of some of these products.

DOUG KALMAN, MS, RD, CDN: As with anything, let's say a medicine, you would like to know as a consumer that the product you wish to take has been tested in a scientific setting for both safety and efficacy. Safety always comes first. Before I want to know if it works, I want to know "Is it going to hurt me." So that's why safety becomes first.

HEIDI SKOLNIK MS, CDN, FACSM: One study there were 100 bottles of ginseng that were sent to labs to be tested. In fact, 50 percent didn't have any ginseng in it.

PAUL MONIZ: That's incredible.

HEIDI SKOLNIK MS, CDN, FACSM: That's remarkable. When you think about that, if you open a bag of pretzels and you look inside and there are peanuts, you know that because you can tell the difference between peanuts and pretzels. But this product, you don't know how to assess whether what's in there is really in there. It could either be omitted so that you don't actually have the active ingredients, or what's happening with some of the athletes that I'm working with, they think they're taking something that is safe, over-the-counter, and not banned by their professional organization, but there have been ingredients added that are actually illegal. Since it's not regulated, it was never found out. If they take it, they are still responsible. They're busted.

PAUL MONIZ: Are the added products or added ingredients usually listed, or sometimes they are just not at all?

HEIDI SKOLNIK MS, CDN, FACSM: That's the point. Nobody is tracking that what's on the label is actually in there. So you could say that it's going to have pretzels in the bag and there really aren't any. Or, you could say there are only pretzels in the bag and you open it up and guess what, there are peanuts in there too.

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