Among the more popular supplements currently being used by individuals searching for a "magic lift" are androstenedione, chromium, and creatine. This article reviews each of these "hot" supplements and addresses the following questions:
* What is it and how is it used?
* How is it supposed to work?
* Does it work?
* Are there any health risks associated with its use?
* Does sufficient evidence exist to recommend its use?
Androstenedione is a male sex hormone produced naturally by the body
that can be converted to testosterone. It is also marketed and sold as
a natural supplement under various trade names (all of which have some
form of the
word "andro" in them). Androstenedione is believed to have first been used by East German sports scientists to enhance the performance capabilities of their Olympic athletes. The popularity of androstenedione skyrocketed in
1998 after it was revealed that the record-setting slugger Mark McGuire used the supplement. Marketers and manufacturers of "andro" (as it is popularly called) claim that a 100-mg dose of andro can increase plasma concentrations of testosterone by a factor of four within 90 minutes. Additional claims include increases in muscle size, strength, energy, immune function, libido (sex drive) and general well-being. Many experts believe that, as with other steroids, andro improves the body's ability to rapidly recover from strenuous physical activity, allowing users to train more frequently at higher intensity levels.
Presumably, the result of such training would be a substantial increase
in muscle size and strength. Dr. Charles Yesalis, a leading expert on the
topic of anabolic steroids, contends that andro should be placed on the
list of substances covered by the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990,
and its use should be controlled until its long-term health effects are
determined. Given its close link to testosterone, it seems logical that
androstenedione has the potential to bring about the same harmful side-effects
associated with anabolic steroid use. Potential users should keep in mind
that even though andro is sold legally over the counter, it has been banned
by such organizations as the National Collegiate Athletic Association,
the International Olympic Committee and the National Football League.
Chromium is an essential trace mineral in the body that aids insulin in the transfer of glucose, amino acids and fat from the bloodstream into the cells. Chromium can be found in many unrefined foods such as whole-grain breads and cereals, nuts, prunes and mushrooms. The estimated safe range of chromium intake for adults is 50 to 200 micrograms per day. With a typical American diet, two-thirds of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of chromium is consumed. Chromium supplementation became popular after it was found that exercise increases chromium loss, raising the concern that chromium deficiency may be common among physically active individuals.
Despite little evidence existing to suggest that chromium deficiency is a widespread problem, chromium picolinate (a supplemental form of chromium) has gained popularity recently as a potent stimulus for simultaneous muscular development and fat loss. The few research studies conducted on chromium supplementation have not found it to have a beneficial effect on levels of either lean muscle mass or body fat. In 1996, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) forced three of the leading marketers of chromium picolinate to stop making undocumented claims, including that the pills promote weight loss, burn fat, build muscle, lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugars, and treat or prevent diabetes.
The FTC concluded that these health claims had not been substantiated by scientific studies, and that no reliable evidence existed that most Americans do not consume enough chromium. In a recent position paper, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) concluded that, "based on available evidence, chromium supplementation is not necessary." ACSM recommends that individuals consume a diet high in unrefined foods and include a wide variety of foods to obtain adequate amounts of chromium.
Creatine is one of the "hottest" supplements among fitness enthusiasts. Part of the reason for its popularity is the growing evidence suggesting that taking creatine supplements may improve the ability to perform short-term, intense exercise. The effect of creatine on short-term, intense exercise is hardly surprising, given the relationship between creatine and skeletal muscle. All skeletal muscle tissue contains creatine, and dietary creatine is found in both meat and fish. In its phosphorylated form, creatine plays a key role in the formation of ATP (the body's energy source) and, during exercise; a portion of the muscle's creatine is depleted. Without sufficient amounts of creatine, which is manufactured in the liver and the kidneys and stored in the skeletal muscles, the cycle that creates this energy is unable to produce enough ATP to meet the demand of short bursts of high-intensity exercise. Creatine supplements have been shown to increase the total creatine content (creatine and creatine phosphate) of muscle on an average of 20 to 30 percent. Several studies suggest that ingestion of 20 to 25 grams of creatine monohydrate per day for five to six days improves muscular performance during activities that require short periods of high-intensity power and strength (weightlifting, sprinting). Sufficient evidence exists to state that, under certain conditions, creatine supplementation can enhance performance in these activities. If individuals can train at higher intensity levels, they may be able to add strength and power at accelerated rates over a period of time. Creatine can also lead to weight gain, but the mechanism responsible for the added weight has not been adequately investigated.
