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Supplements- Part III

If you’ve read my two previous posts on supplements, you should know that supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Why? Because supplements are classified as “food products,” which doesn’t bear the same scrutiny as prescription and over-the-counter drugs. In fact, it is up to the supplement manufacturers to ensure their products are safe for consumers; while the FDA prohibits products that are “misbranded” or “adulterated,” it can only intervene and ban those products that have been established as such after they hit store shelves. And, as you can imagine, proving a supplement is harmful can be tricky, and compiling evidence can take years. Take, for example, ephedra (ma huang), a supplement ingredient that was banned in 2004 after the FDA received reports on its toxicity (37 fatalities were related to the ingredient). It had been on the FDA’s radar since the mid-nineties.

    What we’re left with is a self-policing industry. As consumers, we’re supposed to trust that the products we see on the shelves have been tested by manufacturers and deemed safe for human consumption. But can we? While a lot of supplements are safe to use, some still have huge amounts of caffeine – more caffeine than the daily recommended intake. Some even include an ingredient called 1-3 dimethylamylamine (DMAA) – also listed on ingredient labels as “geranium extract” – despite the fact that it’s been banned by the FDA since 2013. It’s been described as a legalized version of Adderall or Ritalin, and has been associated with elevated blood pressure, shortness of breath, and heart attacks. That’s some shoddy self-police work, if you ask me.

    This is why we need to be vigilant about what goes into our bodies. We need to be dutiful about reading the ingredient list on supplements, and researching those ingredients we don’t know much about (rule of thumb: if you can’t pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t consume it). Before taking any sort of supplement, please consult with your doctor or a sports nutritionist. These professionals will take into account your medical history and current medications, and give educated recommendations as to what supplements (if any) you should take. The supplement industry obviously doesn’t care; it’s just out to make a buck. It’s up to you to look after your health and well-being. Doing otherwise could mean putting your life at risk.