Supplements - Part 2:
The Good, Useless and Dangerous

Paul Skinner, MS RD LD

In the event you haven't already read the "Part 1 - Supplements" article that has been previously posted to, please read it first. This Part 2 will resume with the interview I conducted with Dr. Judith M. Lukaszuk. She graduated with her PhD. from the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA. Her dissertation topic was "Ergogenic effect of creatine monohydrate and a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet on anaerobic exercise performance". She is a registered dietitian, Assistant Professor in Nutrition, and Didactic Program Director at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Illinois.

Some bodybuilders who call themselves "natural" tend to seek out some kind of stimulant that gives them energy or helps them burn fat. One of these supplements that I had read about was Panax Ginseng. I asked Dr. Lukaszuk about this supplement. "What is it? What does it do for strength training athletes, and what are its adverse affects?" She answered, "Panax Ginseng is a stimulant. Athletes use it to peak their energy level and feel better during exercise, it is also known as Asian Ginseng. It has been used in China for years for energy and vitality, it has adaptogenic properties-if you are under a lot of stress, it is supposed to reduce stress, and if you are fatigued, it is supposed to give you more energy. It really has no usefulness for strength training."

I continued along this line of questioning regarding fat burning supplements by stating, "In your research, you mention that Ephedra and Ma Huang are unsafe and found in products such as: Metabolite 356; Xenadrine RFA-1; Ripped Fuel; Ultimate Orange; Diet Fuel; Hydroxycut; and Stackers. Why do athletes/bodybuilders take these supplements in the first place, and what are their serious or lethal side effects? By the way, before you answer, I was at a health food store and saw some of these same products stating they were ephedra free. So I am not sure what is substituted for ephedra to make them effective in burning fat." Before she answered, I sensed a slight look of distress in her expression upon her hearing the words ephedra free. She replied in a very matter of fact way, "They are using a derivative called synephrine and that is why they can call it ephedra free now. So, will this very similar drug, based on the same type of spinal background as ephedra, have potentially the same detrimental side effects? We don't know and essentially we will find out through trial and error, however, at this point people are throwing themselves out there as guinea pigs to see if it has any detrimental affects."

I then ventured into the area of purported muscle building agents. I stated, "As far as products that claim to have anabolic properties, such as, Androstenedione, Yohimbine, Smilax, Tribulus Terrestris, Wild Yams, and Gamma Oryzanol, could you tell me about each one and its safety or efficacy for the strength training athlete? Her response, "Androstenedione is probably the most dangerous to your health, because it has shown that, specifically in women, it can take blood testosterone levels up three to five times their normal level. It does not seem to have that great affect on young men, because their testosterone levels are already high. However, if you get men that are older (middle age), then it does in fact increase their blood testosterone levels as well. Anytime you're manipulating testosterone levels in the body, you're opening yourself up to all sorts of cancers (prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer). In effect, the dosage that you need to increase blood testosterone levels also seems to increase estrogen, because it works in the same pathways. Estrogen is a precursor before you get to testosterone. So from a male perspective, increasing estrogen levels is not good, because it can cause gynecomastia (increased breast growth in men) and balding. Some of these other products that you mentioned purported to increase testosterone levels, may work in a Petri dish but not the same way in the human body. As far as Gamma Oryzanol, less than 5% is digested in the gastrointestinal tract; therefore, it is going to have little influence on anything. You would have to take toxic doses to receive any benefit whatsoever."

I decided it was time to switch gears a little and discuss diuretics. I stated, "One popular product that some natural bodybuilders use is called Taraxatone. The manufacturer states the following:

The formula is based on the potent extract of botanical compound called taraxacum officinale, which has scientifically proven through published studies to exert diuretic activity comparable to powerful prescription diuretics, such as furosemide. But, unlike those dangerous prescription drugs, Taraxatone actually spares critical electrolytes, such as potassium, which are vital for maintaining optimal health. Users have been totally astounded by how fast Taraxatone works! In just 72 hours some people have dropped as much as 12 pounds of subcutaneous water weight, while maintaining optimal muscle cell volumization through Taraxatone's amazing potassium sparing effects!

