Weight Loss Supplements: What the Labels Don't Say
"I�ve tried everything to lose weight," says Bob,
a project coordinator residing in New York City. "I�ve
decided to try nutritional supplements, but I have no idea
is not unlike many in the LGBT
communities who want to find dietary supplements that work,
without spending -- or losing -- a lot of money.
you are trying to lose weight or build muscle, finding a
supplement that will go the distance -- and make a long-term
difference -- is no easy feat. A lot of supplements make
promises they just can�t keep.
drugs, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not
regulate herbal and dietary supplements. For this reason,
manufacturers of supplements are able to make claims about
their products that aren't necessarily supported by scientific
research and may be misleading," says Holly Vance,
Pharm.D., manager of pharmacy services, DrugStore.com.
supplements can help you reach your goals, it is crucial to
keep abreast of the latest news and studies. Vance shares her
knowledge about some popular supplements including ephedra,
chromium and more.
Ma huang and guarana are herbal supplements that are
frequently promoted to help with weight loss. Both herbs are
stimulants used as an ingredient in diet pills. Ma huang --
also known as ephedra -- is also taken for some respiratory
conditions including asthma, bronchitis and cough.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued warnings about side
effects associated with these herbs. The FDA does not,
however, regulate ephedra because it is a dietary supplement
protected under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education
Act of 1994 (DSHEA, link in the sidebar). Unless proven
unsafe, ephedra will remain on the market.
these herbs safe?
huang may cause fast and irregular heartbeats, high
blood pressure, chest pain, nervousness, tremor, and
trouble sleeping. Serious side effects including heart attack,
stroke, and seizures have also been linked to the herb.
containing ma huang or guarana may worsen high blood pressure,
kidney disease, or a thyroid condition," says Vance.
"People who have one of these conditions should avoid
using ma huang or guarana, or only use them as directed by a
physician." You should also avoid these supplements if
you have prostate
with all supplements, there can be drug interactions when
ephedra is combined with certain antidepressants, heart drugs,
blood pressure medications and certain MAO inhibitors.
Combining ephedra with certain migraine treatments can result
in high blood pressure.
avoid drug interactions and dangerous side effects, discuss ma
huang or guarana with your physician or healthcare provider
prior to taking them.
Chromium picolinate is found in many supplements for weight
loss and muscle building.
picolinate is a form of synthetic chromium. Chromium is an
essential mineral found in many foods including fish, beef,
milk, fresh fruit, eggs, whole grains and brewer�s yeast.
"The body uses chromium to help handle sugar and fat. It
does this by improving insulin�s function in the body.
Insulin helps the body use sugars, carbohydrates (starches),
proteins and fat," says Vance. There has been some
evidence that chromium supplements may help people with diabetes.
many experts are skeptical about the use of chromium
picolinate for weight loss or body building. The Federal Trade
Commission has warned of false advertising and unsubstantiated
claims in these areas by the manufacturers.
are the side effects of chromium picolinate?
side effects have been reported among people taking high doses
of chromium picolinate -- between 1200 and 2400 mcg. per day,
according to Vance. Anemia
and liver problems are among reported complications.
article published in the April 28, 1999 issue of the Journal
of the American Medical Association(JAMA) discussed
research presented at the 1999 meeting of the American
Chemical Society in Anaheim, California. Researchers from the
University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa reported that chromium
picolinate may be associated with cancer risk. "When
chromium picolinate interacts with such common biochemicals as
vitamin C, the Alabama researchers reported, the by-products
react with oxygen to generate potent, DNA-damaging hydroxyl
radicals," according to the article.
investigation into the effects of long-term diet
supplementation with chromium picolinate are needed to
evaluate its mutagenic and carcinogen potentials," said
Alabama chemist John B. Vincent, PhD.
has been conflicting evidence as to whether or not chromium
picolinate actually works in weight loss or muscle gain.
picolinate does not make you thinner, more muscular, stronger,
or give you more energy," according to an article on the
web site for Georgia Council Against Health Fraud�s Health
Care Reality Check (link in the sidebar).
manufacturers' claims about supplements containing chromium
picolinate aren't necessarily supported by scientific research
and may be misleading, warns Vance. "If a claim about a
product seems too good to be true, it probably is," she
should talk to your doctor, pharmacist or trained herbalist
prior to starting any dietary supplement to avoid
complications or side effects.
Androstenedione is a dietary supplement promoted to increase
levels of the hormone testosterone. It is marketed for both
muscle building and the treatment of sexual dysfunction in
this supplement work?
studies show that the drug's actions don't support
manufacturer's claims, says Vance. While a few individuals
have shown increased levels of testosterone, most failed to
achieve increases in blood testosterone levels.
Safety First: Advice from Holly Vance, Pharm.D.
Carefully read the labels on all herbs
and supplements before trying them.
Be aware that supplements can interact
with over-the-counter and prescription drugs as
well as other supplements. Check with your
doctor and pharmacist before taking anything new
to make sure that it doesn't interact with your
medical conditions or any medications you may be
Arm yourself with information about
possible side effects. Ask your doctor,
pharmacist or herbalist about side effects that
may be caused by the supplements that you are
considering. Just because herbs are
"natural" does not necessarily mean
they are harmless.
-- legally sold in the United States -- is banned from use at
most amateur and professional athletic events. Why? "It
is thought that androstenedione may give an unfair advantage
in sports by increasing athletic performance due to its
effects on testosterone levels," says Vance.
are the side effects?
about possible side effects and risks is very limited. "Androstenedione
has been reported to cause hair loss, blurred vision, acne,
enlarged breasts, mood swings, shrunken testicles, and
infrequently, liver cancer," says Vance.
small study -- published in JAMA in June of 1999 -- found no
difference between the muscle strength of 10 men given
androstenedione and 20 men given placebo. Researchers also
found that androstenedione raised levels of the female hormone
estrogen in the men, which may increase risk of heart and
addition, the levels of HDL cholesterol dropped in men who
took the supplement for eight weeks. "Since HDL is the
'good' form of cholesterol that protects against heart
problems, lowering HDL can increase people's risk of heart
disease," says Vance. "The safety of androstenedione
for longer-term use is not known."
about the side effects of androstenedione is very limited, and
the safety of it for long-term use is not known. Recent
studies indicate that there are several risks associated with
the use of androstenedione.
While you may still be hoping for a magic bullet, losing
weight and building muscle requires more than magic. "A
low-calorie diet, along with more exercise and changes in
eating habits, is the best way to lose weight and keep it off
long-term," says Vance.
it slow and steady. If you try to change your body overnight,
you�ll burn out, and it will likely not last. "Experts
recommend that overweight and obese individuals focus on
modest weight loss of about 5 to 10 percent of their baseline
weight," says Vance.
all this in mind, you may ask: are supplements for weight
loss, increasing muscle and energy all useless? While there
has been some evidence to support the use of certain
supplements, research is still very limited for a lot of the
recent news, calcium, Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), and
other supplements have shown promise in these areas. Stay
tuned for Part II of the Supplement Series which will focus on
these and other supplements.
Wednesday, March 21st 2001