Dying for Weight loss
Sports Supplements Side Effects
You may have seen the news story over the weekend about a young man in Western Australia given a few weeks to live after taking a protein powder containing Green tea extract and Garcinia cambogia, the apparent “weight-loss miracle herb” touted by the likes of Dr Oz.
This is a troubling story on many levels.
It’s a tragedy that a young man’s life has been derailed by a substance that he was taking in order to improve his health.
The case also exposes a wider problem with sports supplements- side effects- this is an unregulated industry which makes sensational claims about its weight loss and fitness-related products.
In Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) researches and polices the sale of medications, supplements and herbal remedies on the market. One of its main jobs is to look at the scientific data of the claims health companies make about their products. The TGA in Australia is one of the strictest in the world, which is a very good thing. There are thousands of products unavailable in Australia because the TGA cannot find scientific justification to release them to the general public – lack of evidence, or proof of them being dangerous are two of the most common reasons. Of course this does not prevent people from buying them online, but that’s another story.
Given the power of the TGA, you would think that sports supplements available here would be safe. The problem is that a large number of products are sold as a food, so they are not put under the same scrutiny as prescription medications and supplements. Sports supplements side effects often do lasting damage to the health of young people, men and women.
Unfortunately, whether they are categorised as a food or a medicine, unregulated and self-prescribed supplements can make people very sick, very quickly.
The Case For Seeing A Naturopath
As a naturopath and clinical nutritionist I am trained in understanding the mechanism of herbs and nutrients in the body. This includes knowing which substances are not suitable to take with various medications and medical conditions.
Medical professionals such as GPs are trained to understand contraindications between medications. They are not often given training in understanding how nutrients and herbs must also be monitored to ensure no health risks to the patient. This isn’t a criticism of general practice medicine – it is just a comment on how various allied health professionals can work together to support the health of their patients.
I only prescribe nutrients which are available on the TGA, having been given their safety stamp of approval. The safety of my clients is one of the main reasons for this. The efficacy of the substances I use is also important – knowing what exactly is in them and where they come from, including the excipients and additives.
I also always encourage my clients to tell their other health professionals what I have prescribed and why, and I commonly write to their doctors and specialists to inform them of progress or issues that may arise.
When you self-prescribe your own supplements, including sports supplements, this is the level of care you do not get. Often clients think, “well it is available at the supermarket so it must be good for me? How could it possibly be dangerous?”
A very good, and hopefully widely known example of this is St John’s Wort, botanical name Hypericum perforatum. This herb is commonly prescribed for depression.
St John’s Wort is widely available not just in health food stores, but in chemists and even in the supermarket. The thing that most people do not know about St John’s Wort is that it has a huge amount of contraindications due to its action in the CYP-450 pathways in the liver (thats nerdy biochemical stuff). This means you should not take St John’s Wort with any medication, including the Oral Contraceptive Pill, blood pressure medication, Anti-depressants and well, pretty much anything.
So back to this heartbreaking story of the young man thinking he was doing something good by losing weight after taking a BSc protein powder, this sports supplements side effects may have been individual to this man, but the repercussion will affect many. How can we avoid this from happening again? I think two things should be done- regulation and information. It’s only when someone becomes ill does a sports supplement get taken off the market. Regulating this cowboy industry would be a huge start – making them accountable to the TGA or similar body would be a great step.
We should also inform the public that not all vitamins and minerals and herbal formulations are good for them. Getting the advice of a trained, registered and insured health professional like a nutritionist or naturopath is the best place to start if you are interested in taking supplements for your health and wellbeing.
Looking after the safety of my clients is my number one priority. It’s a shame that the massively growing sports supplement industry does not feel the same about the health of theirs.
Contact me if you have any questions about this article, or you would like to discuss the supplements you have self-prescribed and question whether they’re right for you.