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

A Low Carb Diet and Weight Loss

Posted January 15, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

low carb dietTraditional diets have been based on counting calories, but are all calories equal? Low-carb enthusiasts have long claimed that diets high in sugar and refined carbs cause obesity. Their hypothesis is based on the fact that high blood sugar levels cause a spike in insulin levels, and insulin promotes fat storage.

The problem is that there has been scant evidence to support that hypothesis. In fact, a recent meta-analysis of 32 published clinical studies (KD Hall and J Guo, Gastroenterology, 152: 1718-1727, 2017 ) concluded that low-fat diets resulted in a higher metabolic rate and greater fat loss than isocaloric low-carbohydrate diets.

However, low-carb enthusiasts persisted. They argued that the studies included in the meta-analysis were too short to adequately measure the metabolic effects of a low-carb diet. Recently, a study has been published in the British Medical Journal (CB Ebbeling et al, BMJ 2018, 363:k4583 ) that appears to vindicate their position.

Are low carb diets best for long term weight loss?

Low-carb enthusiasts claim the study conclusively shows that low-carb diets are best for losing weight and for keeping it off once you have lost it. They are saying that it is time to shift away from counting calories and from promoting low-fat diets and focus on low-carb diets instead if we wish to solve the obesity epidemic. In this article I will focus on three issues:

  • How good was the study?
  • What were its limitations?
  • Are the claims justified?

 

How Was The Study Designed?

low carb diet studyThe investigators started with 234 overweight adults (30% male, 78% white, average age 40, BMI 32) recruited from the campus of Framingham State University in Massachusetts. All participants were put on a diet that restricted calories to 60% of estimated needs for 10 weeks. The diet consisted of 45% of calories from carbohydrate, 30% from fat, and 25% from protein. [So much for the claim that the study showed low-carb diets were more effective for weight loss. The diet used for the weight loss portion of the diet was not low-carb.]

During the initial phase of the study 161 of the participants achieved 10% weight loss. These participants were randomly divided into 3 groups for the weight maintenance phase of the study.

  • The diet composition of the high-carb group was 60% carbohydrate, 20% fat, and 20% protein.
  • The diet composition of the moderate-carb group was 40% carbohydrate, 40% fat, and 20% protein.
  • The diet composition of the low-carb group was 20% carbohydrate, 60% fat, and 20% protein.

Other important characteristics of the study were:

  • The weight maintenance portion of the study lasted 5 months – much longer than any previous study.
  • All meals were designed by dietitians and prepared by a commercial food service. The meals were either served in a cafeteria or packaged to be taken home by the participants.
  • The caloric content of the meals was individually adjusted on a weekly basis so that weight was kept within a ± 4-pound range during the 5-month maintenance phase.
  • Sugar, saturated fat, and sodium were limited and kept relatively constant among the 3 diets.

120 participants made it through the 5-month maintenance phase.

 

Do Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss?

low carb diet maintain weight lossThe results were striking:

  • The low-carb group burned an additional 278 calories/day compared to the high-carb group and 131 calories/day more than the moderate-carbohydrate group.
  • These differences were even higher for those individuals with higher insulin secretion at the beginning of the maintenance phase of the study.
  • These differences lead the authors to hypothesize that low-carb diets might be more effective for weight maintenance than other diets.

 

What Are The Pros And Cons Of This Study?

low carb diet pros and consThis was a very well-done study. In fact, it is the most ambitious and well-controlled study of its kind. However, like any other clinical study, it has its limitations. It also needs to be repeated.

The pros of the study are obvious. It was a long study and the dietary intake of the participants was tightly controlled.

As for cons, here are the three limitations of the study listed by the authors:

#1: Potential Measurement Error: This section of the paper was a highly technical consideration of the method used to measure energy expenditure. Suffice it to say that the method they used to measure calories burned per day may overestimate calories burned in the low-carb group. That, of course, would invalidate the major findings of the study. It is unlikely, but it is why the study needs to be repeated using a different measure of energy expenditure.

#2: Compliance: Although the participants were provided with all their meals, there was no way of being sure they ate them. There was also no way of knowing whether they may have eaten other foods in addition to the food they were provided. Again, this is unlikely, but cannot be eliminated from consideration.

#3: Generalizability: This is simply an acknowledgement that the greatest strength of this study is also its greatest weakness. The authors acknowledged that their study was conducted in such a tightly controlled manner it is difficult to translate their findings to the real world. For example:

  • Sugar and saturated fat were restricted and were at very similar levels in all 3 diets. In the real world, people consuming a high-carb diet are likely to consume more sugar than people in the other diet groups. Similarly, people consuming the low-carb diet are likely to consume more saturated fat than people in the other diet groups.
  • Weight was kept constant in the weight maintenance phase by constantly adjusting caloric intake. Unfortunately, this seldom happens in the real world. Most people gain weight once they go off their diet – and this is just as true with low-carb diets as with other diets.
  • The participants had access to dietitian-designed prepared meals 3 times a day for 5 months. This almost never happens in the real world. The authors said “…these results [their data] must be reconciled with the long-term weight loss trials relying on nutrition education and behavioral counseling that find only a small advantage for low carbohydrate compared with low fat diets according to several recent meta-analyses.” [I would add that in the real world, people do not even have access to nutritional education and behavioral modification.]