Before individuals start buying and taking creatine supplements, however, they should consider the following: * Approximately 20 grams per day (four doses of 5 grams each, consumed over the course of the day) should increase muscle creatine levels within five to seven days. To encourage the storage of creatine in the muscles, 90 grams of carbohydrates should be consumed with each 5-gram dose.
· A more gradual technique would be to consume 3 grams of creatine
a day for approximately one month.
· Two grams of creatine supplementation per day will maintain muscle creatine levels once these levels are full.
· The long-term effects of taking creatine have not been studied. The majority of studies have examined the short- term (30 days or less) effects.
· All of the studies conducted have involved adults only. Creatine's effects on children are unknown.
· Consuming large quantities of creatine (greater than 30 grams per month) may encourage fat to accumulate in the liver.
· Stomach cramping and diarrhea have been cited as adverse side effects of creatine supplementation.
· Creatine supplementation is not recommended for individuals involved in aerobic endurance activities, since any resultant increase in body-mass levels could impair performance.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued the following statement
regarding creatine use: "Much remains unknown about whether creatine is
absolutely safe for long-term use at levels currently being recommended.
Both current and potential users should consult their physicians to identify
any potential health problems."
Truth in advertising ?
Many nutritional supplements are marketed using deceptive, misleading
or downright dishonest claims. Although many of their claims are unsubstantiated,
such substances can be marketed without the FDA review of safety and effectiveness.
Another problem with these "magic pills, powders and potions" is that the
concentration of active ingredients can greatly differ from product to
product due to the lack of regulatory control.
Although some supplements may confer beneficial effects, most are associated with various adverse side-effects. Fitness enthusiasts and athletes should remain skeptical when considering nutritional supplement use. As the old saying goes, "Caveat emptor: Let the buyer beware."
A healthy cell has a mortal enemy, which is called a "free radical." Free radicals constantly seek out healthy cells and attack their vulnerable outer membranes eventually causing cellular degeneration and death. Free radicals, scientists know today, carry out the actual destructive work in disease, in infection, in stress and in aging. Additionally, free radicals can negatively affect athletic performance by slowing or halting muscle growth and by lowering aerobic capacity. Further, free radicals are known to cause defects in normal RNA as well as in life perpetuating DNA, the genetic material of the cells. Normal molecules in the body have two (a paired group) electrons in their outer shell. A molecule with a single electron (unpaired) in its outer shell is called a free radical. Free radicals occur naturally when oxygen in the bloodstream combine with any of a diverse group of chemicals including those commonly found in polluted air, in primary and/or second hand cigarette smoke, in known chemical toxins; as well as, in food additives and in re-heated cooking oil.
Additionally, free radical production and damage is accelerated by the normal radiation found in sunlight and by increasing exercise, especially running and other aerobic activities. This is easy to understand in that aerobic exercise can increase oxygen consumption ten to twenty times normal values. With more oxygen available in the bloodstream; free radical production soars. Worse, the direct muscle destroying activities of the free radicals continue many hours after exercise stops. The destructive effects of free radicals can be prevented with the addition of anti-oxidants in the diet or by anti-oxidant supplements. A good anti-oxidant complex supplement actually has advantages over diet sources in that the complex has many different specific types of anti-oxidants, which seek out and destroy free radicals at many various cellular sites. A single anti-oxidant, for example Vitamin E, only protects the outer fatty layers of the cell. It will not stabilize DNA which, for example, is one the main effects of the anti-oxidant Vitamin C. The process by which different anti-oxidants disperse through the bloodstream to protect the cells at different sites is referred to in science as "anti-oxidant synergy." When a specific anti-oxidant meets a free radical in the bloodstream at it's appropriate activity site, it naturally combines with it and coverts the free radical to harmless water and oxygen. As a result, as anti-oxidant increases due to the supplementation of higher amounts of a greater variety of anti-oxidants, cellular damage lessens and performance and health improves. In fact, aside from the numerous
Scientifically compelling studies addressing the varied health benefits of anti-oxidant supplementation, there have been studies completed demonstrating a dramatic decrease in injuries in athletic training with the simple addition of a good anti-oxidant complex supplement. A good anti-oxidant complex should have a variety of powerful individual anti-oxidants including Vitamins A, C and E, the minerals Zinc and Selenium, the amino acid N-Acetyl-Cysteine and natural plant extracts of Grape Skin, Bilberry and Green Tea. Green Tea and Grape Skin are especially powerful anti-oxidants, providing twenty to thirty times the biological activity of other individual anti-oxidants.