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Supplements – Which Ones Do You Need to Get in Shape?
An honest answer is that you don’t need any. It might sound astonishing but the reality is that in over seventeen years of using multivitamins, fat burners, protein powders and bars, meal replacements, and all the other bodybuilding and fitness related products all I have to say is their miraculous abilities to make changes in your physique are yet to be seen. That and the fact that there is nothing that has yet convinced me that these substances are truly safe for human consumption.
I would like to bring to your attention that all of your information regarding the safety and efficacy of these supplements come from entities that have a vested interest in promoting them. The bodybuilding and health and fitness magazines that get paid millions to advertise the products, some of which are actually owned by the very companies that make the products in the first place. The media that also gets paid for the ads run by the products, and of course the many so called scientific studies conducted with funding from the manufacturers themselves.
The supplement industry is no different from the food and tobacco industries that wreak havoc on the public health. Profit is and always will be the bottom line. Not your health, not your fitness goals and certainly not the truth. If you think that in some way that the federal government wouldn’t allow a company to make a product that could jeopardize your health, then you must have been asleep for the past few years while they banned products like ephedra and pro-hormones. Bans that took effect long after the products had been on the market for years.
The problem is that the Food & Drug Administration regulates dietary supplements under a different set of regulations than those covering “conventional” food and drug products, both prescription and Over-the-Counter. Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), the dietary supplement manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that a dietary supplement is safe before it is marketed. 1
The FDA is only responsible for taking action against any unsafe dietary supplement product after it reaches the market. Generally manufacturers do not need to register their products with FDA nor get FDA approval before producing or selling dietary supplements.
Think about it; someone figures that there is money to be made from selling a particular product and they make it. As simple as that. There are no long term independent double blind studies to verify effectiveness or safety. In fact most of the studies quoted regarding supplement efficacy are either severely biased, purposefully misinterpreted or flawed.
It is only after people die or consistently experience severe adverse side effects that the federal government gets involved. What is worse is that there have never been any long term studies to show how these substances interact with the human body. No one can really guarantee that the fat burner that you are taking now will not cause you health problems several years down the line. Many of them have not even been around for that long. So how do you know? Answer- you don’t!
Have I used them? Yes. But not as much as you would think. I was never much of a fan of these products to begin with since I always paid very strict attention to my diet and training and didn’t really need them. If I needed to get ready for a contest or a photo shoot, I would simply adjust my diet to suit and train my behind off. When I did take fat burners earlier on in my career, I never used more than an quarter of the recommended dose.
Did they work? The ones containing ephedrine did. I got leaner faster, but in the end I looked the same. Considering that when I took them I had trouble sleeping, my hands would shake and I would have terrible energy swings, I made the decision not to use them anymore. The pictures of me that you see posted are the result of years of hard work and conscientious dieting- not from any fat burners (or any other supplements for that matter- protein powders etc. included.) I believe the finished product proves my point that I didn’t need them.
We need to examine the mechanisms of these drugs to understand why they are so popular in spite of being so dangerous and filled with negative side effects. The most effective fat burners (the ones that were temporarily banned) were essentially ECA stacks. A combination of Ephedrine (from ephedra), Caffeine and Aspirin. Caffeine is a stimulant and has diuretic effect. Ephedrine is a bronchodilator and was sold over the counter as an asthma medication. It is a stimulant as well2.
The two drugs together increase the body’s norephinepherine production which then decreases appetite3 along with significantly elevating your heart rate measurably.3 Reduced appetite means you eat less and the elevated heart rate means that you should burn more calories. These drugs also combine to slightly increase body heat which further increases caloric burn while the caffeine forces you to lose water at a faster rate. The end result- short term weight loss. Which would have been wonderful except for the fact that you are also potentially harming yourself.
Ephedrine (derived from ephedra) was banned for some time after being linked to several deaths. Studies have shown that it can increase blood pressure and risk of stroke, anxiety, irregular heartbeat, myocardial infarction4, depression and psychosis2. Largely due to the lobbying of certain special interest groups, the federal ephedra ban was lifted. Still, most companies now are afraid to put it back in their products because of the fear of lawsuits, that, the high cost of liability insurance and the fact that the federal ban being lifted does not make it a legal product in many states- the state of New York included.
Caffeine as we all know can also affect heart rate as well as blood pressure2. There is also an addictive property to caffeine, just as there was with ephedrine. Put the two together and you’re faced with an addictive compound quite adept at causing your natural adrenal production to be compromised. After developing a tolerance to the raciness effects of the drugs, frequent and increased dosages lead to a dramatic loss of “energy” when the drugs aren’t taken. It’s a classic addiction and it made many a supplement manufacture rich at the public health’s expense. Let us not forget the aspirin added to the blend that wreaked havoc on your stomach lining.
Personally I chose not to use a substance that not only I didn’t need, but also that had many dangerous side effects and was potentially addictive. Now that ephedra has made it to the ‘we are not using it in our product list’ (thankfully), the remaining ingredients on their own have not been proven to significantly reduce body fat. Translation, they are still dangerous compounds, but now they don’t work as well.
ECA fat burners have been around for about a decade or so, but people have succeeded in getting into fantastic shape for much longer without potentially dangerous drugs. They did it over time. By being patient and by working hard and in a responsible manner to achieve their goals.
The other thing to consider is that studies have shown that individuals that lose weight and then regain it increase their likelihood of compulsive overeating5 developing heart disease6 and increasing mortality risks6 7. Remember if you rely on pills to get your weight down, the effects are only short term2. When you stop taking them your weight will eventually go right back to where it was to begin with, unless of course you choose to use them for the rest of your life. The only safe way is to be in shape all year round, not just for summer and certainly not thanks to supplements.
1. Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA),
2. Shekelle PG, Hardy ML, Morton SC, et al.: Efficacy and safety of ephedra and ephedrine for weight loss and athletic performance. A meta-analysis. JAMA 289:1537-1545, 2003.
3. Effect of a Dietary Herbal Supplement Containing Caffeine and Ephedra on Weight, Metabolic Rate, and Body Composition Greenway et al. Obes Res 2004;12:1152-1157
4. Cardiovascular Effects of Ephedra JAMA 2004;291:1560-1560.
5. National Task Force on the Prevention and Treatment of Obesity. Dieting and the Development of Eating Disorders in Overweight and Obese Adults. Arch Intern Med 2000;160:2581-9.
6. Lissner L, Brownell KD. Weight cycling, mortality and cardiovascular disease: a review of epidemiologic findings. In: Bjorntorp P, Brodoff BN, eds. Obesity. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co.; 1992.
7. Wing RR. Weight cycling in humans: a review of the literature. Ann Behav Med. 1992;14:113-9
Information contained in this article is not meant to treat, diagnose illness, nor substitute for medical counsel and is intended for purposes of information and education only. Consult your physician before modifying your diet or starting any exercise program.
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