"What are your thoughts on this diuretic, Doctor?" Once again after clearly analyzing the statement, Dr. Lukaszuk said, "I had not heard of it until you actually sent me the information on the product. I did a little looking up and most of the information you are finding is on companies that are selling the product. I have not been able to find any reputable information on it, and none of the books I have on sports nutrition are advocates of diuretic use. I would be skeptical of this product."

Antioxidants were the next topic on the agenda, because they have been touted as being helpful in muscle recovery. I asked, "Is this true and could you identify which ones and the required amounts of each one?" Dr. Lukaszuk seemed to answer the question with some heavy analysis by stating, "This is difficult, because there have been a number of studies done by David C. Nieman, DrPH, FACSM, a professor of health and exercise science out of North Carolina, on athletes who do endurance training exercise (marathon running). He discovered that it might be potentially detrimental to take supplemental Vitamins E and C (antioxidant vitamins), because you are generating a whole lot more free radicals, because your body is seeing this as stress, or anything that causes you to take up more oxygen increases free radical production in your body. In his studies he noted that by giving mega doses of these vitamins, you were actually causing a pro-oxidant effect. In response to your question, I have seen that done with high intensity, long duration exercise activity events, and I have not seen anything done with strength training."

She made it clear to me by stating, "Antioxidants are known as A, C, E and Selenium, however, I would be very skeptical of what to tell people to take in amounts and dosages, because who knows if it just acts like this in exercise or if it acts like this across the board. I would say just eat healthy; because you will get a lot of phyto-nutrients from the food that you would not get from vitamins and minerals anyway.

I wanted to explore some of the nutrients touted in many popular diet books. My thinking being that if these books advocate a better way of eating, then why use mega quantities of supplements? "Chromium has been recommended by Dr. Atkins in his book Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution in doses ranging from 300 mcg-1000 mcg for individuals that are metabolically challenged." I quoted a passage from Dr. Atkins' book to Dr. Lukaszuk, "It helps to activate the uptake of insulin at its receptor sites. It is best assimilated in the form of chromium polynicotinate. A spate of studies has shown that chromium will build muscle, decrease body fat and lower cholesterol levels."

"What is your opinion about this claim and what are the dangers of great intakes of this supplement, if any," I asked. She replied by taking the question in a somewhat different direction, and said, "Chrominum Picolinate, which you are not mentioning, has had a lot of problems with being tainted. I have seen people admitted with hepatic failure. Most studies that have shown it to be beneficial are with Type II diabetics that are chromium deficient, and in helping to improve blood sugar control, because it increases insulin sensitivity."

She puzzled over the question further and responded, "As far as being used as a weight loss agent, it probably could work, but there are not a lot of studies to support it in that respect in individuals who are deficient in chromium. Typically, there is not a likelihood of this happening, if they are eating well. I would suggest the recommended dosage found in most multivitamin-mineral tablets that typically contain between 100-200 mcg a day."

The diet books along with muscle magazines seem to be enamored of Coenzyme Q-10 and L-Carnitine. I asked about Coenzyme Q-10 first. "You have mentioned the effectiveness of Coenzyme Q-10 as a strong antioxidant. Does it have any efficacy in increased fat metabolism or is that a myth?" I did see one study on CoQ-10 that said it may enhance fat loss and that was in the 1980s. So at this point, I am not seeing anything indicating that it would be beneficial for weight loss."

In regards to L-Carnitine I stated, "In renal dialysis and with people taking anticonvulsants drugs, such as Depakote, L-Carnitine deficiency has been said to be a problem, but is there any truth to taking in large amounts of L-Carnitine for the purpose of increasing fat metabolism either by itself or in conjunction with Coenzyme Q10?" She replied, "I have not seen anything about L-Carnitine increasing fat metabolism. I know that it does enhance the ability to use fat as an energy source. It does not seem to have an ergogenic effect. Studies across the board for renal dialysis patients show that it does help them metabolize fat. I think all hemodialysis patients should be on carnitine supplementation, but as far as strength training athletes, I have not seen anything convincing for that purpose."

