The boom in sports supplements: why they can do more harm than good
Whether you are a professional athlete or just want to keep your body in good shape, you have probably wondered whether you should take sports nutritional supplements. Today, the market is full of various drinks, pills, powders and snacks, but it's easy for the average person to get lost in this variety of offers.
Exclusively for OBOZREVATEL, doctor and health expert Ulyana Werner told us how sports supplements affect our body and which one is better to choose for yourself. She noted that there are a number of supplements available to improve sports performance, but such products often lack a reliable evidence base. In addition, some of them can actually impair performance, while others are potentially harmful to human health.
According to the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, almost one in five sports supplements tested contained banned substances such as stimulants and anabolic drugs. Around 20% of nutritional supplements sold in Europe and the US also contain anabolic steroids, but these ingredients are not listed on the label.
Anabolic steroids or androgenic steroids, which are hidden in some sports supplements, are synthetic drugs that disrupt normal hormonal balance. They can be sold as "prohormones", "natural steroids" or "testosterone boosters", which help to increase muscle mass and strength. The use of androgenic steroids can lead to fatigue, low mood, irritability, male pattern baldness, liver damage, heart complications, decreased muscle mass and strength, low libido, increased fat mass, and breast enlargement in men (gynecomastia).
In terms of stimulants, a 2021 study published in Clinical Toxicology found nine banned drugs in 17 brands of over-the-counter energy and weight loss supplements. At low doses, stimulants can lead to increased sweating, tremors, inability to concentrate and loss of sleep, as well as decreased appetite and dehydration. At higher doses, you may experience heart palpitations and high blood pressure.
Even if you are sure that your sports supplements do not contain steroids or stimulants, the risk of harm still remains. For example, protein supplements should not be consumed in excess if you have kidney disease. Some herbs that are advertised for weight loss, such as Cambodian garcinia, can cause serious liver damage. For the most part, these herbal weight loss products have only a diuretic effect and have nothing to do with weight loss. Herbal preparations can also lower blood sugar levels, and their use in combination with antidiabetic drugs can cause hypoglycaemia.
Energy drinks, which are often sold in gyms, usually contain caffeine, guarana, taurine (an amino acid naturally found in meat and fish), B vitamins and sugar. Consuming them before exercise can have the following negative effects: anxiety, irritability, dehydration, heart palpitations and increased blood pressure.
One of the most popular sports supplements is creatine. It is found in the human body and is formed from amino acids, used to transfer energy to cells. Creatine supplements can help athletes with short bursts of speed or muscle strength, especially runners or weightlifters.
Creatine is generally considered safe, although there is a potential for serious health effects, such as kidney damage, if used in high doses. Excessive consumption can reduce the synthesis of your own creatine. The following side effects are also likely to occur: diarrhoea, dizziness, weight gain, and dehydration.
To avoid further possible health problems after using sports supplements, consult a specialist who will select high-quality and safe products, taking into account your health status and possible chronic diseases. A balanced diet, healthy sleep, and proper training technique are the key to further results.
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