the downside of supplements

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

It’s a new year and people fill it with resolutions to eat better, work out a little more, get in shape and be healthy. As January 1st shows up in the rear view mirror, the best intentions fall nu the wayside and sometimes people turn to a pill or supplement as an opportunity to regain momentum or perhaps replace the time and effort that being healthy entails.

When an athlete fails a drug screen, the response and excuse often is that the pill/powder/liquid was adulterated. The athlete did not know what was in the supplement or medication and there was no intent to cheat or gain a competitive advantage. Aside from Lance Armstrong and the recent Russian sports machine drug abuse indictment, most athletes have their transgressions and suspensions forgotten with time. Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are on the ballot for Cooperstown. But the reality is that role models do affect public behavior and the New Year has a few stories that are reminders that performance enhancement opportunities are wide spread and can be dangerous.

Caffeine jump starts the world in coffee, soda and also in energy drinks. That is not necessarily a good thing, because the concept of “everything in moderation” can be overwhelmed by “if a little is good, a lot must be great.”  Research from the US military has found that energy drink abuse leads to sleep pattern disturbances and is associated with service members falling asleep on duty. The conclusion of a Walter Reed study of more than 1, 000 soldiers found that energy drinks are “unregulated and can have negative side effects…those who had three or more drinks per day were more likely to fall asleep during briefings or on guard duty.” The authors of the report also concluded that the long term effects of larger doses of the ingredients in energy drinks is not known. Imagine if the FDA released the same statement for a prescription drug.

The Armed Forces report deals with adults but what about supplements that are being advertised and supplied to kids? The American Academy of Pediatrics has a policy position recommending against the use of creatine and testosterone products in the pediatric (under 18) population. But what stops a middle or high school athlete from walking into a health food store and buying products that have not been found safe for their use…it seems absolutely nothing. Research to be published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that health food sales people had no trouble recommending creatine and testosterone boosters to researchers posing as a 15 year old high school athlete. There are no laws that prevent such recommendations or sales. Trusting the recommendation of a supplement shop sales clerk is not the same as a discussion with a pharmacist.

 So who cares? The supplement manufacturers should maintain strict standards as to what is in their product and the consumer should be reassured that the product label accurately lists what is contained in a pill or powder. If only the consumer could be that certain. It remains a buyer beware marketplace. In 2015, the New Your Attorney General’s office found that Walgreens’ Walmart, Target and GNC all had supplements on their shelves that did not contain the ingredients that were documented on the label. Almost 80% of the supplements did not contain the medicines they were supposed to, but instead included “cheap fillers like powdered rice, asparagus and houseplants, and in some cases substances that could be dangerous to those with allergies.” The story made headlines for a day or two as the stores agreed to reach out to their suppliers. After another New Year has passed, how that story has played out is uncertain.

 For all the criticism leveled at the Federal Drug Administration, at least the US public can be reassured that the medications prescribed by a physician and dispensed by a pharmacist, will have the ingredient in the pill that is labelled on the bottle. The same holds true for hundreds of over the counter medications like aspirin or Tylenol and their generics. While we might not like the ads or commercials of some drugs, at least we know that their labs and production facilities are regulated to a high standard. When it comes to herbal supplements…not so much. It’s very much a buyer beware marketplace.

This entry was tagged , , , , , ,