 

low carb diet and youWhat Does This Study Mean For You?

  • This study shows that under very tightly controlled conditions (dietitian-prepared meals, sugar and saturated fat limited to healthy levels, calories continually adjusted so that weight remains constant) a low-carb diet burns more calories per day than a moderate-carb or high-carb diet. These findings show that it is theoretically possible to increase your metabolic weight and successfully maintain a healthy weight on a low-carb diet. These are the headlines you probably saw. However, a careful reading of the study provides a much more nuanced viewpoint. For example, the fact that the study conditions were so tightly controlled makes it difficult to translate these findings to the real world.
  • In fact, the authors of the study acknowledged that multiple clinical studies show this almost never happens in the real world. These studies show that most people regain the weight they have lost on low-carb diets. More importantly, the rate of weight regain is virtually identical on low-carb and low-fat diets. Consequently, the authors of the current study concluded “…translation [of their results to the real world] requires exploration in future mechanistic oriented research.” Simply put, the authors are saying that more research is needed to provide a mechanistic explanation for this discrepancy before one can make recommendations that are relevant to weight loss and weight maintenance in the real world.
  • The authors also discussed the results of their study in light of a recent, well-designed 12-month study (CD Gardener et al, JAMA, 319: 667-669, 2018 ) that showed no difference in weight change between a healthy low-fat versus a healthy low-carbohydrate diet. That study also reported that the results were unaffected by insulin secretion at baseline. The authors of the current study noted that “…[in the previous study] participants were instructed to minimize or eliminate refined grains and added sugars and maximize intake of vegetables. Probably for this reason, the reported glycemic load [effect of the diet on blood sugar levels] of the low-fat diet was very low…and similar to [the low-carb diet].” In short, the authors of the current study were acknowledging that diets which focus on healthy, plant-based carbohydrates and eliminate sugar, refined grains, and processed foods may be as effective as low-carb diets for helping maintain a healthy weight.
  • This would also be consistent with previous studies showing that primarily plant-based, low-carb diets are more effective at maintaining a healthy weight and better health outcomes long-term than the typical American version of the low-fat diet, which is high in sugar and refined grains. In contrast, meat-based, low-carb diets are no more effective than the American version of the low-fat diet at preventing weight gain and poor health outcomes. I have covered these studies in detail in my book “Slaying The Food Myths.”

Consequently, the lead author of the most recent study has said: “The findings [of this study] do not impugn whole fruits, beans and other unprocessed carbohydrates. Rather, the study suggests that reducing foods with added sugar, flour, and other refined carbohydrates could help people maintain weight loss….” This is something we all can agree on, but strangely this is not reflected in the headlines you may have seen in the media.

The Bottom Line

 

  • A recent study compared the calories burned per day on a low-carb, moderate-carb, and high-carb diet. The study concluded that the low-carb diet burned significantly more calories per day than the other two diets and might be suitable for long-term weight control. If confirmed by subsequent studies, this would be the first real evidence that low-carb diets are superior for maintaining a healthy weight.
  • However, the study has some major limitations. For example, it used a methodology that may overestimate the benefits of a low-carb diet, and it was performed under tightly controlled conditions that can never be duplicated in the real world. As acknowledged by the authors, this study is also contradicted by multiple previous studies. Further studies will be required to confirm the results of this study and show how it can be applied in the real world.
  • In addition, the kind of carbohydrate in the diet is every bit as important as the amount of carbohydrate. The authors acknowledge that the differences seen in their study apply mainly to carbohydrates from sugar, refined grains, and processed foods. They advocate diets with low glycemic load (small effects on blood sugar and insulin levels) and acknowledge this can also be achieved by incorporating low-glycemic load, plant-based carbohydrates into your diet. This is something we all can agree on, but strangely this is not reflected in the headlines you may have seen in the media.
  • Finally, clinical studies report averages, but none of us are average. When you examine the data from the current study, it is evident that some participants burned more calories per hour on the high-carb diet than other participants did on the low carb diet. That reinforces the observation that some people lose weight more effectively on low-carb diets while others lose weight more effectively on low-fat diets. If you are someone who does better on a low-carb diet, the best available evidence suggests you will have better long-term health outcomes on a primarily plant-based, low-carb diet such as the low-carb version of the Mediterranean diet.

For more details read the article above.

 

 

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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