Supplement Scams Part 1
Have you found yourself overwhelmed or intimidated when circling the aisles of a supplement store? Don’t feel bad, as I’ve been researching the effects of dietary supplements on athletic performance for over 12 years and I struggle to keep up with the new development of supplement companies that are joining the competition. It seems like every week there is a new product that comes out claiming to be the best thing since sliced bread. The latest trend in the supplement world is the growth of pre-workout supplements, but are you getting your money’s worth or are you being scammed by the supplement industry?
Purpose and Marketing
The primary purpose of a pre-workout supplement is to be consumed prior to a workout with the intent to fuel your workout. Companies are using marketing strategies to entice athletes, Cross-fitters, and weekend warriors to use their products by claiming they can experience everything from “more energy, a greater muscle pump, enhanced strength, increased testosterone, explosive workouts, faster absorption, and increased muscle size.”
What should a pre-workout supplement should consist of? The ingredient profile should be designed to improve strength, power, and muscular endurance (i.e. more reps). The majority of pre-workout supplements on the market do not offer an ingredient profile that would assist an athlete at improving strength, power, and muscular endurance, especially if taking the dosage recommended by the company.
In 2012, the United States Army conducted an investigation on whether certain dietary supplements for athletes, which were available at stores on military bases, played a role in the death of two soldiers. Both died after suffering heart attacks while performing exercises. At the time of their deaths, they were reportedly taking Jacked3d and OxyElite Pro, two products formulated by the company USP labs. Both contained the controversial ingredient dimethylamylamine (DMAA), which has been reported to have similar side effects as amphetamines. Army spokesperson Peter Graves said that as a precautionary measure, the Department of Defense has removed all products containing DMAA from all stores on military bases, which include more than 100 GNC shops. DMAA was a popular ingredient found in many pre-workout supplements due to its stimulatory effects before it was removed by many companies due to safety concerns. It was not reported whether the two soldiers had an underlying medical condition that may have contributed to their deaths.
On September 13, 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) learned there were seven Hawaii residents who experienced acute liver failure. The Hawaii Department of Health and the CDC indicated all of the individuals were consuming OxyElite Pro. Additional individuals outside of Hawaii were also identified as experiencing the same symptoms while taking this product. The dosages used by those reporting liver failure were not reported. On October 11th, 2013, the FDA warned USP Labs, the maker of OxyElite Pro, that it was deemed adulterated and that failure to immediately cease distribution of both products could lead to enforcement actions. At the end of October, there were 56 cases of acute liver failure or acute hepatitis linked to the supplement, 43 of them in Hawaii. Since these events, both Jacked3d and OxyElite Pro have been reformulated by USP Labs with the ingredient DMAA eliminated from the new formulas.
In September 2013, Bodybuilding.com, the number one online supplement retail site, pulled the supplement Craze out of its store. The product was nominated for the website’s 2013 Pre-Workout Supplement of the Year. Tests by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and a government-affiliated forensic lab in Sweden detected amphetamine-like compounds in samples of Craze, sold by the company Driven Sports. Driven Sports denied those claims and indicated they have had their product tested by an outside lab.
Where’s the Evidence?
Currently, under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), manufacturers of dietary supplements are not required to provide proof of safety and effectiveness prior to marketing their products. They are required to submit evidence that the dietary ingredient would be expected to be safe under the conditions of use recommended or suggested in the labeling. A new dietary ingredient is defined as one not marketed in the United States before October 15th, 1994.
On the other hand, companies are required to provide evidence of safety of the new dietary ingredient 75 days before the product goes to market. USP Labs did not notify the FDA that it was using DMAA. This is how ingredients slip through the cracks and it is nearly impossible for the FDA to keep up with the number of new companies hitting the market. They don’t have enough manpower to act as the supplement police and they usually don’t step in until a significant number of people start to experience side effects or even death.
DMAA and the Body
Schilling et. al (2013) evaluated the physiological and pharmo-kinetic effects of DMAA in eight male subjects. Subjects were given an oral dose of 25 mg of DMAA and markers of blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature were measured. This study demonstrated DMAA did not impact blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature.
Bloomer et al. (2011) evaluated the effects of DMAA plus caffeine on heart rate, blood pressure, epinephrine, and norepinephrine in 10 healthy men and women. Researchers examined various dosing protocols (250 mg of caffeine, 250 mg caffeine + 50 mg of geranamine, caffeine + 75 mg of geranamine, 50 mg of geranamine alone, and 75 mg of geranamine). The results indicated heart rate was not affected by any of the treatment protocols, but blood pressure was higher with geranamine in a dose-dependent manner. The peak percentage change from pre-ingestion in systolic blood pressure (SBP) was 20%, with diastolic blood pressure (DBP) noting a 17% increase, specifically with 250 mg of caffeine and 75 mg of geranamine at 60 minutes post-ingestion. Plasma norepinephrine and epinephrine were unaffected by treatment.
Farney et al. (2011) examined the effects of Jacked3d and OxyElite Pro on resting heart rate (HR), SBP, and DBP in 13 subjects (men and women). Seven men ingested two servings of Jacked3d once a day for two weeks and six (4 men and 2 women) ingested two servings of OxyElite Pro once a day for two weeks. After 14 days of treatment, no significant changes were noted in HR, SBP, and DBP. SBP was increased with OxyElite Pro but not with Jacked3d. Compared to pre-ingestion, both supplements resulted in an increase in SBP and DBP from 5-15%, with a peak occurring at 60 or 90 minutes post-ingestion.
More is not Better
Although these studies did not report any harmful side effects, neither measured the effects of a multi-stimulant ingredient on physiology during intense training. A concern with athletes taking pre-workout supplements, particularly high school athletes, is they have the tendency to think more is better. Not only have I witnessed these specific products in locker rooms, I’ve had one high school athlete inform me that he took eight scoops of Jacked3d before a powerlifting meet. He’s very fortunate he did not have any underlying medical conditions, specifically cardiovascular, or he may not be with us today.
To find out how supplement companies are scamming you, read part 2 of this feature in the December issue of Health & Fitness Magazine.
Tavis Piattoly, MS, LDN, RD, is the Co-Founder of My Sports Dietitian, the Sports Dietitian for Tulane Athletics, Tulane Institute of Sports Medicine, and Covington Orthopedics and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.