Use slimming or sports supplements? Be careful

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The dietary supplement market has exploded to approximately $ 46 billion in the United States. And it should continue to grow. If you believe the ads, supplements can improve your memory, joint health, heart health, sexual function, and improve your well-being in many other ways. But let’s be clear: many dietary supplements – perhaps most – are completely unproven and can do little to improve health or fight disease. Worse, as a recent study shows, some can actually harm you.

Why are food supplements so popular?

Here are a few reasons:

  • They seem safe. Because you don’t need a prescription to get them, many people think they’re at least as safe as aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol) and less likely than prescription drugs to cause you. Side effects.
  • They are presented as “all natural”. Such products may appear to be much safer than a drug synthesized by a pharmaceutical company.
  • Testimonials and recommendations. Trusted celebrities and “real people” endorse these products and offer testimonials about their quality. (It should be noted that many of these people get paid for their advertising work.)
  • Recommendations from friends and family. They can give the impression that do not taking a supplement puts your health at risk.
  • The lack of evidence that a supplement works doesn’t matter to many people. The argument is often made that a lack of evidence doesn’t mean something isn’t working; it could just mean that the right study hasn’t been done yet.
  • If a supplement was harmful, wouldn’t it be banned? Surely the FDA or some other regulatory body would know if a supplement was causing harm and would make sure it was banned.
  • These arguments may sound compelling. But, as a recent study shows, they may not be convincing enough.

The history of deterenol

A 2021 study in the medical journal Clinical toxicology analyzed supplements intended to promote weight loss or improve athletic performance. Researchers identified 17 brands of supplements available in the United States that listed deterenol as an ingredient and purchased them online.

Why deterenol? Despite the fact that it has never been approved for human use in the United States, this potentially dangerous stimulant has already been found in over-the-counter dietary supplements marketed for weight loss or improving athletic performance. It can cause restlessness, palpitations, and even cardiac arrest.

The FDA banned the use of deterenol in dietary supplements in 2004. The World Anti-Doping Agency also banned its use due to safety concerns.

In their analysis, the researchers found deterenol in varying doses. They also found eight other prohibited stimulants. Two brands contained a combination of four different prohibited stimulants.

What is the problem ?

First, anyone using these supplements could unknowingly be taking a major health risk. There is also the possibility of being disqualified from athletic competition.

And the combinations ingredients in these products could interact with each other or with other medicines you are taking. The authors of the study note that “… these cocktails of stimulants have never been tested in humans and their safety is unknown.”

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated example: Supplements for improving male sexual performance or for weight loss have been recalled because they contained drugs that were not disclosed to users. Of course, the “extra” ingredients could make contaminated products more effective than their competitors, which could improve sales. And these examples are probably just the tip of the iceberg: there may be a lot more contaminated supplements that we don’t know about.

What about the FDA?

The FDA regulates dietary supplements but, as stated on its website, the FDA is not authorized to review the safety and effectiveness of these products. before they are sold. Much of the FDA’s actions happen after a product is on the market, as a recall if a product is found to be unsafe or if the marketing claims are false or misleading.

Obviously, keeping a close eye on every dietary supplement on the market is a huge job, and way beyond what the FDA can do. We simply cannot rely solely on the FDA to protect us from contaminated supplements.

What’s a supplement lover to do?

If you are taking a supplement, consider Why you take it and if the balance of risks and benefits is clearly in your favor. Check with your doctor. Read a little what you take, but choose your sources of information carefully. Stick with trusted sites like the CDC, NIH, or academic medical centers. Look for products verified by independent testing companies such as ConsumerLab, NSF International, or US Pharmacopeia (USP).

And consider stopping supplements that weren’t recommended by your doctor, don’t do what you expected of them (like reducing joint pain), or if you’re not sure why you’re taking them. Apply a grain of salt (or two) to online trivia, “I have a friend” stories, and celebrity testimonials. Better yet, turn them off completely.

The bottom line

Food supplements may be less safe and effective than you think. The regulation of dietary supplements is much less strict than that of prescription drugs, and there are too many supplements available from too many sources to control them all.

While most supplements are probably harmless, many can do little or nothing to improve health. The word that comes to mind when I think of dietary supplements is: beware. Ask yourself if you really know what’s in the bottle and if you really need it. In general, it is best to take only what you really need. This is true for prescription drugs. And this is also true for supplements.

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of the last revision or update of all articles. Nothing on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your physician or other qualified clinician.


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