In my last question, I wanted Dr. Lukaszuk to back away from the facts and statistics of the research and have her step outside her profession for a moment to find out if all this intake of pills and powders, on balance, is necessary to enhance athletic performance. So I asked, "In the sport of weight training or bodybuilding is it really necessary to take in copious amounts of supplements or can the athletes receive the nutrition they need from food?" Her demeanor seemed to soften at this point, as she was a mother and expecting another child soon. She replied, "If I had a child who was into bodybuilding, I would try to give them the best diet possible, but I would also let them take whey protein shakes and add fruit to them or sherbet, because I think this would be a more conservative way to go. Would I let them take these weight gain products? No, because if you are eating correctly, you should be able to gain weight. I don't think people are eating enough quantity or frequently. I think a multivitamin-mineral would be fine - just no mega intakes of a particular single vitamin and no iron intake, because they are getting enough from the red meat consumed."

This was the conclusion of our interview. Once again I apologized for being late and stated "Thank you for your time Doctor." She smiled and responded, "Please, call me Judith."

I would like to add some additional comments on supplements along with some dangers associated with them. Furthermore, I hope to make it clear that I am not anti-supplement, but I am against advertisers making unproven claims and having bodybuilders, especially neophytes in exercise and nutrition, take mega doses. At best, you will be throwing your money away, and at worst, you may experience organ failure and possibly death.

When I say I am not against supplements, I am typically referring to some of the antioxidants we have talked about for heart disease and cancer prevention. Many cardiologists and dietitians may recommend Vitamins C and E and Coenzyme Q-10. However, the problem I have is that a patient will self-dose him or herself with these supplements without telling their physician. Taking supplements as a prophylactic against heart disease or to treat or prevent other disease states and disorders should be a collaborative effort between the patient, physician, and dietitian. As Dr. Lukaszuk said, overdoing it on antioxidants may have the opposite effect in endurance athletes. In other words, take a multi-mineral tablet daily to meet the recommended needs and "eat real food" for the variety of antioxidants it contains.

In regards to chromium picolinate supplementation, many individuals have developed chronic renal failure and accumulation of chromium in their tissues. If you have a behavior or mental disorder, it is not wise to use chromium supplements. It is not recommended to use chromium picolinate to control blood sugar levels. There is no proof that chromium supplements can prevent diabetes. You can obtain adequate amounts of chromium by eating low-fat American cheese and wheat germ.

As far as diuretics, you are really skating on thin ice with these substances. However, I am leaving the last word regarding this topic to the man himself - Mike Mentzer.

"There's no good reason for a bodybuilder to take diuretics [such as Lasix] before the show. Diuretics are unpredictable and can cause you to lose too much water from the body. And since bodyfat is made up of only 15% water while muscle over 70%, most of it will come from the muscle and circulating blood. This will deflate the muscles, reduce pump-ability, and absolutely wipe out all vascularity. The potassium loss that results will cause weakness, fatigue and shakiness. Diuretics are radical expedients and can cause the loss of up to eight pounds in a matter of hours. And the resulting electrolyte imbalance could take days to restore."
--- Mike Mentzer

This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject covered. It is written with the understanding that neither the Website owner nor the Copyright owner is engaged in rendering medical advice or services. Before starting this or any exercise and nutritional program, you should always consult with your doctor and obtain a thorough check up.

Article Copyright 2004 by Paul Skinner. All rights reserved. Mike Mentzer quotations used with permission from Joanne Sharkey, President of Mentzer-Sharkey Enterprises, Inc. 2002-2004. This article is written exclusively for and Joanne Sharkey. It cannot be used as a download for another website or any form of publication in part or in whole, unless written permission is granted by the above copyright owners.

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