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Dont take shortcuts on the fitness trail

Supplements may contain ingredients that damage the body

Local health and fitness experts have a few words of advice for those anxious to trim down after an indulgent holiday season: Turn up the treadmill, and turn down the supplements.

Colin Hoobler, owner of CH Physical Therapy and Personal Training in the Pearl District, says that in the single-minded drive to lose weight, people often turn to dietary supplements that claim to burn fat while increasing energy and athletic performance.

'Basically, you're paying for stuff you don't need,' says Hoobler, a nationally accredited trainer whose personal training regimen was recently adopted as the standard for certification by the American Council on Exercise.

Hoobler and his colleagues acknowledge that a caffeine-like ingredient in many supplements may help burn calories by temporarily revving up the metabolism, but those gains may be at the expense of one's health.

Dr. Linn Goldberg, head of the Health Promotion and Sports Medicine division at Oregon Health & Science University, explains the allure Ñ and dangers Ñ of such supplements.

'The primary ingredient in many of these products is ephedra, which is banned in Canada, and is like caffeine on steroids,' Goldberg says. 'Ephedra will burn fat, suppress your appetite and rev up your metabolic rate, which will help you burn more calories. But is that necessarily good? Not if people have an underlying heart disease, which more than half of the people in this country die from Ñ more than all other diseases combined.

'So when you look at it from that perspective, you're talking risk. And who's at risk? People who are older Ñ especially older men Ñ and those with other risk factors, such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure or abnormal cholesterol values.'

Goldberg adds that many supplement manufacturers give the buyer more than they bargained for.

'In a recent 13-nation study conducted by the International Olympic Committee, 18 percent of the supplements they looked at Ñ which claimed not to include anabolic steroids Ñ were found to contain them,' Goldberg says. Anabolic steroids have been linked to a number of irreversible health problems, including liver failure and cancer.

Goldberg has witnessed the havoc that supplements can wreak on the body.

'I've seen cardiac arrhythmia and atrial fibrillation from taking the stimulant ephedra Ñ we had to electrically shock them,' he says. 'Another person had abnormal kidney function because they were taking creatine at high levels. But people think, 'Ah, they're supplements, so they must be OK.''

Not to mention lucrative. Hoobler says that one national chain sells about $2 million worth of supplements annually, largely fueled by a minimum sales quota that their trainers have to meet.

During a recent discussion about supplements on his weekly KOTK (1080 AM) radio program, 'Smart Fitness,' Hoobler interviewed Leigh Brady, a former trainer for the chain, who said that the company imposes a $300 per month quota for supplement sales on each trainer. A company spokesperson denied that any such quota exists.

The result is a heavy-handed approach to the sale of such products. 'Most health clubs are like supplement stores with gyms attached,' says Goldberg, who's particularly alarmed at the overt marketing of supplements to teenagers.

'They make them seem so appealing,' he says, 'You even have coaches selling these things to their kids. And wouldn't you take it if your coach said it was OK?'

Supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration because they don't qualify as either a food or a drug.

Others in the fitness industry have a 'live and let live' attitude toward the supplement debate.

'I personally don't believe in them, but I think that people should be able to do what they want to do,' says Bill Pec, owner of Bill Pec Fitness in Northeast Portland. 'Like in anything, moderation is important. Take two Excedrin Ñ not 50.'

But as the evidence against supplements mounts, trainers such as Hoobler will continue to promote the time-honored philosophy that a protein-rich diet is the best fuel for a healthy body.

He says that his clients can purchase his straightforward expertise, but he won't sell them supplements.

'I'll never be a millionaire, but I'll be able to sleep at night,' Hoobler says.

Contact Jill Spitznass at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .