Are Fat Burning Sports Supplements Safe?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Fitness and Health, Issues, Supplements and Health, Uncategorized

It’s Buyer Beware in the Sports Supplement Market

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Muscular man holding container of training supplementsFor many athletes it’s all about being bigger, faster, stronger. That’s what makes the fat burning sports supplements so appealing. If you believe the ads, they will burn fat, increase muscle mass and give you an energy boost. But, are fat burning sports supplements safe? Are they effective?

What Are Fat Burning Sports Supplements?

Simply put, most of the fat burning sports supplements contain metabolic stimulants of some kind. That’s where the energy and fat burning claims come from. The stimulants range from clearly ineffective to downright dangerous.

Are Fat Burning Sports Supplements Effective?

Because sports supplements are considered to be foods rather than drugs, the FDA cannot require sport supplements manufacture to prove that their products are either safe or effective. As a consequence, most sports supplement manufacturers don’t conduct clinical trials to prove the effectiveness of their products. Their claims are based on animal studies and testimonials. However, in most cases there is no objective evidence that their supplements actually work.

Are Fat Burning Sports Supplements Safe?

All stimulants carry some risk. Even small amounts of caffeine can be problematic for some individuals, and many sports supplements contain massive amounts of caffeine. But, it is not caffeine containing sports products that are the most worrisome.

Many sports supplement manufacturers are firm believers in the “better living through chemistry” motto.

  • They start with an herbal ingredient that has stimulant properties
  • They synthesize what they think is the active ingredient
  • Perhaps they chemically modify it a bit….
  • ..and, Voila! They have a proprietary new sports supplement
  • They label it a fat burner, prepare their claims and they’re ready to go to market

And, why bother testing it? Unless the product kills or seriously harms people, the FDA can’t step in and tell a manufacturer to take their product off the market.

And, if you think that the manufacturers and sellers of the product are looking after your best interests, think again.

Case Study #1: Jack3D and DMAA

I told you about this story last year, so I’ll just give you a brief recap here.

  • After a couple of marines died after using Jack3D prior to a workout, the US military ordered that the product not be sold on their bases. The manufacturer continued to make the product. GNC stopped selling it on military bases, but continued to sell it in all its other stores.
  • Eventually the FDA stepped in and recommended that Jack3D not be sold. The manufacturer claimed that the active ingredient, DMAA, was found in the geranium extract they used in their product. Since that was a food ingredient, they claimed the FDA did not have jurisdiction.
  • The FDA denied that claim based an extensive testing of geranium extract. At that point the manufacturer stopped making it (They have since resuming making the product with yet another poorly tested stimulant). GNC said they would stop selling Jack3D “as soon as their inventory was used up”.
  • The FDA finally had to raid the GNC warehouses to get the product off the market.

Case Study #2: OxyElite Pro and Aegeline

In case you thought that was an isolated case, the same sports supplement manufacturer has recently been involved in a second case that sounds all too familiar.

  • The FDA recently advised consumers to stop using OxyElite Pro after reports of 24 cases of acute non-viral hepatitis (a very rare disease) in users of that sports supplement in Hawaii. Two of those patients required liver transplants, and one of them died.
  • In this case the manufacturer stopped domestic distribution of the product, but argued that the product is safe. They claimed that counterfeit versions of OxyElite Pro were being sold in the US market.
  • On October 11, 2013 the FDA sent a warning letter to the manufacturer stating that the active ingredient, aegeline, was not a lawful dietary ingredient. The manufacturer replied that it was a natural constituent of the citrus fruit tree Bael. (I’m not sure why that makes it safe. I don’t know about you, but I don’t eat a lot of Bael fruit.)
  • As of a few days ago England, Denmark, Spain, Australia & New Zealand have warned consumers in those countries not to use OxyElite Pro.

It’s too early to tell how this story is going to turn out, but my money is with the FDA.

Case Study #3: Craze and DEPEA

And, in case you thought the problem was with a single rogue manufacturer, there is a developing story around yet another popular sports supplement, Craze, made by a different manufacturer.

  • Researchers from the NSF, Harvard and the National Institute for Public Health in the Netherlands recently published a paper claiming that Craze contained DEPEA, a methamphetamine-like compound.
  • The manufacturers claimed that the researchers did the chemical analysis incorrectly and their product actually contained a close analog of DEPEA that is found in dendrobium orchids. (Again I’m not sure why that makes it OK. I don’t think people eat a lot of dendrobium orchids either).

Stay tuned. I’m sure this story will have some interesting twists before it’s finished.

The Bottom Line:

1)     In the sports nutrition industry, it is buyer beware. There are lots of rogue manufacturers out there who care more for their bottom line than your well being. Do your homework and search for reputable companies with a long track record of product quality and ethical standards. There are some out there.

2)     Ignore the outlandish claims, no matter how appealing. Once again, stick with establishing companies with a track record of product integrity. Only use sports supplements that are backed by clinical studies showing that they are both safe and effective.

3)     Be particularly cautious about sports supplements that claim to burn fat or give you energy. They generally contain metabolic stimulants, and often those stimulants are poorly characterized. Most have not been proven to be effective, and some have the potential to do more harm than good.

4)     Fat burning supplements are often cross marketed as weight loss supplements. They are just as dangerous for dieters as they are for athletes.

5)     Don’t assume that just because the ingredients supposedly come from a natural source (geraniums, Bael trees or dendrobium orchids, for example) they are safe.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (2)

  • Merlena Cushing

    |

    Re: safety and efficacy of creatine…In your webinar, The Truth About Protein Supplements (Feb. 2013) on the chart mid-page, Pg. 4 – Sports Supplements That Do Work – you state “…you may add pure creatine monohydrate to your favorite protein drink.” I didn’t catch this at the time it was sent me. From what I read, so many athletes think if a little is good a lot would get me there faster, so I would also think recommended amounts would be helpful.

    The company I represent wrote about concerns with creatine in 2001-2. From other resources (Dr. B Miller, etc.) and in FDA warning from the articles I filed away, there were major concerns about adverse affects. As most of these were 10 or so years ago, apparently you can show that creatine is no longer a big issue. I would appreciate your posting a comment here or sending it. The article by Dr. Dubois posted Oct 31st only mentioned creating in passing.

    Thanks for this helpful website and your generosity.

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Dear Merlena,
      Science changes, but the online information does not. That is why I write “Health Tips From the Professor”. I want to help you keep up with the latest science. A few years ago I was among those saying the we should be cautious about creatine because it may have side effects. Subsequent studies have put those fears to rest. We do need to be aware that creatine is dehydrating, so adequate water consumption is important. Moreover, there are some people who simply can’t use it because it gives them muscle cramps.

      Dr. Chaney

      Reply

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Latest Article

High Protein Diets and Weight Loss

Posted October 16, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do High Protein Diets Reduce Fat And Preserve Muscle?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Healthy Diet food group, proteins, include meat (chicken or turkAre high protein diets your secret to healthy weight loss? There are lots of diets out there – high fat, low fat, Paleolithic, blood type, exotic juices, magic pills and potions. But recently, high protein diets are getting a lot of press. The word is that they preserve muscle mass and preferentially decrease fat mass.

If high protein diets actually did that, it would be huge because:

  • It’s the fat – not the pounds – that causes most of the health problems.
  • Muscle burns more calories than fat, so preserving muscle mass helps keep your metabolic rate high without dangerous herbs or stimulants – and keeping your metabolic rate high helps prevent both the plateau and yo-yo (weight regain) characteristic of so many diets.
  • When you lose fat and retain muscle you are reshaping your body – and that’s why most people are dieting to begin with.

So let’s look more carefully at the recent study that has been generating all the headlines (Pasiakos et al, The FASEB Journal, 27: 3837-3847, 2013).

The Study Design:

This was a randomized control study with 39 young (21), healthy and fit men and women who were only borderline overweight (BMI = 25). These volunteers were put on a 21 day weight loss program in which calories were reduced by 30% and exercise was increased by 10%. They were divided into 3 groups:

  • One group was assigned a diet containing the RDA for protein (about 14% of calories in this study design).
  • The second group’s diet contained 2X the RDA for protein (28% of calories)
  • The third group’s diet contained 3X the RDA for protein (42% of calories)

In the RDA protein group carbohydrate was 56% of calories, and fat was 30% of calories. In the other two groups the carbohydrate and fat content of the diets was decreased proportionally.

Feet_On_ScaleWhat Did The Study Show?

  • Weight loss (7 pounds in 21 days) was the same on all 3 diets.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused almost 2X more fat loss (5 pounds versus 2.8 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused 2X less muscle loss (2.1 pounds versus 4.2 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • In case you didn’t notice, there was no difference in overall results between the 28% (2X the RDA) and 42% (3X the RDA) diets.

Pros And Cons Of The Study:

  • The con is fairly obvious. The participants in this study were all young, healthy and were not seriously overweight. If this were the only study of this type one might seriously question whether the results were applicable to middle aged, overweight coach potatoes. However, there have been several other studies with older, more overweight volunteers that have come to the same conclusion – namely that high protein diets preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss.
  • The value of this study is that it defines for the first time the upper limit for how much protein is required to preserve muscle mass in a weight loss regimen. 28% of calories is sufficient, and there appear to be no benefit from increasing protein further. I would add the caveat that there are studies suggesting that protein requirements for preserving muscle mass may be greater in adults 50 and older.

The Bottom Line:

1)    Forget the high fat diets, low fat diets, pills and potions. High protein diets (~2X the RDA or 28% of calories) do appear to be the safest, most effective way to preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss in a weight loss regimen.

2)     That’s not a lot of protein, by the way. The average American consumes almost 2X the RDA for protein on a daily basis. However, it is significantly more protein than the average American consumes when they are trying to lose weight. Salads and carrot sticks are great diet foods, but they don’t contain much protein.

3)     Higher protein intake does not appear to offer any additional benefit – at least in young adults.

4)     Not all high protein diets are created equal. What some people call high protein diets are laden with saturated fats or devoid of carbohydrate. The diet in this study, which is what I recommend, had 43% healthy carbohydrates and 30% healthy fats.

5)    These diets were designed to give 7 pounds of weight loss in 21 days – which is what the experts recommend. There are diets out there promising faster weight loss but they severely restrict calories and/or rely heavily on stimulants, they do not preserve muscle mass, and they often are not safe. In addition they are usually temporary.  I do not recommend them.

6)    This level of protein intake is safe for almost everyone. The major exception would be people with kidney disease, who should always check with their doctor before increasing protein intake. The only other caveat is that protein metabolism creates a lot of nitrogenous waste, so you should drink plenty of water to flush that waste out of your system. But, water is always a good idea.

7)     The high protein diets minimized, but did not completely prevent, muscle loss. Other studies suggest that adding the amino acid leucine to a high protein diet can give 100% retention of muscle mass in a weight loss regimen – but that’s another story for another day.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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